Bloodhound doing tracking exercise: Photo credit: © Luis Santana/iStockphoto via PBS.org
Dogs love to work, especially with their snouts!
Dogs have an incredible sense of smell - 1,000 times more scent glands than we have. Some breeds have 10 million times more scent glands than humans; those particular breeds like hounds, pointers, retrievers, shepherds, and spaniels are often those trained for search and search and rescue jobs, as well as sport, of course.
Observational evidence from trainers indicates that 'detective dogs' tend to be more well-adjusted than other dogs. Sure, their brains and bodies are active much of the day. Boredom, for a search dog, is a foreign concept. Without sending your dog to a police academy to learn, you can teach your own dog to search, making his search experiences a game that keeps you both involved.
But first, let's explore what kinds of searching your dog might enjoy, depending on his strengths. All canine jobs and pastimes require different kinds of training, depending on what is being hunted.
Navy dog detects drugs in test for her skills (Wikipedia)
Police, fire, and rescue workers train dogs to detect everything from drugs to fugitives to injured persons to dead bodies. Training starts when dogs are six months old or younger. Getting them ready for a job may take up to a year or two before they are put to work, and training continues during a dog's work life. The three major types of training are sniffer, tracking, and trailing.
Sniffer dogs are widely used in many fields. Again, we hear more about law enforcement training dogs to detect whatever they are looking for - drugs, explosives, even money. Rescue workers train sniffer dogs to locate survivors and dead bodies by exposing them to the odors of biological decay.
Sniffer dogs are getting more and more work in the medical field, like the dog below who is training to detect cancer, but also in other sciences from archeology to zoology where sniffer dogs are finding everything from ancient bones to animals in the wild.
Most of what we know about working dogs we learn about from police and detective TV shows. We see a lot of tracking dogs on TV, dogs that follow the scent of a person's or animal's footprints on the ground. The dogs are taught a specific scent at the outset of the search and then follow the path of the same scent, keeping their noses to the ground so that they can sniff and feel depressions in the ground. A tracking dog's leash passes under the dog from her collar to beyond her tail until it enters the grip of the dog's handler. Dogs are on a short lead, as you see above.
Tracking works best when trails are fresh. Another scent technique, which involves somewhat different skills, is called trailing. Trailing involves a dog's ability to detect a specific human or animal odor wherever it is, in the air as well as on the ground or other surface. To train a trailing dog, possessions of the lost one are introduced to him, like a pillow, clothing, toy, or other items that would hold their scent. This training is common among bloodhound trainers, and it is argued by some that tracking and training should not be separated, but that is usually up to a specific agency's needs and training philosophy.
I recently read about a dog who, frightened by fireworks, ran away from home. The family was frantic, of course, and called in a professional pet tracker and her trained dog to find their family dog - and she was found! If your own dog ever gets lost, you may be lucky enough to have an electronic tracker. If not, look up "professional pet trackers" online. You should learn about the closest resource before your pet is lost, so you have the information already. Other resources inlude: Lost Pet Professionals, Angie's List, and Lost Dogs of America.
You Can Train Your Own Dog To Search!
Tracking dogs, trailing dogs, and sniffer dogs tend to work with one trainer - maybe two. They do get tired and sometimes overexposed to a specific scent, so they may need to take breaks and, occasionally, change objects. But trainers say that dogs that do detection work are actually more well-adjusted and happier than dogs who are not trained - formally or informally.
Have you ever seen your dog's face after he finds something he buried - or thought was gone? He's proud of himself and he shows it, especially if you tell him how wonderful he is and/or give him a treat. You may not own a bloodhound or a retriever, but remember every dog hunts with his nose. Try teaching him to hunt something - treats, toys, sticks at the park - and then something else. Maybe something you can really use? Employ treats to get her started. You'll keep her off the couch and make her a much happier dog.
Here are some great resources to get you started.