What is a Scent Article?

German Shepherd taking scent from a scent article when mantrailing
Taking scent from the article

It is usually an old holey worn pair of socks in bag, that is placed in a plastic bag, thrown on the ground and slobbered on by the dog doing the trail. But a scent article is more than just an old pair of socks, it is the whole trail really.

You’ll often hear the term scent article when mantrailing, and it is often explained really simply and then never explained further. It is more than smelly socks, it is key to your dogs trailing journey. It could be described as the most important part of mantrailing, as without a start point there is no trial.

The scent article can be defined as something that has the scent of the subject you are looking for on it. In this case our “missing person” or “runner” in training.

Scent articles can be anything the person has touched. Ideally we want something only they have touched, rather than something they have only had brief contact with. We can sue objects that can be touched by others, but these are regarded as contaminated scent articles. We can create scent articles as well when we have none, and dogs can still successfully trail off of these.

When we start mantrailing for fun you’ll often hear me say grab your socks or gloves, as these are the most common scent articles the average person has worn recently. These will smell heavily of the person because of where they are worn (Sweaty feet!). But a scent article can be anything, I’ve had runners whip out square cloths of fabric from their bra or ditch a shoe and run off. Long as they smell of the person running the trail, they are scent articles.

These scent articles are the start of the trail for a dog, they contain the scent of the trail layer, not the handler. The trail layer leaves the scent article and then lays the trail for the dog to follow. When we start trailing the dog see’s the person going in intensity and delayed starts, but eventually we build up to only being the scent article there which is the scent article start. This part of the progression as a mantrailer for our dogs. We never rush to scent article starts but they are where we head to with our dogs training.

I think of the scent article as the start of the journey, the home point. The trail leads to the end point, which is the person with the reward for your dog. Without a starting point you can’t plan a journey, you can only guess a vague direction of travel. We don’t want our dogs to guess a trail, we want them to follow it so we need them to be able to take scent from the article.

Taking scent can be difficult for some dogs as they are so busy trying to get trailing, that they just want to get going regardless of where the trail is which leads to mistakes. Practicing taking scent by dropping things on the ground and rewarding them when they sniff it, or you could pop some treats into something and reward them for sniffing. Your local Mantrailing UK instructor will be able to show you how to teach this. Adding in your command for it which can be anything but generally most people use “Sniff” or “Take Scent” as the cue as they make the most sense.

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 cues used haven’t been consistent and the dog is confused
  • The dog pre scents the article
  • The dog is over confident and needs harder trails
  • The handler has been leading the dog

These are all sortable with training, and often come from our own human error. Dog’s know how to take scent, they do it all day everyday. We aren’t teaching them something new, we are just adding a specific cue to it.

Ideally we want a scent article that hasn’t been touched by others, and we can seal them in a plastic bag to keep the scent in strongly. It also stops it getting wet when you drop it on the ground, as the lovely British weather isn’t always lovely. A scent article should be fresh each trailing session, not left in your plastic bag loosing scent daily, especially when trailing with new dogs. As the dogs get more advanced we may use old scent articles, and contaminated articles to test the dog. But this is mixed in with all the foundation training.

Contamination can be via someone else touching the article which is direct transfer, the article being mixed in a bag with other scents, the environment and residual from the air. It can be used as part of the progression trailing to teach the dogs further discrimination when trailing. The environment effects all part of the trailing experience for the dogs and can make things harder, or easier depending on its effect.

The scent article doesn’t have to be physical thing we specifically use. It can also be transferred on to something else, using it to make the scent taking more difficult for the dog. We can use anything from a touched surface, somewhere someone has sat, even a hand shake. This is a transfer scent article start and is something we can progress towards in our sessions to add a bit of complication to a straight forward trail. We can then base our trailing on real life scenarios to make it as realist as possible, even though we do it as a sport.

All in all the scent article is one of the most important parts of the trailing journey, if not the most important. It is the start of the trail, and without a start there is no trail.

Kathryn Jones
Trailing K9s
Mantrailing UK Head Instructor and Assessor

Published by Trailing K9s/Complicated Canines

Canine Behaviourist, Dog Trainer, Mantrailing UK Head Instructor, Dog Handler and Dog Collector.

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