The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Bloodhounds" by Kevin Stueber. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Kevin Stueber
An Introduction in “Man Trailing”
When someone hears the term “Bloodhound,” it usually invokes thoughts of a dog with their nose to the ground tracking something. Their nose is their most powerful feature, and has been used for centuries to track down animals and people. Early in their history, they were used primarily as hunting dogs to track down deer and boars. As time went on, their exceptional nose was used to find people. Whether tracking escaped convicts or lost hikers, Bloodhounds have proven their worth in following a scent time and time again. It’s because of this exceptional history that Bloodhounds are employed by law enforcement and search and rescue teams across the world.
The art of tracking down a person through a primary scent is known in many circles as “man-trailing.” There are many techniques to condition your dog to be a world-class tracker, and training them can be a life-long endeavor. Their noses can always be more refined and they can practice being more focused as time goes on. Kevin Weitkamp from Black River Bloodhounds advises to “…let them use their nose. Their purpose in life is their nose, they have to utilize it.”
So, if this is the route you want to go with your hound, it’s best to start young so you can teach them to follow the scent you need them to, rather than allowing them the freedom to sniff out what’s interesting to them. Man-trailing and tracking is such an in-depth and lengthy process that I could fill a whole book with techniques and tips for accomplishing it. In fact, there are books and groups that exist that will aid in teaching this amazing skill. This chapter will be an introductory guide into tracking. It is in no way a comprehensive guide and if you want to turn your dog into a certified tracking animal, I encourage you to seek those groups out for all the support and education you need. What you will find in this chapter is a more novice approach to tracking so that anyone, regardless of desired outcome, can enjoy their Bloodhound’s nose and experience how strong they are.
Refining Your Dog’s Nose and Getting Them to Focus
When you get your hound, you will undoubtedly notice them sniffing around and using their nose constantly. They have a distinctive pose when they are tracking something. Their heads will be down to the ground, and their tail will stand up with a slight curve toward their heads. It is an iconic look and one that will make you beam with pride that you have such an impressive dog. Their natural nature is to smell things and follow scents. The real trick is getting them to follow the scents that you want them to follow. Because they are so stubborn and have so much energy, it is easy for them to become distracted and follow whatever thing grabs their attention. We touched on this before when talking about keeping your dog on a leash. They will follow any scent that intrigues them, and they will follow it even amidst your redirections and pleads not to.
This is why it’s important to refine your hound’s nose through conditioning. What you want to do is get your dog to not necessarily ignore other distracting scents, but to assign a priority to which ones will garner the biggest reward of finding. In the past, hunters always saved a special reward from whatever animal it was that the hound was trailing. This could be a piece of the hide or antlers of a deer. It was something so good, the hound would pass up on other competing scents to zero in on the track that got them that reward.
Obviously, if the hound is tracking a person, we won’t be able to reward them with something to eat when they succeed, but we can encourage them with love and praise or even a special toy reserved only for when they accomplish their job. You’ll see this a lot of times in law enforcement, where a dog successfully tracks down a criminal and rather than biting away on the assailant, they get a toy. This redirects the hound and lets them know they completed their task. The toy must be something special and not something that is used for other training. It has to have a special meaning and be perceived as the ultimate reward for tracking down their target. So again, find something special that motivates your individual dog, and use that to your advantage.
To start training your dog to track, you can employ some exercises in your home to get them thinking about what they need to do. Start with small treats or toys they like and make a trail by dragging that item across the floor. Try to get your dog out of view so they can’t watch what you’re doing and run the item along the floor in circles, over furniture and in a generally haphazard pattern. You will be amazed as your dog comes into the room and starts following the scent. You will watch as they get into their iconic pose and start sniffing away, going in circles, over furniture, and essentially following every step that item took to get it to its final resting spot. If your hound gets distracted and starts going off the rails, redirect them. Get their attention and point back to one of the spots the item they are tracking touched and get them to refocus on it. Soon enough, they will discover the item and that’s when it’s time for the reward. Reinforce the behavior with love and giving them the treat they just tracked down. As you practice this, they will be able to do it faster and more accurately over time.
Once they have it down in your home, take them outside and expand the search area. Keep them on a leash so you can aid them in redirecting focus if they start to stray. Try not to punish your dog for losing the trail, as this can add a negative connotation to the job they are doing and ultimately discourage them. If they get off scent, refocus them to the last point they had the trail and give them some praise. Tracking is a constant exercise in reinforcement until they reach their ultimate goal of finding the source of their trail.
