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The Incredible World of Mantrailing: How Dogs Use Their Noses to Find People

Mantrailing involves dogs using their highly developed sense of smell to locate missing people. Learn about the history, methods, and benefits of this life-saving canine skill.

Mantrailing is a sport and working activity in which a dog uses its sense of smell to track a specific person by following their individual scent trail.

Mantrailing is when a dog uses its nose to find someone, either because he is missing or just for fun.

Every person has a unique scent/odour, composed of all the ‘debris‘ that falls from our bodies daily. It may contain skin cells, sweat, hormones and bacteria. As we move, the odour rises from us and moves with the air before settling and attaching itself to the environment. By giving the dog an object contaminated with the smell of the person to be searched for, it can follow the olfactory traces to locate that person.

How we smell can influence our smell, as it affects the levels of hormones and chemicals in our system. Search and rescue police and military forces worldwide use this life-saving skill. However, mantrailing is not only for professionals; it is also an excellent activity for anyone who wants to spend quality time with their dog. Various organisations now teach mantrailing to ordinary dog owners who have the time and desire to have fun with their dogs.

There is some history of trailing.

Humans have bred dogs for thousands of years to assist with specific tasks. However, the earliest example of ‘tracking’ or trailing dates back to the 17th century, when Swiss monks developed their dog breed that became what we know today as the Saint Bernard. The first task for which these dogs were trained would be to find the snowy trail back to the monastery, preventing the monks from getting lost. There are multiple reports of incidents where these dogs were sent to find people lost in the snow, guide them back to the monastery and bring them to safety.

Throughout history, as with many other innovations, the further development of dog training was driven by necessity, by war. The concept of mantrailing was used in the 18th century when dogs were specifically trained to track down escaped criminals and even enslaved people.

To mantrail, the dog handler first presents the dog with an article of clothing or other object that the person they are tracking has touched.
It is a valuable tool for law enforcement and search and rescue teams. Mantrailing dogs can track missing persons, criminals, and even evidence.

These training methods collectively contributed to the development of mantraíling dogs in modern society; after the Second World War, the idea of a ‘rubble-detecting’ dog spread from England and thought was given to how to train it properly. Slowly but surely, the public realised how vital these dogs could be for locating missing persons in catastrophic situations, such as the earthquakes in Italy in 1967, Romania in 1977 and Algeria in 1980.

This significantly increased confidence in four-legged animals. However, there were still people who did not believe in the capabilities of these animals and decided to invest further in technology rather than in dogs. Once again, private individuals took responsibility for continuing this search and rescue training.

A dog’s nose is the most developed organ they have.

Our dogs’ noses are probably more incredible than you think. They can smell up to 100,000 times better than we can. To put this into perspective, if we could read a sign a third of a kilometre away, they could read it 3000 km away! They can ‘see’ the smell in 3D and even tell the time using their noses. These incredible abilities allow them to identify and follow our tracks. They can see where we have been and even how long ago.

We don’t teach the dog anything, as they already know how to do it! This is where teamwork comes in; we help them understand the game, and they lead the way.

Paths and smells

It is thought that dogs can follow a scent trail even if it is ancient. Tracks are generally very reliable for up to 36 hours, but there have been reports of dogs following tracks weeks or months later. Many things can influence the trail, making it more difficult or accessible. Different surfaces can make the scent stick more or less. Other people and animals may cross it, meaning the dog has more distractions and contaminants to work on.

Weather conditions

Rain or shine, dogs can track. However, the weather can significantly impact the accuracy of the result. In strong winds, the scent may blow and stay away from the actual trail, while light rain helps it stick to the ground. 11 fragrance, in fact, sticks to water molecules.

Have you ever seen the heat ‘flicker’ on the asphalt on a hot summer day? This scenario can ‘burn’ the scent trail, making it difficult or impossible for a dog to pick up a course.

Dogs have a natural ability to detect and follow scents, and mantrailing allows them to use this skill in a meaningful and rewarding way.
Mantrailing is a sport in which dogs are trained to track the scent of a specific person.

The object

The object used for searching plays one of the most important, if not the most important, role in mantrailing. The less impregnated the item, the more likely the dog is to pick up a trail from the person of interest. Items impregnated with the scent of the person to be searched can be, for example, articles of clothing, objects such as door handles or mobile phones. Anything on which the wanted individual has left its scent.

Cross-contamination can occur if the item comes into contact with someone else’s scent, e.g. if the item comes from a laundry basket or has been touched by another individual (direct contamination).

Motivation

Our motivation as human beings to get up every morning at 6.30 a.m. to get ready to go to work is undoubtedly a job we enjoy, but very often, it is money. Money buys us food, cars, houses, holidays, all the good and necessary things in life—more or less the same with dogs. We get paid in money, and they get paid using resources such as play, attention, food, etc. If, through positive reinforcement, we make the dogs feel good about doing their task – doing what we ask them to do – they will enjoy it more and work harder.

We must find the proper reward if we want our dogs to work to the best of their capabilities. The way we pay each dog can be very individual. The bonus can be humid food, a game, the owner’s attention, or freedom… to name a few.

How is it done?

There are many ways to teach a dog to find people. The Kocher method is just one of the methods used to teach it worldwide, both for companion and working dogs. Most importantly, the training is always fun for the dog. Especially in the beginning, the dog must achieve its goal. This will prevent stress and encourage the animal to repeat the activity. The person hiding will promote the dog’s favourite food or toy and be seen running away.

At this point, the dog is presented with the scent of the search subject and encouraged to follow this person. Once the dog finds the “trail layer”, we praise and reward the dog. Reward systems are very individual for each dog.

Benefits of mantrailing

Mantrailing strengthens dogs’ trust and can help them overcome or reduce behavioural problems. Mantrailing helps to build a team between the handler and the dog. It is about trusting each other and believing in the dogs’ abilities. After all, their sense of smell is much better than ours.

Who can participate? No matter what breed or age, the mantrailing sport can be learnt by any dog. For more information, contact an educator or instructor qualified in the practice.

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Your reading contribution was significant to us.

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The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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Written by Frenchie Breed

The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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