View Full Version : Hunting Dogs and Scents

08-09-2010, 09:24 PM
How easy is it to throw off the scent of a hunting dog following a trail of a person?

Can the handler of a hunting dog make the dog follow a different scent entirely? For example, if the handler doesn't want the dog to find the target, or if the handler wants the dog to find a completely different target.

The scenario I'm working with in my fantasy WIP is the search for a missing person where the handler of the dog trying to track the missing person is part of the reason the person is missing. He needs to misdirect the search but not give away what he's doing.

Thanks in advance!

08-09-2010, 09:37 PM
The handler could just let the dog sniff something else rather than something from the person they're suppose to be tracking. If I were doing it, I might find some rabbit droppings or something like that. At soon as I was out of sight of others, I would let the dog smell it, tell him to "find," which would send it on a "wild goose chase".

They're not usually called hunting dogs. Often they're bloodhounds, but sometimes they're another breed.

08-09-2010, 10:57 PM
Would the handler have known before hand that he needed to do this? Like, long enough before that he could have trained the dog to follow alternate, subtle commands? (I actually think that alleycat's got the most sensible answer. I'm just thinking of a situation where the handler was being watched really closely so he couldn't give an alternate scent).

I watched a documentary about bloodhounds in which the trainer explained that he gives the dogs minimal training in the house, because he doesn't WANT the dog to pay attention to his commands, in the field, he wants the dog to pay attention to his nose. He felt that if the dog was used to taking orders from him, he might influence the dog's behaviour away from its target.

Now, I have a lab, which is not known as a particularly nose-centred breed, and when he's on the scent of something (food), I really haven't seen any damn sign of him being influenced by my commands, even though he's normally pretty well trained. So I'm not sure how much credence I'd give this bloodhound trainer's opinion. Still, I thought it was interesting.

08-09-2010, 11:08 PM
If it's a dog that he trains, he could certainly train it to do whatever he wanted. The commands can be incredibly subtle, too. I can imagine him training it to stop looking for one scent and start on another, all very subtly.

If it's not his dog, he'd have to mess with where the dog gets the scent, yes. Imho.

(I opened this because I have been hunted by bloodhounds and they didn't find me! Cool story :). ETA: my dad got to see the cops having the dogs start. I had cats at the time, and they took off like a rocket after smelling my purse. It was the pavement of a road and my backtracking that screwed them up, btw. I was in the woods.)

08-10-2010, 12:44 AM
It depends what method the dog is trained on.

Traditional tracking begins with a scent article. The dog is put in a tracking harness and sent out on a 30 foot line ahead of the handler. They are only supposed to track from the ground, meaning no air scenting. Air scenting will actually get dogs disqualified from competitive tracking events. Some dogs are trained to track specific odors without a scent article being presented (such as drug dogs and bomb dogs). You can teach a dog to track an infinite number of odors, you just attach a different cue word for each odor so the dog knows what it's supposed to be looking for.

For example, there is one lady on our search team whose boxer is trained as a cadaver dog. You can get bottled cadaverine to teach them the scent. The cue word she attached is "melon". So whenever she says "go find the melon" her dog begins searching for cadavers. You don't want a cue word that is commonly used in conversation. I have heard of dogs trained to differentiate over 90 smells, with all different cue words attached.

If you're searching for a stationary object (like drugs or truffles) the handler decides where a likely area is, and directs the dog in a search pattern. Usually zig zag.

Our search and rescue dogs are trained with a very different method. They are trained to search for human scent, no matter the human. They will both air scent and ground track. Air scenting is where the dog sniffs the air and figures out what direction something might be in based on that. It's useful for situations where a person might have fallen in a ravine and gotten covered with leaves, or buried in an avalanche, carried off by a river, etc. Dogs used for hunting game typically combine air scenting with ground tracking.

Search and rescue dogs also will find human scent regardless of whether the human is living or dead. We had a german shepherd on her team find a 10 year old fragment of jaw bone and several teeth from a missing girl on her first mission. It smelled human enough.

Their sense of smell is incredible. You can impair it, but it's really impossible to cover. The myth of walking upstream to cover your tracks is that. A myth. They will smell the scent in that water. We've had cadaver dogs out in boats accurately indicate a dead body underwater in water over 30 feet deep.