In hunting, a lot of people will use blood from an animal because blood has such a unique scent and invokes an almost primal desire in your Bloodhound. Many people who teach this method will use blood obtained from a fresh animal they hunted or from their local butcher. Blood also has such a unique smell that it will often stand out more than just fur or something that brushed along the ground. Also, most animals aren’t always bleeding when they are running around in the wild, so by training your dog to follow a blood scent, they will be able to better identify what they are trying to track rather than getting confused by all the other contact scents they may come across. Whether you are training for hunting or man-trailing, refining your dog’s nose and getting them to assign priority to scents will be crucial in getting them to achieve their ultimate goal.
Search and Rescue
Their ability to track hurt or injured animals and people is why Bloodhounds are commonly used for search and rescue. Many times, people who wander into the wild and get lost end up getting hurt and require a crew to come in and help them get out. Tracking a blood scent is probably the easiest way for a hound to track someone down, but what if there isn’t blood? Many search and rescue teams will ask for an item that the target has come in contact with. This could be an article of clothing or the interior of a vehicle. What they are looking for is anything that has a strong enough and easily identifiable scent that the hound can lock onto and focus on amongst all the other smells the world.
Some police departments and rescue groups will provide families with scent kits. These are kits that will have an item a person can wear or sleep with that will get their scent on it. These kits can then be saved for later so that if the need for them ever arises, an item with a primary scent is readily available for a hound to track. I trained my dog to do this by sleeping with a stuffed animal for about a week. I then took my wife out to the wilderness and I took off hiking while they waited back at the trailhead in the car. As I was walking, I made a point to rub up on bushes and drag my feet a bit. I wandered on and off the trail so that my dog could lock on my scent and disregard any competing scents. After I had hiked about a mile, my wife introduced the stuffed animal to our dog. He sniffed it, played with it a bit, and locked onto the scent. She then directed him to the trail I had taken off on, and to her amazement, he started tracking me. He followed my line as I wandered on and off the trail and would stop at bushes I had rubbed upon to solidify his grasp on the scent. Within an hour, my hound led my wife to the tree I was sitting under in a little arroyo about a hundred yards off the trail. Now, I had never planned on making my dog a search and rescue dog and didn’t invest a lot of training into it as he was more intended to be a family pet. But his innate sense of smell and desire to track led him to me with a very basic training of how to refine and follow his nose.
How to Read Your Dog’s Cues
When you are out on the trail or in your backyard teaching your dog to track, keep an eye on their body behavior and cues. They will often look to you as their leader if they get confused or need direction. Since you have established yourself as their pack leader, they may look to you for help when they are struggling to find their trail. It’s important to keep an eye on them and be able to read your dog so that they don’t get too far off track.
You will notice they are starting to fade when their tail drops from the upright position, or when they start walking with their head up from the ground. Take it slow and make a mental note of the last spot they were able to catch the scent they are trailing. If they get distracted, get them to sit and start paying attention to your command, and take them back to the last area they were displaying the signs of tracking. Reinforce and encourage them by giving them so love and appreciation, telling them how good they are doing. Allow them to stop and have a drink of water. They are built for endurance but will start frothing at the mouth if they are working too hard. Allow them to take a break and don’t rush them. If they get too frantic, they will begin to lose focus. You want your hound to be calm and determined to find their target, not curling up to take a snooze in the sun. Just pay attention to them and what their body language tells you, so you can form a team in tracking down whatever you are looking for.
Fun Facts About Following Tracks
Having a Bloodhound comes with a lot of joys and frustrations, but watching them track a scent will undoubtedly fill you with pride and admiration. After all, their nose is their most iconic feature and it’s important to harness that trait and let them use it to its fullest extent. Their nose is so strong and reliable, it can be introduced in court as evidence. They are the only animal that can be said to have this ability. Even other drug- or bomb-sniffing dogs can’t claim this achievement. Other dogs can signal their handlers to an area that needs to be searched, but it’s ultimately the handler whose testimony would be used in court. A Bloodhound’s ability to track can stand on its own. In fact, their nose is so strong, it can find and track a trail that is almost two weeks old. Everything about their appearance is designed to capture and track an individual scent. And they have so many scent receptors that they can easily distinguish minor nuances between competing smells. All these factors help the Bloodhound stand out through the ages as the most reliable and effective scent hound in existence.
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