Rain and Scent
Trailing and Tracking in the Rain
Rain to a dog is not the same as rain to most people. Even though some dogs learn not to like rain while living in human environments, they were born to thrive in natural surroundings.
Dogs are born to develop into the nature of the outdoors. They have coats of fur to protect them, ears and eyes shaped to withstand foul weather and they can hear long distance warning signs, such as the far off thunder of an approaching storm. Their nose can lead them on miles and miles of trails in the search for food or a safe place to den up during storms.
Many stories have been told about animals that have a keen 6th sense that enables them to predict the weather and know ahead of time when to seek shelter or move to safer ground.
A dog’s keen sense of smell involves the use of the Olfaction cells of the nasal cavity which include the nose, mouth and sinuses. Moisture plays a key role in how the nasal cavity works and a dog’s sense of smell depends on the amount of moisture present in the dog’s surroundings and in the olfaction cells when the nose is put to work. Read my article "A Dog Follows its Nose"
The longer thicker muzzle of the Bloodhound has more cells for collecting odors, moisture and scent to be absorbed and processed by Olfaction Perception then the short nosed Bulldog or thin long muzzle of the sight hound. But, the difference in size does not mean a Bulldog cannot smell.
All dogs depend upon their nose to led them where to go and the nose should always be damp or as is often said, a dog with a dry nose is a sick dog. This saying is not always true because a sleeping dog has a dry nose until they wake up. What's true is active dogs always have wet noses unless they are on the edge of dehydration.
When you are doing tracking or nose work (nose work is different than tracking and will be covered in another post-sign up for updates ) with your dog, always check to make sure the dog’s nose is moist before you give them a scent article or send them out on an area search. If your dog’s nose is dry from sleeping, traveling or the heat of the day you should offer the dog water to drink first and if they refuse then wet your palm and place a little wetness on the dog’s nose.
Always carry water for your dog and always offer your dog all the water they want when tracking.
If we think of how the dog’s nose uses moisture to absorb the scent particles and process the odor through the olfactory cells we can understand why a dog’s sense of smell is better during rainy weather then on hot dry days.
The rain absorbs the scent particles and as the dog inhales the moisture they also get the scent which mixes with the moisture present in the nose giving the dog a blast of scent similar to when we chew a flavorful piece of gum.
This reasoning leads us to an understanding of why the best time to do nose work with your dog is during damp conditions. In comparison, on a hot dry day, the dog's nose has to work harder to find scent condensed to dust and the body also must maintain a moisture level that will process the scent.
Misty foggy nights and early morning when the dew is fresh on the grass is the best time for tracking and trailing with dogs. Additionally, scenting is great during light rain showers because the scent particles will absorb the moisture and expand making them easier for the dog to follow.
Warm dry days remove the moisture from the scent by evaporation of the moisture which holds the particles together, expanded and in place. Once enough moisture is removed from the particles the scent particles will float more and move more off of the actual foot steps of the person the dog is seeking.
The scent cloud can swift in the lightest breeze on a dry day but on a wet day the scent cloud will collect in puddles and wet areas where the dog can find the scent more easily.
A hot dry day makes reading your dog more difficult. As does dry locations such as sandy areas and open fields baking in the sun.
And have a successful search it is often best to wait an hour or two for the weather to change before starting your dog on a trail. By giving the dog the advantage you will save time. The advantage often lies in the time of day or weather conditions.
For these reasons, on hot dry days, it’s best to wait to search for a lost person when the sun starts to go down or when the day begins to cool. This time of day usually begins about 3 pm unless rain comes.
Light misty rain and light to moderate rain showers that do not cause any run off of the water on the ground surface create the best environment for tracking with your dog because the surface particles are freshened and awakened by the rain. The moisture makes the scent expand and the dog can find the particles more quickly.
On the other hand, during heavy amounts of rain and in areas with run-off water flowing on the surface the scent particles will move with the current of the water flow and also be affected by the direction of the wind.