The things that will screw up a search is contaminating the trail. Poorly trained dogs will not always be successful. Cigarette smoke and car exhaust have a strong negative effect on their sense of smell, it takes several hours to recover it fully. Very dry weather is harder to track in, as is a heavy rain.

If he's the only dog handler, it would be easy to mislead everyone. Often the signals between dog and handler are very subtle and only readable between the handler/dog team. It's really difficult, if not impossible, to handle someone else's dog. Also, part of successful handling is paying attention to the wind and knowing whether it's impairing your dog or helping. He could deliberately put his dog in dead pockets where it loses a scent if it's air scenting .

08-10-2010, 01:41 AM
Thanks, this is helpful.

I haven't figured out what type of dogs they are, but they've been trained to hunt game, not search for people. So I'm guessing that means that the handler would let the dog(s) take the scent from something which has been in close contact with the missing person, for example an unwashed shirt.

The search is taking place inside a castle. Lots of people are around so any trail is going to be confused. The search is going to start from the missing person's room, so the dogs would be able to find lots of "trails" from daily life. The handler needs to get the dog to go to the kitchens, so if the handler can switch the dog from searching for the scent item to say searching for food (roast meat, perhaps) via some sort of subtle signal to the dog, that would be perfect.

08-11-2010, 12:52 AM
I just wanted to say, DAMN, what a fantastic response Canotila. Thank you cuz this helps me as well. ^_^

08-11-2010, 01:04 AM
I just wanted to say, DAMN, what a fantastic response Canotila. Thank you cuz this helps me as well. ^_^

Agreed. Lots of knowledgeable and helpful people out here. Thanks, all! :)

Another question: what would mask the scent of a person? Would apples be strong enough?

08-11-2010, 01:49 AM
The dogs are smelling your dead skin cells as they fall off your body. They do this 24/7 - 365. The only way the dog will stop following your scent, is if the handler gives him another person's scent to follow. If he had any article of clothing belonging to another person in the search party, he could trigger the dog to search for that scent. The dog doesn't care who's at the other end of the trail, he's just following the skin cells.

08-11-2010, 04:55 AM
Apples wouldn't be strong enough to mask the scent. Part of it depends on how old the trail is too, if it's only 20 minutes old that makes a big difference to a 2 day old trail. Especially in a castle where presumably a lot of people are going to be walking over it and making their own cross trails.

Most hunting dogs don't need to be trained to hunt. They are born with strong prey drive and won't relent until they track down and catch whatever it is they are driven to hunt. If they lack the drive, in the olden days they would be culled (killed). In modern times most hunters will spay or neuter those puppies and find them non hunting pet homes. I have two borzois that hunt coyote, raccoon, rabbits, and rats. Aside from playing little tug of war games with furry toys, they didn't get any training. The puppy took her first coyote at 7 months old all by herself (that wasn't planned btw, I about had a heart attack when it happened).

We've also got a wirehaired pointing griffon, which is an all purpose hunting/tracking dog. They are mostly a bird/pointing dog. He started pointing birds at 6 weeks old all by himself. He's a natural hunter, the only thing we had to teach him was to retrieve the birds instead of run off and eat them under a bush.

He's also trained for tracking, which is a lot more methodical than hunting. You lay out simple tracking problems for them and then walk them through it until they reach the target, which also happens to have a steak or something amazing. Eventually the treat is phased out, but they still want to work.

We do have problems with him being distracted by game smells when he's on a formal track, since he does have extremely high prey drive. If we came down really hard on him for it, we could probably train that habit out of him, but we're just tracking with him for fun. Not trying to get on the evidence search team or something.

So if your dogs are primarily hunting dogs, it would be an easy thing to distract them with the smell of game. It would be as simple as dragging a rabbit hide on a string across the track and laying a new, more appealing trail for them to follow. If the handler knows where the rabbit scent was laid, he can encourage them with a "find something? good boy!" when he notices them sniffing those spots trying to sort out the track. The people with him will just think he's encouraging them on the right track.

08-11-2010, 04:03 PM
we have hounds for fox hunting, and they are pretty good, but they tend to get distracted by stong smells, and sometimes they loose scents due to natural breaks in teh trail, rivers, other smells etc.