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Bloodhounds have been used for centuries to track scents due to their incredibly sensitive noses and their high motivation to follow a scent. Although all dogs have great noses, Bloodhounds truly are most prodigious sniffers, even amongst dogs. Their sense of smell is so reliable that it can even be used as testimony in a court of law! Bloodhounds have been used in the past and still are used to track fugitives, which gives them a negative reputation for being aggressive that is undeserved. Although a Bloodhound will aggressively follow a scent trail accurately for miles to find a person, they are not necessarily aggressive once they locate the person. Besides tracking fugitives, Bloodhounds are ideally suited to search and rescue as they are able to track lost and missing people effectively based on scent, allowing emergency personnel to reach people in need of assistance and provide much-needed help. Because they are adept at tracking in a variety of terrain and can distinguish scent trails in difficult conditions, Bloodhounds are effective trackers even in the roughest terrain and wilderness areas.
Motivating your Bloodhound to follow a scent trail is rarely a problem, as these dogs love to follow scent trails and use their nose. The problem is getting your Bloodhound to focus on the required scent trail, and not be distracted by competing scents. To accomplish this, a dog may need to have some maturity and training to focus on the required scent. Never use punishment to train a Bloodhound to follow a scent trail. Bloodhounds, although they have a reputation for being stubborn, are remarkably sensitive, and punishment can easily put them off their game, resulting in a dog that is confused, anxious and reluctant to work. If your Bloodhound makes a mistake in training, following the wrong scent trail or going off the directed trail, ignoring them is the most effective correction, while rewarding and reinforcing correct attempts.
For search and rescue work, you will want to be able to provide your Bloodhound with a sample scent and direct him to pick up that scent trail and follow it while not becoming distracted by competing scents. Bloodhounds used for search and rescue will need to be in good physical shape and familiar with distracting environments, wilderness terrain, and the noise and various people associated with a search and rescue operation.
Bloodhounds have loose wrinkly skin, and having a harness and collar that fit appropriately is necessary to keep your dog under control and comfortable. You will need a harness while training so that your dog can comfortably work with his head down on the ground, following the scent with his nose, and a long lead about 6 feet in length to allow some freedom of movement so your dog can adjust to the trail as necessary. Treats and toys are often used to reinforce scenting success. An assistant will be required for some training.
The Match a Scent Method
Create scent trail
Lay down a scent trail. Drag an item covered in a person's scent a short distance in a straight line and hide the scented item.
Bring your dog to the beginning of the scent trail with a harness and hook on a long tracking line. Provide an identically scented item for your dog to smell. These can be stored in a plastic bag to help retain sample scent. Let your dog get a good nose full.
Command your dog to “find it”. Let him move out on the line. As your dog follows the scent trail, encourage him and talk excitedly.
When your dog finds the item, give him a reward, a high value treat, or play with a toy.
Repeat, gradually making the trail more complex and longer. Reward your dog for finding the matched scent, ignore false attempts.
The Sample Search Method
Get sample scent
Have a friend provide their scent on an item of clothing they have worn, or by rubbing a cotton swab behind their ears.
Have the friend go a short distance away and move out of sight. Keep the initial “hiding” spot simple, behind a tree or large object down a trail.
Allow dog to track
Provide the object for your Bloodhound to sniff, then allow your dog to move around on the harness and long leash and locate the scent trail. Encourage your dog toward the trail on first attempts if necessary. When your dog locates the trail, get excited with him; talk in an excited voice and follow the trail with him. If your Bloodhound gets distracted, reintroduce the sample scent by providing it again.
When your dog finds the person, praise him and provide him a favorite toy or treats.
Make more complex
Gradually make scent trails more complex with longer distances and more complicated hiding places. You may want to have a two-way radio to communicate with your assistant so you can help direct your dog during training if required. Eventually allow your dog to work off leash when he is ready and accurately following scent trails.
The Find the Owner Method
Walk out from dog
Have another handler hold your Bloodhound while you walk out in front of your dog. Shake an object that is covered in your scent such as a hat or clothing article and call your bloodhound--get him excited.
Drop scent article
Drop the article with your scent and run about 20 yards away and lie down. Keep calling your dog's name.
Investigate item and owner
Have your handler approach the article of clothing to investigate and sniff. Then allow the Bloodhound to continue on following the scent to locate you and investigate. Praise your dog for finding you.
Repeat, making the trail longer until it is 100 yards from where you drop the article with your scent to where your dog locates you.
Repeat but do not allow the dog to see you run and do not call the dog's name. Allow the dog to locate the item nearby, get the scent and then follow the trail to locate you.
Written by Laurie Haggart
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 12/14/2017, edited: 01/08/2021