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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Gathering Scent Articles for Mantrailing Dogs to Search for Missing Persons

 Gathering Scent Articles for Mantrailing Dogs

Search and Rescue Dogs trained to follow the scent trail of a live human being are called Mantrailers. These specialty trained dogs use an article or item belonging to the person the dog will find to identify and discriminate that person from other people. 

No two people smell the same, even when they use the same perfume. Each person has their own unique personal scent signature. This, invisible to the eye, individual scent remains in indoor spaces we visit and on items we handle, touch or wear. 

We leave our scent signature everywhere.

Photo from

To give you an idea of how much our scent remains on everything around us. Let's take a look at all the items in the photo above. Everything pictured will be contaminated with the scent signature of that one person at the desk! 

Each thing on that desk is a potential scent article that can be used to lead a trained dog to that one and only person. The desk, chair and personal space around that person is a scent article too. I have scented dogs on items as small as cigarette butts, paperclips and my favorite scent article for success is a toothbrush because generally only one person uses a toothbrush. Dogs are scented on chairs, benches, cars, desks, rooms, anywhere a person has been and everything they have been close to.

Contamination or the mixing of scent signatures by another person's scent happens immediately when the second person gets close to the first person's item or personal space. 

Contamination also occurs when other natural and humanmade substances or odors get mixed. A contaminated scent article is the most common reason a dog fails to find a person. I will be writing more about contamination in future articles. Sign up for the newsletter or follow me to get the new posts and you can go to this page to read how to train your dog for tracking which is different than trailing.

Scent chemistry is a very complex subject I like to explain in simple terms for everyone to easily understand. So, if we think of a person's scent chemistry as a scent cloud made of invisible particles and flakes of skin, hair and whatever else falls off, such as germs and infectious viruses, like Covid19, we can better understand what a dog follows when they search for a person. The scent cloud is what a dog works with. 

Let's start with what the dog will start with, the Scent Article!

How-to properly gather and store scent articles for dogs to find people.

One of the easiest ways to find a lost person is to give a dog the person's scent and watch him find the scent. 

The dog is only looking for the smell and not for the actual person. 

The dog does not necessarily associate the scent with the person unless the person is somebody they know with that scent. 

copyright A.Higgins

In the photo, I'm giving a Bloodhound pup the scent article

 To a dog, a scent is a scent.

Therefore, the fastest and surest way to teach or ask a dog to find a person is to use the person's scent to show them who we seek and no two people smell alike. Everybody smells different and we smell different at various times during the day or if we are sick.

To teach your dog to search for a lost or missing person, including family members you have to prepare first by gathering a "scent article" then visit my free dog training lesson page to read how-to start a dog.

To find Family Members with your Dog

It is wise to gather one sock from each person you love or do not want to lose before you start training your family pet and to store these as instructed below for later use in training sessions or if a loved one is lost. Place one dirty sock from each family member in a one freezer bag each sock.  

Do Not Mix or touch the sock to anything, only the bag, use a hanger or stick to pick it up. Freeze the socks in case of a disaster where somebody is lost or gone missing. When you go hiking collect a article from each hiker before leaving in case somebody goes off the path and is lost. A search dog or a dog from the hiking group can find them if you let the dog smell the personal item.

Also you can collect a item from each family pet as well, a old collar or brush would do. Store this item as outlined below use it as a scent article for a dog to find the missing pet

copyright A.Higgins

To Find a Unknown Missing Person

When training your dog to find people who are unknown or not family members, you will be using a volunteer person to hide from your dog so you will collect a scent article from that person before the person goes hide. The scent article can be a face mask, a sock, hat or other small personal item nobody else has touched. 

  Gathering the Scent Article

Always handle every scent article, at all times, in training and in an actual search with the upmost care! NO OTHER PERSON or thing should every touch or breath on a scent article from somebody else. 

