Area Search Training
Teaching your dog to do an Area Search
Now that you’ve learned the fundamentals of scent and how a tracking dog works you can train your dog to do an area search when the LKL (Last Known Location) of a person is not known.
You might have wondered when you read the tracking dog lessons, how do you start your dog on tracking a person if you do not know where the person was last standing or sitting?
This is where air scenting and area search can play an important part in tracking a person who is missing. Not only then but when you do not know for sure or from where they entered or even if they are in an area or building. Sending a dog in to clear the area or building saves time.
You do not have to train your family dog to do tracking or trailing in order for the dog to do an area search. You can use this lesson to train your dog to only do air scenting without any tracking experience.
Many detection dogs that air scent or area search work off a leash to cover more ground. Obedience training and good response to your directions while off leash will help you and your dog work together better while doing detection or air scenting.
However, if your dog does not work well off a leash you can still train on a leash. The lesson is the same.
There are two methods you can use to train your dog for air scenting.
Hide and Seek Method
The Hide and Seek Method trains your dog to do air scenting and area searches without a scent article. You have your helper person hide from your dog in an open area then you ask your dog to search the area.
Your dog may or may not follow the person’s foot print trail; your dog’s nose may or may not go to the ground. Most often your dog’s nose will be held high seeking the scent in the air.
At first, the best place to train is in an open field with high grass. Have the person run off with the dog watching. The person sits down in the grass and holds still. You release your dog or run with your dog on leash asking your dog to find them.
Follow the dog, if the dog does not go then have the person make a noise and you tell your dog to find it again.
Continue making noise or calling the dog until the dog gets the idea.
Praise your dog in big ways and they will remember what to do next time.
This can be done indoors with family members running off to hide behind doors then asking your dog to find them. The dog usually will consider this a great game to play and learn quickly that when you say “find them” somebody is hiding.
The dog gets praise or a treat upon finding the person and will look over and over again until every person in the area is found.
The Second method is the Toy Method.
The toy method is used to teach a dog to find any live human scent or a particular scent such as the scent of a bomb, drugs or a cadaver (dead person). A toy the dog enjoys playing with is usually associated with that specific scent.
Police dogs and bomb detection dogs are generally chosen for training if they have a high play drive and desire to play ball or chase an object because this makes training the dog easier, saves time and funds.
If your dog loves to play with a toy then follow the instructions below to train your dog using the toy method of training.
If your dog does not care to chase a ball or toy then use the hide and seek instructions.
The toy has to be saturated in the scent of what you wish to find. The dog actually looks for the toy and not the person, drug or bomb. The dog is thinking about the toy and the play reward afterwards.
To make your dog’s toy smell like live human scent or one of your family members you will place your dog’s training toy in a sealed container with clothing from the person.
If you want your dog to find any live human scent then you can mix different people’s objects but if you want your dog to find a person by name then use only that person’s clothing. Dirty socks and hats work great.
Set the sealed container to soak up scent in a warm, dark place for 2 weeks. The store it in a freezer for future use.
When you are not using the toy for training, keep the toy in the sealed container or the toy will be contaminated with other scents. Only you can touch this toy. Do not let anybody else touch this toy.
Your dog can have other toys to play with; this toy is a training toy only.
Once the toy is saturated with the scent you will hide the toy and ask your dog to find the toy. The dog naturally uses its nose to find the toy consequently finding the scent you asked for. You play with your dog with the toy as a reward.
After multiple lessons or play sessions of finding the scented toy, the toy is replaced by the person or object (drug or bomb smell) of scent the toy has been saturated with. The dog is asked to find the toy and uses its nose to find its toy thinking of the play afterwards.
When the dog finds the scent they find the person. You, the handler, have carried a toy to reward your dog with a play session after they find the person. An unscented toy is fine for reward and play, you can save the scented toy for training or to use if you do not have a person to hide.
The person who hides should carry a toy to play with the dog too. Especially if the dog is not on a leash because your dog will reach the person before you do and you want the dog rewarded as soon as possible upon reaching the person.
You can hide objects from the person who scent you are working if the person is not available to hide. This works well when you age the search area for training in case a person is missing for hours or days.
The toy and person can be hidden indoors and outdoors where you can play with your dog. A variety of locations and settings will teach you and your dog what to expect in different situations.
You do not have to make a training course as we did in the tracking and trailing lessons but doing so will make the training easier for you and build your confidence in your dog's ability.
You simply have a person run or walk swiftly away from you and your dog to hide then turn your dog loose or follow on a leash until you find the person.
At first, do this in a small area, making the area larger as you learn more.
At first, when the person runs to hide they keep your dog’s attention until they are out of sight.
Your dog’s nose will be high in the air or working the ground as they follow the person in pursuit. If you make this fun and enticing most dogs love this game.
Some dogs are hard starters and need more excitement to get going. Food treats might help if you have an older dog that is not interesting in chasing anybody. By using a command your dog is learning to do as you ask and not to chase but to follow.
After the first few sessions, once your dog has the idea, the person will walk to hide and hide without your dog watching. You do the lesson the same, tell your dog to find them and follow your dog. If your dog does not go then the person comes out of hiding to entice the dog until the dog does go to look.
With both methods, once your dog is finding the person, you will age the area after a person or object is hidden beginning with a 10 minute wait to begin the search then adding 15 minutes after a few sessions until your dog can find an object or person who is hidden 24 hours in different locations.
Be sure and read aging the training course to learn how your dog can find a person who is missing for days.
Always allow your dog to use its natural scenting ability to find the person. When your dog finds the person, play with your dog like they are the best dog in the world.
Cadaver Scent will be discussed in the next lesson.
Be sure to read Lesson 24 before you do this lesson.