Letter: Dogs Tracking Someone


I l liked your books. Recently a wanted felon in our small town eluded a canine unit whereas many others have not. God forbid it should happen under the wrong circumstances to anyone not deserving to be hunted down. I did wonder though how the one that got away might have done that. I went to the Internet and found a few answers, but when I searched your site I could find nothing about it. I wondered if any of the readers out there have any practical solutions on the topic. It seems like the knowledge might be of some benefit.

JWR responds: I describe one technique that some might consider cruel, near the end of my latest novel, Liberators. It involves using large fishing treble hooks, tied to BOTH ends of 10 to 12 foot lengths of very heavy duty monofilament, and stringing them across trails. This can cause a painful pile-up of an entire pack of scent hounds.

Other techniques, such as walking in streams are better known.

HJL adds: A tracking dog, such as a bloodhound, has an incredibly sensitive nose. They can smell and discern different smells at almost unbelievably small concentrations. When you walk, a human tracker will look at the trail markers that you leave– footprints, disturbed ground, broken twigs, et cetera. However, a bloodhound tracks on an entirely different level. As you walk about, your body sheds dead skin cells at a rate of about 30,000 to 40,000 per hour. This is what is actually being tracked by the dog. In essence, you leave a “cloud” behind you as you walk or run. (The image of pig-pen in Charlie Brown comes to mind here.) Trackers often call this cloud “the spoor”, as in mushroom spores. Even when you get in a vehicle, the natural ventilation of the vehicle will disperse these cells in a cloud behind the vehicle. I have seen an incident when I lived in Colorado where bloodhounds were able to track a missing child nearly 15 miles on a paved surface where the perpetrator obviously drove at highway speeds. it wasn’t until the following day when the spoor was dispersed enough that the dog could no longer track it. (The child’s body was found about two miles further from the point where the scent was lost. In this case, the child was being tracked, not the perpetrator.)

You can see where just walking in a stream may not be a deterrent to a tracking dog either. Time is of the essence in tracking this spoor, as the wind will disperse it and dilute it. As the dog tracks, you will often see that the dog does not take the path the tracked person walked, as the spoor may have already drifted. You will see the tracking dog’s nose close to the ground, often as the spoor will last longer at ground level than it will at waist level.

Also, black pepper, food, and leaving items are not necessarily working ideas. Myth busters did a show where these avoidance methods were shown to be failures. At most, they caused temporary delays. Once the dog knows the spoor is fresh, they pick up the speed of tracking and will often outrun their handlers if not on a lead. Pepper spray may or may not work, but it will require direct application to the dog in order to be effective.

The best way to elude is for enough time to pass for the dispersion of the spoor or to switch to a travel mode where you can move faster than those tracking you. Methods like JWR describes do work, but some require time to set up and the spoor may drift around the trap such that the dog isn’t affected at all. Placement is critical to ensure the dogs are forced to funnel into the trap.

Once the dog knows he has you, the only sure fire way to avoid being tracked further is termination of the dog.

A windy day or fast mode of travel is your best method of avoidance.