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Natural Instinct?: The Truth about Scent Tracking Dogs

Often you read about a heroic canine in various dog articles or you see a scent tracking dog on the local TV news in extreme heroic or tragic situations. Have you ever thought to yourself, my dog can do that! While it is true that a trained scent dog can be any breed or mix of dog that has the desire to work. The dog must have an excellent scenting ability and be large and strong enough to handle a very physical job. They must have lots of stamina, a sound temperament, and be able to work well with other dogs and people. Sporting dogs like the Labrador Retriever or the Golden Retriever often make an excellent scent tracking dog. Working and Herding breeds like German Shepherds, Bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, Dobermans and Rottweilers are highly motivated "workers", and also make a good scent tracking dog. The truth is not all canines are created equal. The good news is that one trained scent tracking dog is as effective as ten trained human searchers. Their value is indisputable and a well trained scent tracking dog is worth the world to family and loved ones of those who are missing. These dogs are highly trained to find missing people and save lives. These truly heroic dogs rely on their powerful scenting ability and physical endurance in their work on search and rescue missions. They are specially trained to locate lost or missing persons in a specific area. Search and Rescue dogs (as they are commonly referred to) track human scent - microscopic particles that are carried by the wind for considerable distances. Every person has a unique scent, like fingerprints, and a scent tracking dog is able to discriminate and sniff out an individual person in a highly populated area. All they need is a sample of that person's particular scent. The scent tracking dog works day or night, rain or shine. They are especially effective where human sight is most limited - in the dark, in dense woods, in heavy brush, in disaster debris, and under water. A scent tracking dog can be trained for a variety of specific situations: Wilderness Search: These dogs search out a missing person who has gone lost in the woods. They are given a scent sample of the missing person, and assigned a specific area to cover. Water Search: The Water Search dog works to find drowning victims, sniffing out human scent which rises to the surface. Newfoundlands and Labradors, both excellent swimmers, often specialize in Water Search. Urban Search: These dogs are trained to follow an individual human scent within highly populated areas, blocking out the distractions of the city. Disaster Search: Disaster Search dogs work in emergency situations like earthquakes, floods, explosions, fires, train wrecks, plane crashes, tornadoes and other disasters. This is a dangerous and difficult job - physically and emotionally. It is distressing for the dog, and its handler, to find victims who have died. The handler must be aware to keep the dog's spirits up in these horrific and chaotic circumstances. Lifesaving Group: This group of dogs are specially trained to save lives in water and snow, and are most often St. Bernards and Newfoundlands. These breeds are large enough (100 - 150 pounds) to pull and lead humans to safety, or to lie down next to victims and keep them warm while help is on the way. Before you sign up your canine for specialized training you need to realize that at least one year of training twice a week is needed before a dog can be evaluated and deemed "mission-ready". Rigorous training exercises prepare the scent tracking dog for future missions where they may have to search for people amidst chaotic conditions, such as after a flood or earthquake. Above all, these dogs are trained to stay focused while trailing a scent in stressful situations.

About the Author: Janis Cazares is a canine tracking enthusiast. For more on the myths about finding a qualified trainer and about how to turn you pet into a tracking dog.

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