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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Reading the Dog-Variables a K9 Search Team Encounters on the Trail

 Variables a K9 Search Team Encounters on the Trail:

What are variables? 

Variables are the many different and constantly changing things a search dog comes across in the search for a person. Every kind of detection dog learns how to work in various conditions which is why we call these different conditions, "variables". Other trainer use different terms of course, but for an easy understanding I am sticking with variables. Here's why.

During training and in mock training searches. A handler has to learn how to read the dog when the various conditions (variables) and aspects of the search change or are encountered by the dog. The dog also must learn how to work the missing person's scent trail or location in the variables the dog will most likely encounter during a real search. 

For instance, a wilderness trained dog learns how to work in a natural settling while a urban search dog learns to work in pavement, cement and human made environments. Both environments affect scent very differently. 

Just think of all the different odors we humans smell in a big city compared to what we smell when we are out exploring a natural woodland or countryside. Imagine how much more our dogs smell and the different places where the odor changes. 

Watch your dogs and see how they react when they encounter a variable, a difference, when you're both out for a stroll. 

Learning and knowing how your dog behaves when they encounter variables is how you read a dog.

Here's the most common variables a K9 team will encounter on a search for a person.

Each variable is in bold print.


An example of surfaces are paved roadways, sidewalks, dirt, grass, woodland, water, snow, gravel, sand, indoors carpet, tile, floor, table, windowsill, etc. 

The K9 Team learns to search on different surfaces by introducing each type of surface one at a time because scent particles travel and collect differently on natural and human made surfaces. This is one reason training takes time.


Every trail has contaminates and every contaminate changes with the type of surface and other variables.  Contaminants are all living beings, chemicals and natural scent particles that come in contact with the trail, trail layer or scent article. 

A few examples are animals or people who walk near and on a Trail Layer’s trail, gasoline odors, chemicals and traffic, other animal’s urine and feathers, buried bones or fur. 


The weather changes on a minute by minute, hour by hour, daily bases and this makes each and every step of a search for a person begin a new trail. When a slight breeze begins to blow, in the middle of training so does the scent particle begin to drift and change path. This is why Mantrailing dogs are a valuable resource for finding missing persons. 

Age of the Trail:  

Every trail ages with the passage of time, beginning at the time a person goes missing or the trail layer starts to make a “hot” or “fresh” training trail. As time passes, the person’s scent trail begins to dissipate and grow “aged” and “cold”.  If the person has been missing or hidden for under a hour the trail is considered, “hot” or fresh and as the trail ages the scent becomes “cold” and aged. 

Lost Person Behavior: 

Teams who wish to advance to active duty readiness and operational level to work actual missing person cases will benefit from studying how people behave when lost or taken against their will because the person’s behavior is a very important variable that changes and challenges a dog team’s search strategy.   

My dog and I on the trail to a hidden person

Learn to read a dog by paying attention to the dog's behavior when you encounter variables.

Learn more about training a dog to find people in my new book "Start Mantraining" Step by Step and in The "Family Disaster Dogs" book available my author page at Amazon worldwide or you can get a personally signed copy from me the author at my own store here

Author Amber Higgins

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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