The Canine Sense of Smell
Dogs are renowned for their sense of smell. Estimates on how much better their sense of smell is compared to humans range from hundreds to a million times better. This is because one third of the canine brain is devoted to olfaction and dogs have very sensitive scenting receptors inside their noses. Canine noses are so sensitive they are used for many different kinds of scent work – wilderness search and rescue, disaster rescue, drug surveillance, explosives detection and landmine detection. Who can forget the heroic Swiss avalanche dogs or the search dogs at the World Trade Center!
Training a tracking dog
The basic concept of tracking is for the dog to follow a human scent trail and find the ‘missing person’ at the end. Tracking is an activity that cannot really be taught to a dog by a human. All dogs that have the ability to smell can track, some are better at it than others, but if push came to shove and they were left in the wild they would all be able to use their sense of smell to locate food. People have a limited understanding of how scent works, whereas dogs (with their much more sensitive scenting apparatus) understand and work it brilliantly.
It is important to understand that the best a handler can hope for is to hone the dog’s natural scenting ability in the desired direction. The dog must use his initiative to achieve in tracking and the handler must remember that in tracking the dog is never wrong – it might just need to recheck the direction of the trail until it is sure. The tracking handler’s motto is ‘trust your dog’. If there is any doubt you must believe that the dog is doing the right thing. Don’t forget that you can’t track if you don’t understand the circumstances the dog is working under.
The Tracking Club of Victoria conducts training days for beginners and an annual workshop weekend which is open to members and non-members.
Tracking trials in Victoria are held during the winter months each year due to the heat and the danger of snake bite in summer. In the early tests the dog tracks a tracklayer that the dog knows, but as you progress, the tests increase in difficulty and the dog tracks an unknown tracklayer, the length of time between the tracklayer walking the track and the dog following it increases, the number and degree of difficulty in the turns increases and the track is crossed by people other than the tracklayer. The final test is the hardest where the dog must use his scenting ability to pick up the starting point from where the tracklayer started walking, then follow the track to the end to find them. Once this test has been passed, your dog has earned the title of Tracking Champion (T Ch).
Track & Search Dog Trials
The aim of these tests is to recreate as closely as possible the situation of the dog having to search for a lost person. The dog begins his search in an area polluted by other scents from people and animals. The dogs track over various surfaces of concrete, gravel, dirt, grass and water. The later tests are known as urban tracks and the dog and handler have to search for a lost person through suburban streets during the day and at night.
The pinnacle of these trials is the Track and Search Grand Champion (TS Gr Ch) title. Track and Search Dog tests show once again how versatile and track-sure our wonderful Golden Retrievers are.