My Humble Attempt
This week for search and rescue Saturday we discuss scent. In full disclosure, scent theory is very involved and I am not a scent expert by any means. So this blog post is my humble attempt to explain a few concepts which I have picked up over the years while training.
For the most part when K-9 handlers are asked about scent, they will start talking about a thing called a scent cone. Picture in your mind a sugar ice cream cone. The tip of the cone for the most part will point at the origin from which the scent is coming. Now think about striking a match and then blowing it out. If there is no wind at all the smoke raises from the origin or tip of the match and becomes wider as the smoke dissipates into the atmosphere. If you were to add wind, the smoke would blow out to the side but still keep somewhat of the same shape of this cone.
Scent, like smoke, is also discussed in terms of water. Scent will flow downhill, into gullies. Like a liquid scent will move over a smooth surface like concrete faster than an area full of vegetation.
The heat and coolness of the day also affects what scent is doing. Scent on a very hot day may burn off faster than scent if it is cool and damp. Did you know the humidity can increase scent that a K-9 can use? Scent that has dissipated during a hot day strengthens at dusk with dew of the evening or the following morning.
For trailing and tracking K-9’s there are a few popular theories about scent. The first theory is that K-9’s are not following the human scent. This theory involves the dog following vegetation and earth which has been disturbed by the individual that they are tracking. Another theory is that the K-9 is following a trail of dead skin cells and oils left behind from the person that is being tracked. Then you can put these two concepts together and have the last theory of the dog is following both of the crushed vegetation and skin cells.
Lastly, for purposes of this discussion, time and wind are also large factors with scent. Time and wind can easily broaden the size of your sent cone. Thus, increasing the scope of your search.
So How Does This Affect Me
Now putting this all together; how does this affect me? Understanding a little about scent enables you to read your K-9 partner better. If your wilderness area search K-9 suddenly turns it’s body to another direction and begins to run back and forth; what might that be saying to you? Remember part of the handler’s job is to interpret what your K-9 partner is doing. Could he have just found part of the cone? Could your partner be working towards the origin of the scent cone? Or maybe he or she is down in a gully, stuck in an area full of scent. But, you can see that no one is there or there is no body in that area. Could the scent have been pushed by the wind into your area and now it is pulled up like a puddle in the gully? Having some idea of how scent works helps you understand and help you dog if needed.
Remember, both us as the handler and our K-9 partner cannot see scent. We need to trust that our training standards are to the point that we let our partners do what they do best. That is identify scent by using their noses. We use our understanding of how scent travels to assist them in finding it.