The Scent Article in Mantrailing

Taking scent from the article, part of the foundation of all mantrailing

The scent article is something which someone has touched or worn, they have then walked away from this object/article and left a trail of scent for the dogs to follow. The basis of mantrailing is the dog following the scent from that article and finding a specific person, rather than finding anyone in the environment.

Simply put – No start, no trail.

The Biology:

Every second we drop thousands of skin rafts from us, these skin rafts have bacteria on them which starts to expand or degrade at different rates depending on the environment.

Each person has an individual cocktail of bacteria, hormones and environmental scents they smell off. This is what we are assuming the dogs are following when following a trail.

When a person moves or walks, they leave the scent behind. Especially if they touch an object. The scent will stay there for a period of time, which is determined by the environment, and the dogs can take scent from that object or place touched.

The current science is ever evolving, and we are learning more about how our dogs process scent each year. We can’t build technology as accurate as a dogs nose for sniffing out things such as cancer, diabetes, drugs and explosives. So for sure they can find a man hidden in a bush in Birmingham with a pot of sardines.

The effect of that bacterial change is a big subject, and for another blog. But for now think about how the bacteria could change over time, and on different parts of the body. Think about where you sweat from and what parts of you are more exposed.

The Scent Article:

Rather than an old pair of worn socks, that have been in the bottom of the washing basket for a week, a scent article should be something freshly worn so the scent degrades at the same rate the trail being set out does.

The article should be something worn by the person laying the trail, you do not need to give you scent article to your own dog as it is not finding you. The scent article should ideally be something you have worn on the head, or in the more sweaty areas such as the armpit or around the neck. This gives the dog a better opportunity to have access to a stronger version of the trail layers “scent”.

As a trail layer it is up to you to think about the scent article you choose, and make sure it is refreshed between sessions. Not left to age in a bag in the car. Wearing it briefly is not the same as it being worn by you.

Progression in the Sport:

The complexity of the scent article should be considered for the level of the dog.

Different types of scent article can provide a complexity to the trail for the dog, making them think harder about the start of the trail.

The kind of scent article, or time it has been worn by a person effects the complexity of the scent for the dog to start the trail with.

The scent article does not always need to be worn by the trail layer, it can be something they have touched and the dog can take scent off that. Be this an object we can move such as spoon or cup, or it can be something like a car handle or door handle. The possibilities are endless, and even food or other people can be used.

Using something touched by the trail layer only is called a transfer scent, and this is usually nothing something impregnated with the scent of the trail layer but just something they have touched. A handle is common one, the trail layer opens a door and leaves a building or enters one, or they walk away from a car. The location where the hand touched the object, and the dog is then tasked to take scent from it and then follow the trail.

The amount of scent left from a transfer scent can vary, and the dog will potentially have to work harder to distinguish the scent of the trail layer on the object from the environmental scents already there.

Beagle taking scent from a body for mantrailing,
Scent can be taken from another person being a “body” for the dog to trail from

Scent Cue:

The cue used for taking scent is entirely up to you as a handler, but it needs to not be used for anything else or have any previous association.

I have typically used common sense words such as “sniff”, “scent” and “check” associated with taking scent from the scent article. Along with “trail” and “track” as the trailing command, but any words work. “google it” and “Scooby Do” are two of my favourite ones I have heard for the dog to take scent.

It is important that before you progress onto longer, aged and harder trails your dog understand the take scent cue. As with no start there is no trail, and it is easy for dogs to pretend to take scent or not really understand the process. They just then guess the location of the trail layer or the dog is guided there by the handler/instructors behaviour.

There can be many reasons why a dog doesn’t want to take scent from the article:

  • It has become a negative as it has been shoved in the dogs face by the handler
  • It has been something which the dog finds scary or negative
  • The dog is over excited and consistently learns to bypass the scent article
  • The cues used haven’t been consistent and the dog is confused
  • The dog pre-scents the article (Takes scent early)
  • The dog is over confident and needs harder trails
  • The handler has been leading the dog

These are all correctable with training, and often come from our own human error or more accurately human interference or complication . Dogs know how to take scent, they do it all day everyday processing the world through scent in a way we have very little understanding of. We aren’t teaching them something new, we are just adding a specific cue to it as part of a game we would like them to play.

Barbet Dog taking scent from a scent article for mantrailing
Taking scent from a recently worn hat as part of foundation exercises

Conclusion:

Mantrailing as a sport means you can add complexity to most any part of the learning and progression, but it these complexities need to be reinforced with strong foundations.

Remember no start, no trail.

Want to get started mantrailing? Then check out the http://www.mantrailinguk.com or get booked on one of my sessions on the link at the top.

Kathryn Jones
Mantrailing Global Head Instructor and Assessor

Published by Trailing K9s

Mantrailing Global Head Instructor, Assessor and Business Supervisor

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