In search dog work the age of the trail is one of the most important aspects of the search. The age of the trail is how old the footprints is in the sand or how long ago the person left the scent at the location.
In other words, if a person is missing 1 hour then the trail or track of scent they left behind is 1 hour old. When a person has been missing 15 minutes the trail has an age of 15 minutes.
As you and your dog gets close to the person the scent becomes fresher or hotter (younger). The further you are away from a person the colder or older the scent.
Your dog will react differently to cold and hot scents. A dog is usually more excited the hotter the scent and a dog is more inclined to slow down to study and work older scents. By watching your dog you can tell the age of a trail or scent.
Dogs are amazing in regard to how old of a scent they can find and follow. The Bloodhound is known as having a cold nose because they can follow cold trails as well as hot trails or tracks.
We might think a hot trail of scent would be easier for our dogs to follow but this is not the case because the scent particles have not settled and are floating around as a person moves. As the scent trail ages the particles settle on surfaces condensing into scent pools or trails that concentrate in one area or line of travel.
For this reason a dog can follow an older scent trail easier then a person who only moments before ran away. In training search dogs we want to make sure the dog is given every chance they can to achieve the goal of finding the lost person. With this in mind, you want to make reliable courses and trails for your dog to follow. The first training courses should always be prepared fairly simple for your dog to follow with the scent trail settled and aged.
Otherwise your dog will become disappointed and discouraged or confused by us asking them to follow a scent that is not reliable or consistent. From a dog’s point of view, a scent that is floating everywhere is difficult to follow.
The dog has to trust you to know what you are asking them to find because they already smell every scent around them and know what each one is. It is up to us to know which scent we want them to follow out of the millions of scents they come across.
As a basic rule, a novice dog that is beginning to work scent trails and area search should not be worked on courses or scent trails less then 5 minutes old but no more then 15 minutes old. This might not sound like much time until you are standing in place counting the minutes while you let the scent settle and your pretend lost person is waiting in hiding. Then 15 minutes can feel like an hour.
After you dog can consistently make a find of a lost person who has been hidden 15 minutes then you graduate to aging the course to 30 minutes. A dog usually works each time frame a week or two before they can graduate to the next level with confidence and drive to keep looking. By adding 30 minutes to the age of the course or trail you dog will gradually learn the differences they will encounter while on an actual hunt.
After your dog can find a person who is hidden for 30 minutes then you will age the trail for 1 hour, then 1 and a half hours, then 2 hours up to making a 24 hour old training course or trail.
If your dog becomes confused or unsure on a newly aged course then you know you have graduated from one time limit to the next to quickly. Go back to the pervious time or age of the course where your dog did work well and start from there again.
Give your dog extra lessons at that time limit and make sure the turns and pattern is not to difficult. You may have to simplify a pattern at first to help your dog discriminate scents that are older and then make a more complex pattern at that age after your dog gets the age of the trail.
Aging the course or trail means the person helper who hides from your dog will leave walking from the starting point of the training course and will hide for that preset time limit.
Planning must be done for the person who will be hiding to have something to do while they wait, such as taking a book to read or making the training course at a location where the person can walk through a wooded area to another house of a friend and wait there for you to find them later. They can get into a car and return to the finding spot later when you will find them.
This is where teaching search dogs can get complicated or it can be easy if you look for opportunities to work with your family dog. For instance, let’s say your teenager is going to stay the night at a friend’s house a few blocks away.
You and your child discuss how you will fit the dog training into the visit by planning the way they will walk so you will know your dog is on the right trail. After your child is at the friend’s house then you would give the trail time to age by going about your day at home until the time comes to find your child. Take your dog outside to the front yard and give them your child’s scent article and the command to find. Follow your dog to your child for a successful training session made easy.
When people come to visit, ask them to hide from your dog and help you train. You will be surprised how many friends and children would love to see your dog find them. Even beginning dogs are amazing in finding a person, especially somebody they know and love. All they have to do is go outside and around the house to hide, give the scent time to settle for 10 minutes then send your dog after them for a happy reunion. This training should always be fun.
You can use objects for your dog to find instead of a person by having your helper leave in their place of hiding a jacket, book, shoes or an object that will have only their scent only on it. The person can then go home without walking where they did to get there. Leaving by car is best.
The trail from start to object must be connected for your dog to make a find. You allow the object to sit and the trail to age then set out to find the object with your dog. When your dog finds this object they have completed the lesson .It’s time for play and praise.