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Categories: Police or S&R Tracking

Q. I am an Australian K9 handler. I have read your articles on Hard Surface Tracking we do scent discrimination here in my department.
Dear Ed,

I recently read your article on hard surface tracking with the Dutch police dogs. Well I thought I would let you know that we at the RAAF security police military working dogs have been working with scent discrimination for quite a while and in the early nineties we decided to get the defense science and technology institute involved to find out exactly what the dogs were tracking and we found out that the dogs could pick up skin rafts (dead skin cells) and not only distinguish the difference between human and animal scent but also between humans and it was discovered that these skin rafts were as unique as DNA. We actually start to teach a dog to Man Trail on hard surface using a host article the trail layer stays in position for one timed minute and then continues in a straight line for 100m with the wind at his back and hides at the end. As the dog completes each stage numerous times successfully new things are added such as cross trails, turns, different surfaces and at stage five the dog sit at a pool scent no host article and the handler does not know where the trail has been layed also the distance is now approximatly 5km- 10km long at the end off all this dog can trail over various surfaces and no matter what distractions will keep on the same scent. I have personally had to do a man trail with my black shepherd police dog and he trailed an intruder from bitumen through a swamp onto sand,clay and back onto bitumen before we tracked him after five km in 35deg c. Also it is known that the rafts can last up to 36hrs dependant on weather. I hope this gives an incite into what we are able to do with German shepherds as well as malinois and yes it does help for the dog to have a high prey drive but we have been able to utilize dogs with even a slight prey drive. If you would like some more information please feel free to contact me.

Your Australian Mate

A. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but what you are doing is not scent discrimination on human skin rafts. Or maybe we just have different words for the same thing.

Your dog is tracking – it is not scent discriminating. Big difference.

Scent discrimination is collecting specific human scent (in many cases storing it). A dog that is scent discriminating can smell the collected scent and then discriminate that scent from other collected scent – often in the form of a line-up.

A dog that tracks is doing a form of scent discrimination in that it identified a track picture left by a quarry but it takes more than skin rafts into consideration.

If you ever go to Holland, I would recommend that you visit Nunspeet the Federal Police Dog School. They will allow law enforcement officers from other countries to visit (not civilians). You can see actual scent discrimination in action.
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This video was done with the RCMP in Canada. In it we train a dog to track in a suburban and urban environment. In Level 1 Tracking (Video 205) we taught the dog to track in the country. The reason all police dogs must first learn to track in the country is because the country is relatively distraction free. We actually teach the dog to track in the country and then use a large part of that work to train in Level II & III teaching the dog to deal with the distractions of the city.

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This video was filmed in Alberta, Canada at the police dog training center for the RCMP. The RCMP instructors are the best tracking dog instructors in the world. The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) catch 45% to 50% of all the people they track (this includes suburban and urban tracking). If a suspect runs in the country, they catch 95% of them. If you are a K-9 officer who trains his service dog with food & a ball you know that you only catch 3% or 4% of the people you track.


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