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Scent Articles-How Dogs Follow the Nose

Important to Read before teaching your dog to look for a lost or missing person.

Scent Articles and How a Dog Follows its Nose

The most effective and quickest way for your dog to know who to look for is if you have the ability to tell the dog who the person is.

Then the dog can go straight to the person.

Otherwise, if we can not tell the dog which person to look for, the dog can only work by finding any and all human scent in the area which is often contaminated with many other persons odors.   

This is why there are different types of search and rescue dogs. Air Scenting Dogs do an Area Search to seek out any human scent in an area while a Tracking or Trailing Dog follows the exact path of only the one person they are told to find.

Finding the First-Aid Kit lesson is in the Family Disaster book

The family dog already knows the members of the household and friends by name who visit while the professional search dog is usually only called out to find strangers. 

This difference is an advantage in training our pets for this job because the person's name can often be used to tell the dog who you wish to find instead of having to gather a scent article as outlined below.

You can teach your dog to know everybody's name by using the person's name when you talk to your dog and by reading many of the lessons here at Family Disaster Dogs.

To be on the safe side, it is always a good idea to Prepare to Train and Prepare to Using Family Disaster Dog lessons ahead of time by gathering "scent articles" in order for your dog to know exactly who to look for in case the odors from a disaster are overwhelming and confusing. 

The gathering of a scent article is usually preformed at the search incident by a search dog handler who speaks to friends and family of the missing person before starting an actual search. Sometimes this is done by incident command and the information is passed onto the search dog handler.

For family use, we will skip the middle man because you, the family, will have this information and the scent article ready ahead of time.  

Keep in mind, a scent article is a life saver and if you ever have to call on a professional search dog team for a lost family member, critical time will be saved if you are ready when help arrives.

When your own dog and any other search dog come to help you....
Keep in mind, 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. They do not necessarily associate the scent with the person unless the person is somebody they know very well with that scent. 

When you are using a "scent article" your dog will be "tracking" or "trailing" the exact person. 

One piece of information that is often misunderstood about a dog hunting with its nose is how the dog is using the nose, the dog has different ways it can use its nose. 

These different ways are called, Tracking, Trailing and Air Scenting. 

"Tracking" or "Trailing" are different forms of following the exact scent of one person.  

The two ways are different because;

When a dog "Tracks" he follows the exact footprints of a person but when a dog "Trails" a person, they follow the scent cloud left behind by the person's footprint trail. 

This scent cloud can drift away from the exact location of the footprint, therefore a "trailing" dog may be working a few feet away from the person's actual footprint spot in the dirt.  

A dog that is, "Tracking",  will work the exact footprints and often lose the "trail" if the person does certain things that confuse the dog and handler's ability to read the dog but the dog is smart and if allowed by its handler, the dog will switch to "Trailing" the person's scent via the scent cloud above ground when this happens.

Some trainers and most Tracking Show Dog courses do not allow the dog to switch methods. They want the dog to use one method or the other. When search dogs are certified to work they and their handler have to a pass test in whichever methods they specialize in.

We are going to disregard the show dog rules and save the advanced dog rules for the advanced lessons. 

On the Family Disaster Dogs blog we are working with pets and we want to give our dogs the advantage of using whichever method that works for them to locate the person we ask them to find.

Bloodhounds like Daisy pictured below, work by using any of these 3 methods that work at the time depending on the situation. The trailing Bloodhound may have its nose on the ground then 6 inches above the ground or a foot high in the air !! 

And they always find their man!

The other way search dogs find people is by air scenting the area for any person's scent, the dog works on eliminating all human scent in that area.  Air scenting dogs work an area for any scent they are given or trained to find.  Some are trained to find people, alive or dead and others are trained to find evidence or items.

Cadaver dogs are trained to find the scent of a dead body, and a dog trained for water rescue would have to learn how that same scent changes in a watery condition.

Air Scenting will be covered in separate and advanced lessons.

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 the dog who we want to find. This makes the job easier for the dog because no two people smell alike.

To teach your dog to search for a lost or missing family member or friend, you have to prepare first by gathering the "scent article". This is easy to do but care must be taken.

It is wise to keep these scent articles stored as directed below in case an actual search ever occurs. 

