Wind and Scent Behavior
The wind plays an important part in looking for lost loved one with your family dog.
Every dog already knows how to work the wind and how to use the wind to the advantage when they look for members of their family.
It's up to us to learn how to read our dog during windy or calm conditions in order to know what our dog's are telling us during a search.
Handlers often make the mistake of "thinking" the dog has lost the scent when the dog is only working the wind.
Each time you start to work your dog on a scent and as you enter the location of the search scene, "feel" the wind and how the breeze drifts to settle on surfaces around you. Feel the air around you and your dog, feel the dew, the warmth of the sun and wind on the breeze.
This is what your dog feels and relies on. You must learn to be aware of the natural earth cycles that will affect your dog or you can not make critical judgment calls about your dog’s actions.
This awareness is part of assessing the scene for a K9 handler and dog, to make sure you are aware of everything before you venture into the unknown. Emergency response crews are taught to "assess the incident" before they go into action. This is part of planning that each rescuer should learn that will be included in later assessment and record keeping lessons.
For now, it is important for you to learn how the wind feels and which way the wind is blowing from and to where does the wind go. Learning to feel the way the breeze moves to settle in each and every crack on every surface around you lets you know which way the scent will be coming from and which way you should go.
Stand for a moment before you start your dog working on a trail. Look for any water surface to see if there is movement on the water from the wind. Look for any type of flags, tree branches and your hair or your dog’s hair can become a flag that dances on the movement of the air and take a moment to imagine the scent particles drifting on the wind.
See where the leaves settle or a piece of litter rolling across the pavement lands. This is the wind in action carrying the scent you seek along its way. See where the scent will settle around you and your dog, feel the direction of the wind blowing from one direction and how fast or gentle she blows.
As you work with your dog understand the scent will travel on the wind and so might your dog’s nose work in following where the scent particles go. Never scold your dog for going off a trail or course because you really do not know if the scent is there or not, do you?
The dog is always right on a search because we really cannot smell the scent they can smell and follow. We must learn to read the dog who knows what the scent is.
Always remember to trust your dog to follow the scent where the wind takes the particles.
Your dog will naturally work the wind if given the opportunity to do so because the wind will guide your dog to where the scent is originating from. Scent moves in a cone from the object it is originating from.
As the scent moves away from the source the particles spread out forming the larger end of the cone as illustrated below.
Once you learn to feel the wind and know which direction the breeze will carry the particles you will know to face your dog in the direction of the wind to start the search. Then your dog has the advantage on the trail; and a good starting place.
Learn to pay attention to obstacles that may cause the wind to shift or move in another direction in order to read your dog better.
If your dog suddenly changes direction for no apparent reason and the subject did not or could not go there then there is a good chance the wind moved the scent to the lay where it has. Your dog will work the puzzle out, if given the time and opportunity.
For instance if a lost person jumped up on a landscape wall to a grassy area 3 feet higher and traveled along the wall instead of away from the wall. The scent particles will fall on the lower and upper surface, on the top of the wall and along the bottom.
A dog is most likely to travel and follow the person’s scent along the bottom of the wall without jumping up to the top of the wall like the person did. This is easier for the dog then jumping up.
When the dog comes to the scent cloud at the wall not where the person went. The dog will turn and follow the direction the scent is coming from. The dog can follow the scent from either the top of the wall or the bottom with the same ease.
When the person moves away from the wall across the grass the person's scent will follow and so will the dog by jumping up onto the upper level as the scent moves away the dog will follow.
The wind is one of the strongest forces on earth and the plays many roles in how scent is spread for a dog to find.
Another example of how the wind can play on scent is in an open area of a power line cutout of a forest or a sudden opening in a brush covered lot. High grass and other types of crop fields with a sudden open path or road way will make a tunnel effect on the scent trail because the wind or air will move up this tunnel opening to push or pull the scent in one direction or the other.
If you look around you can see many places that make a tunnel effect on a surface which the wind can travel through.
Underpasses on highways and alleyways between buildings will all make a place for the wind or air to come through to move the scent off the person’s actual path. If you are trailing with your dog and cross a clear cut area in a forest or alleyway in a city your dog may turn into or away from the area when following the scent particle currents on the air.
Follow your dog and they will work the wind and air through the puzzle. Your dog may momentarily be off of the person’s actual foot path by following the scent on the breeze, the dog should be allowed to work this out without interference from their handler even when the handler does not understand why the dog is acting like they are not tracking.
Your dog may stop and look around as they smell the air and see where to go. Give the dog a chance to do as you ask. The wind’s effect on the scent can make a dog hard to read and confuse the handler who can then confuse the dog.
Anytime your dog stops following a scent they are working out a scent puzzle and should be allowed time to work this through without us telling them what to do because they are busy doing what we ask. If the dog stops to think or react we should not interfere. Some reactions take time.
Go easy on how much encouragement you give a dog who is actively working scent or they will feel interrupted. Some dogs do not like to be bothered when they are working and speaking to them can break the focus they have on the scent or job. Other dogs enjoy the companionship and want us to be part of the job. Each dog is an individual who we have to learn how to read.
Each time you start to work your dog on scent work, also called nose work, you should test the direction of the wind and feel how strong the wind is blowing.
A mild breeze blowing the scent to your dog can have a great advantage on a trail while a day with no wind might make your dog work harder finding scent which is laying still. A day that is dry, hot and still with no breeze at all is the hardest for your dog to work a scent.
The trick for wetting your finger then watching to which side dries first does work for determining the wind direction and you can look around for items blowing in the wind, chimney smoke is a good indicator during winter months. Cigarette smoke and campfire smoke are good to watch and learn how the wind will move the scent on the air.
One important point to always keep in mind is that there is a layer of air at the surface of the earth where our feet land that is not moved or affected by upper wind movement. This layer of air can be worked by a dog in the worst of weather conditions.
This layer of air is between 2 and 4 inches from the ground and a dog who is tracking as close to the ground as they can get their nose is working this scent layer.
Bloodhounds and other hounds are notorious for finding their man because they know where to put their nose and their ears are long to stir up the air uncovering the scent in this bottom layer of surface air.
During the late afternoon and night hours of a day, the expansion or exhale of the earth cycle and moisture from overnight expands and wets this surface air which drifts up during the process making the scent easier for a dog to follow.
Sue working a Scent Cone