If the water moves so will the scent particles and the foot trail your dog will be following.
Consequently your dog will follow the water current that is carrying the scent and not the actual path or footsteps of the person and lead you in the wrong direction until the water flow changes or ends.
At that point, a dog is often misread and believed to of lost the trail when they do not find a person right away. I believe a mistake is made when we give up on our dog’s ability to soon and take the dog off the work or trail.
I have learned from watching my dogs when they seem to of lost a scent not to interfere because they will continue to seek the scent until they find where they were misled and they will return to the right path.
Your dog may come to you for direction or ideas when they are working out this puzzle that’s when you encourage them to keep looking and let your dog work out the problem.
The dog will be seeking the scent they were following even when they do not look like they smell anything, they are and eventually they will find it and go back to the person’s path.
Keep in mind, that during rainy and wet weather conditions the amount of water and flow of the current or movement of water counts more than if it is raining or not.
Because the sense of smell is better in the rain compared to hot dry days I prefer to work my dogs on wet days and nights. I've worked German Shepherds and Bloodhounds in Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms with excellent results each time.
The only time the weather should stop you from trying to search for a missing person is when the danger to yourself and dog is life threatening and more dangerous than the person you seek could live through.
One good thing about dangerous rain and extreme weather is that rain will come to pass and give you a clear chance to continue the search. Wait for a safe opportunity during dangerous situations and keep in mind that only a short window of time opens up and you must be prepared to act at that moment.
Dogs actually love to work their nose in rainy conditions, they really seem to enjoy all the scents and fragrances that come to life for them to smell and follow.
Dogs are connected to nature in ways we are not and this connection allows the dogs to know more about weather then we really do. Let your dog decide if the weather is unsafe to work in. They will know better than us.
A cool morning with dew covering the grass excites many dogs because of the odor being released that tickle their senses. On warm afternoons you’ll find your dog would rather lie around and nap. I tend to agree with the dog on which time is the best for them to work.
Dogs are amazing when working scents in water; they have been known to find scent that is hundreds of feet below the surface of lakes, oceans and rivers.
Once your family dog is trailing well you can see how the rain and water carries the scent particles off of the actual path and by having a person make a trail across a slightly sloped hill side so the rain will move the scent downhill across this hill.
Start your dog on the trail in the rain and see how far below the actual path of the flags the scent is found and followed by your dog. The more of a slope a hill has the further and faster the scent could be washed downhill. Your dog will start at the beginning and gradually or quickly move downhill below the flagged trail in his quest to follow the scent as it is carried on the current.
Another good time to practice reading your dog in the rain is to watch how your dog reacts when they come to a puddle of water. If the puddle has a current moving from the wind or is flowing slightly watch to see if your dog goes in the direction of the flow of the current which carries the scent.
If a person stepped in the puddle and then away in the opposite direction of the flow of the water some of the person’s scent will remain as a scent pool in this puddle. Your dog might have to take some time determining which direction the person steps.
This is called a scent pool and dogs are familiar with running into and working out the puzzles they encounter while tracking so let your dog work it out. They may follow the water flow a few feet off the actual trail then turn around to go back as the scent thins because if it is the wrong direction the scent will not be as strong. Once the dog realizes the scent is weakening they will look for where the scent was strongest, often coming back to the scent pool then crossing it to get on the person’s actual trail.
As you can see, rain is another case of where a dog must be allowed to use their natural abilities in order to work the scent puzzles out and find a person. Trust your dog!
You can learn how to teach your dog to do tracking at this link...
Lesson 32: Training a Dog To Do Tracking
You can learn more about reading your dog at this link..
Lesson 12: How to Read a Dog
You can learn how to use Flags and make training courses to practice trailing and tracking with your dog on Lesson 20: Planning Dog Training Courses and Routes part 1
Go to the Lesson Links Page for more lessons
Check out my new book for children to learn too! You can listen to it or get a copy!