Gathering Scent Articles

You will gather one dirty sock from each person you can think of who you might ever have to look for before you start training your family pet. 

Each sock should be handled and stored as outlined below for later emergency use. In case you ever have to call officials in with search dogs tell them you have a scent article which will save valuable time.

For now and for training; you will...


        Place one dirty sock from each family member in a freezer bag after reading below.


DO NOT touch the sock yourself, have the person drop the sock from their foot to a new brown paper bag (lunch bag size) or into a new plastic freezer bag.

( new brown paper put in a zip lock natural non chemical bag is best )

You will learn more about scent article use during lessons.

The most important part of using a search dog is;

Do Not Contaminate that sock.

Do not touch it.

Do Not Put 2 socks from different people together, each sock gets its own bags.

Store socks in the freezer until a few minutes before use.

This sock is called the  "Scent Article" for each person

The “Scent Article” tells your dog who they are looking for. 

Handle with Care.

Keep one for each family member for use if a disaster ever strikes.

To gather "Scent Articles" of missing people during an incident, you will follow the same rule of Do Not Contaminate the article or location. 

A scent article can be any item or object the missing person is known to of touched recently, such as a piece of clothing, bath items, pillow case, smoking items include butts of cigars or cigarette, hankie, tissue paper, a cup or glass or steering wheel in the car and the seat or bed the person was last in.

Preservation and Collection of the item is critical to avoid another person's scent from getting on the item and contaminating it. the dog will disregard its handlers scent but it is still wise for the handler to take special care when handling the scent article.

Always try to pick up and deposit the scent article into a clean bag by using a stick laying nearby or coat hanger from the  subjects home to keep the item clean of other scents.

Ask the family who touched what and do not use any item others have touched if possible. If the missing person and others have touched everything then ask the people to stand by when you start the dog to look for the missing person.

For instance, if a person is missing from a parked car where other people had been in the car with them, ask these people to stand by and take your dog to the car where the lost person sat and ask your dog to smell the seat then find the person.

Missing Member Search Technique

Your dog will use a missing member search technique of eliminating the people who are on the scent article (the car) and go to the people who are standing by then set off looking for the missing person. But if the people are not there for your dog to eliminate them then your dog will look for all the people in the car.

This is why it is important to find out before you start your dog who touched what the missing person touched and where was the person last standing,laying or sitting. 

Who was with them and how long have they been missing are also critical to a successful search because of possible contamination of the scent article.

A contaminated scent article will lead you on a wild goose chase, take care.

Only you, your dog and the person who is missing should come in contact with the item or location used as the scent article or starting point.

Bloodhound Learning to Find a Lost Person

Amber and Bo getting ready to train how to Trail a Lost Person.

Bo was 5 months old at the time of this picture in 2001. 

He later went to volunteer in California and then Georgia with his half sister Sambo. 

Here is a great article about the science of smell from the Public Broadcasting Station PBP- NOVA 

Any knowledge can help you to have a better understanding of your dog's abilities

  •                                                  By Peter Tyson
  • Posted 10.04.12
  • NOVA scienceNOW
Thank you Peter Tyson and NOVA for providing this helpful article.

Olfaction, the sense of smell, is the least understood of the five senses. 

An odor-ant is a substance capable of eliciting an olfactory response whereas odor is the sensation 
resulting from stimulation of the olfactory organs.

Here's a video of a cadaver dog working a lake..enjoy!


Unknown said...

For some reason, dogs have a tricky way of identifying their owners. They have some sort of a designer fragrances for each person that they come to close encounter with.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment and your right dogs do have a designer fragrance they remember for each of us. In Bloodhounds we call this scenting ability the dog's memory bank. We believe that every scent a Bloodhound is given remains in the memory of the dog and years later the dog can be asked to recall this memory and find a person. I think this is similar in all dogs if we think about how a coon dog or bird dog always remembers which animal they are hunting. Duck dogs go for ducks, shepherds follow sheep and family dogs remember the owners,families and friends. We have tried to fool our tracking dogs many times by dressing up with hats, sunglasses, and different spray on odors and ha! the dog always knows its us!

Monica Castello said...

Although the reason why usually are candles far better subsequently these fresheners which have been on the market california scents of these days ? Wax lights have a very big additionally in excess of nearly all if not each of the fresheners with the current market, ingenuity.

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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