Search Versus Tracking Dog

Many people think of the tracking dog as the traditional search and rescue worker, yet the tracking dog requires certain conditions be met for success:

  • Scent articles are necessary so the dog can discriminate between the victim and other searchers.
  • If weather or time has destroyed the physical or chemical evidence of a track, the dog cannot work.
  • A single dog's reaction may adversely influence the focus of an entire search.
  • It is advantageous that the area be clear of other individuals.
  • Since there is a similarity of scent, other members of the family should be removed from the area.
  • Some tracking dogs (or their handlers) assume that if no tracks are available, then no person is in the area, which could be incorrect.
  • some starting point or known tracks of the individual usually have to be established.

If one considers the above and then looks at the scenario that follows describing the situation usually encountered on a real search, it becomes obvious that these provisions are difficult to comply with:

  • Some member of the family or friends become aware of the individual being lost.
  • Friends and family make a preliminary attempt to locate the individual (which means they tramp the area down).
  • Others in the area are recruited to help search.
  • The police are finally notified.

  • A police officer is sent to the area to appraise the situation and may do some preliminary searching.
  • The police officer then advises a supervisor of the situation.
  • The supervisor then calls in a search and rescue unit.
  • The unit arrives some time later.

Under these circumstances, much time has elapsed and the area is a physical and chemical mess, handicapping the tracking dog.

Consider now the search dog:

  • It requires no scent article.
  • It does not require tracks.
  • The area does not have to be kept completely free of all other searchers; others can continue looking while the unit is en route.
  • A starting point is not required.

There are variations and each search is different, but almost all display conditions that are more conductive to the search than to the tracking dog. The search dog can start off with no scent and search until it locates either a ground scent (track) or air scent. It then uses either or both to locate the lost person (preferably, it will forsake a ground scent to check out the fresher air scent.) It is obvious that one search dog cannot usually do the job; it takes several and they must be strategically located.

The air-scenting search dog is based on the concept of the military "scout" dog and works in a similar manner. It alerts the handler to the presence of another individual and then must lead the handler to that individual.

This information was extracted from "Search and Rescue Dogs", American Rescue Dog Association.