What is Mantrailing?

What is Mantrailing?

Is it dog sport in which a dog uses it nose to locate a hidden person, following their unique scent. The hidden person or trail layer leaves behind an article they have worn or touched and as they walk away they leave a trail of scent behind them, which the dogs are taught to follow. Everyone has a unique scent, and mantrailing dogs follow this unique scent to get a reward at the end.

The History of Mantrailing

We first domesticated dogs in Siberia 23,000 years ago by Ancient North Eurasians, these dogs were used to aim in hunting prey. As society grew so did the role of dogs, and range of jobs they began doing.  

The use of dogs to “hunt” people became more main steam in the nineteenth century as the use of Bloodhounds by the Police became established. They were often used to try and solve murder cases, as scent following hounds was established as a valid method for the police, thus often used to try and solve murder cases. Most notably two Bloodhounds, Barnaby and Burgo were used on the Jack the Ripper Murders.

Image of Barnaby and Burgo the Bloodhounds used to help find Jack the Ripper.
Image of Barnaby and Burgo the Bloodhounds used to help find Jack the Ripper.

Mantrailing is now widely used by Police and Search Forces across the world to find a specific person. This could be to locate a criminal or a missing person.

How do They Find People?

In mantrailing we teach the dogs to take scent from something the person has touched or worn.

Every person has a unique scent made up of skin rafts which has bacteria, scents worn and pheromones. This cocktail of scent is left behind us as we move, with up to 40,000 skin rafts leaving us per minute.

The person the dog is finding is called the trail layer, and they hide from the dog. The trail layer leaves behind a scent article, this is an item which smells of them, usually worn clothing. They hide with a food or toy reward for the dog, and they reward the dog when they find them, building the association between the left scent article and the person hiding.

We harness the superior scent ability of the dog, whose nose is over 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours.

A Cocker Spaniel taking scent from a Scent Article at the start of a trail.

Mantrailing as a Sport

Unlike in operational mantrailing, where the dogs are searching for a lost person or someone on the run, the sport of mantrailing is teaching pet dogs the skill at their own pace.

It is a sport which involves the dog being on a long line, and harness for their safety, and then teaching them to find the hidden person through association. We teach the dog that the trail layer always has their food or toy, and of you find them you can have that reward.

The long term goal of mantrailing is for is to build complexity into the game with longer trails, harder environmental conditions, more distractions and more aged on the time the scent is in the air. But all of this is worked on at the dogs own pace.

Unlike scent work or agility there are no competitions against other dogs, but the achievements are on a personal time scale to that dog and handler team. There are levels to aim towards and badges to be earned along the mantrailing journey.

Labrador finding the trail layer hidden up high, and getting his food reward.

Can My Dog Do Mantrailing?

Any breed of dog can do mantrailing, but hunting breeds or hounds can pick up the game faster. With Spaniels and German Shepherds being among the most popular breeds, Poodles, Staffordshire Terriers and Cross Breeds are equally good at the sport.

There is no upper or lower age limit for the dogs to start. It is an excellent outlet for dogs who need to work their brain, but not their body as much. It is on lead at all times, so dogs with poor recall or manners are welcome.

Reactive or anxious dogs can join us for mantrailing as each dog is worked individually, and there is opportunity for them to build positive associations with things that may have worried them before.

Why Should I Start Mantrailing?

Mantrailing really is a sport for every dog. No previous dog training is needed, and you can do as much or as little mantrailing as you want. There is no obligation to sign up to classes every week, and be committed to a schedule. You can join in classes as and when you want.

The confidence boosts I have seen in dogs which go mantrailing is phenomenal. Dogs who would normally avoid strangers are going up to them for a food rewards, dogs which normally bark at dogs on a walk are ignoring them while trailing.

Building a strong bond with your dog is important. Mantrailing helps you to see the subtle behaviours of your dog meaning you can read them better.

How Do I Get Started?

We start with our introduction workshop, which teaches you the theory behind mantrailing, the health and safety and the game of mantrailing. We start with some short fun trails, which get your dog into the game and leave you both wanting more. We then set you a plan for at home, and then you can start your mantrailing journey to build more skills in progression sessions and advanced seminars.

Each dog and handler team is progressed as pair, your don’t have to keep up with a group and its impossible to compare your progress to others as the dogs all sniff at their own pace.

Beagle using its nose to find a hidden person

We use both food and toy rewards for the dogs at the end of the trail to provide maximum fun for them!

If you would like to get involved in this exciting new dog sport, we offer Introduction sessions followed up by weekly sessions and extra training weekends. We even host guest speakers from time to time so you can learn even more!

Book via our booking link at the top of the page.

Want to learn more about mantrailing then why not check out Mantrailing Global.

Kathryn Jones
Mantrailing Global Head Instructor and Assessor

Published by Trailing K9s

Mantrailing Global Head Instructor, Assessor and Business Supervisor

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