Preservation and handling of a scent article is the most important aspect of using a dog to find a missing person. The main reason a dog will not work a trail or lose the scent of a missing person is because the scent article used was contaminated. We cannot see the contamination or smell any difference but a trained dog will smell and look for every smell that is on the article. 

If another person handles the article the dog will look for both people. Then a different type of search is needed to be used that will depend upon how well the handler reads the dog to come to the right conclusion. The dog will follow both persons scents and should be rewarded, although it may appear the dog is on the wrong person's trail. 

If a handler does not know a scent article is contaminated and gives the dog the scent article to use to find the missing person or shows the dog the last known location to start on that is contaminated. The dog will smell the missing person and the unknown subject or other substances (I will write about substances soon) the dog will look for all the scents on the scent article or at the person's last know location. For this reason, it's critical to safeguard and choose wisely every scent article used. 

Everything a person touches is a potential scent article, make sure it's only touched by the one person you wish to find.

Collecting the Scent Article

DO NOT touch the scent article yourself, have the person drop the personal item from their hand into a new brown paper bag (lunch bag size) or a plastic freezer bag ( zip lock natural non chemical bag is best) I prefer paper bags because paper is natural and organic to the dog's nose.

This is a post for beginners, you will learn more about scent article collection at a scene in other articles. 

Do Not Contaminate that scent article. 

Have the person fold the bag shut and drop the bag into another holding bag you will carry.

Reminder, Do Not Put 2 scent articles from different people together, each article gets its own bag and label the bag with the person's name, date and time.

If you are not using the scent article right away, store the bag in the freezer until a few minutes before use.

Write "Scent Article" for emergency on the bag (police dogs and search dog handlers will know what to do with this if you ever have to call them about a missing person.

My bloodhound Homer found 26 people and 1 mountain lion while working a 6 year career in law enforcement before semi-retiring from my mentor to me to volunteer and produce fine pups that went to work in several states, Canada and South America. 

The “scent article” tells your dog who they are looking for!

Handle with Care.

When you start the dog on the scent article, you will open the bag and ask the dog to smell inside to bag. Most dogs will out of curiosity, be sure to tell the dog the command "Smell" or "Take Scent" each time to teach the dog you expect them to smell the item.

You only need one item from the person as long as that item is not contaminated by any other odor, substance or person. 

Here's some ideas for the best personal items to use for K9 scent articles.

1. Clothing directly from the person-hats, socks, shirts, shoes, etc.

2. Personal hygiene items-hair bush, toothbrush, comb, bottles only the person touched, etc.

3. Bedding-pillows, covers, sheets

4. Toys

5. Tools

6. Office items-mail, pens, pencil, books, desk top, chair that only one person has used

7. Benches, chairs, table tops, gate handles, door handles, etc

8. Automobiles -seat, steering wheel, doors, inside and outside surfaces, items inside, floors

9. Daily use items- towels, dishes, eating utensils, pipes, walking canes, backpacks, etc

10. Electronics- Phones, computers, device cords, memory cards, device case, briefcase 

For online courses that teach you how to train a dog to search for missing persons, dead and alive visit my online dog training courses and dog lifestyle coach page by clicking here. There is an Obedience course and Family Disaster Dogs course I am finishing writing there, and the Cadaver course is accepting more students. 


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Author Amber Higgins

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Welcome UK and Worldwide Visitors

Welcome UK and worldwide visitors and friends to Family Disaster Dogs online! Although I'm an American author and dog professional the worldwide web has given me the opportunity to connect with some wonderful folks who have contributed pictures for my books. The "Start Mantrailing" book features RRI K9 North Scotland trained Search and Rescue Dog "Amber" on the cover and her teammates training in the book, plus American dogs using my training methods. A portion of sales of the Start Mantrailing book or copies were donated to RRI North Scotland. The children's picture book "My Puppy Can Find Me" has my daughter and bloodhound as illustrations by UK cartoonist Scotty King. You can find the books on Amazon UK or use the contact page to order from me. When you click the links will take you to your own county pages of this site.

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