Tracking Dogs- Part 2, by D.D.

Cross a River

I specifically brought this one up. They laughed at this as a common misconception. They will have maps, and if they think you ran in the direction of a river, there is probably someone working their way up already without a dog. They will just run a dog up and down both sides of the river until they regain the trail. If they are close on your trail, they will send runners up and down both sides to see where you exited by finding the water trail and will actually gain time on you. Moving through water on foot slows you down, as well. Not even a swamp was a serious hindrance to the dogs’ ability to track.

Tarzan (tree top to tree top)

This didn’t work, because even in the jungle it couldn’t be kept up for long. The dogs would come to the tree and stop. At that point the handlers would fan out and start over, as they did when the dog originally found the trail. There were few options on which tree to go to, so it was obvious where they’d take the dog to start first. Hiding in a tree didn’t work for this same reason.

Climb or Descend

This didn’t work because they would just go around and start looking for a trail once at the bottom. They would run the dog along both the top and the bottom of the cliff, until they regained the trail. Looking at a rock face will tell them a likely climbing route.

Shedding Clothes

Many are of the mind that if you drop clothes, the dog will “find” the target, as in training, and give up. The handler will immediately set the dog on the new trail or use a different dog.

In the case of a bite dog, most dogs are trained to grab meat not clothing. They are trained to bite firm, solid, and to reacquire if they don’t have a good bite. If you think you are going to drop a jacket or shoes and the dog is going to focus on that while you get away, you are probably wrong.

Covering the Scent

A dog’s nose is sensitive to the range of parts per million. They WILL smell you through anything, including large amounts of bleach or ammonia. If the fumes are too strong, the handlers will skirt the area and have the dog regain the trail. They will swing as wide as possible to relocate you. Even changing clothes completely doesn’t help.

Outrun the Dog

This isn’t going to happen. The dogs have four legs and conditioning. Their diet is specific, and they live for the purpose they were trained for and are eager to please. You will tire out long before a dog will, even in the heat of a jungle. If for some reason the dog goes down, they will replace it with another.

Doubling Back

The dog will just follow the double back and eventually find the trail again. Once again, the handlers will see this coming and fan out to find where you eventually broke off. They may use multiple dogs to follow multiple trails.

Bait the Dog (including poison)

Most dogs are trained not to take food from anyone other than a handler. Dogs are usually not rewarded with food. Working dogs get a minute or so to play with a favorite toy or ball, as a reward for doing so well. Tracking dogs are almost always on a leash and the handler is right there to prevent it from eating anything.

Dogs also shouldn’t be allowed to contaminate evidence, so they are trained not to touch things. In the case of bombs or drugs, you can see why they wouldn’t want the dogs to come in contact with what they have found, possibly causing an explosion or poisoning themselves. Therefore the dog, once it finds what it is looking for, will give a sign, usually sitting down. Most signs are not verbal (from the dog). This is especially the case with bomb dogs, or when they are sneaking up on someone. If the dog encounters something it will probably just sit down next to it until the handler gets there to reward the dog for doing a good job and then continue on.

The dog may stop at each item and await directions from the handler. It would take more items than you can reasonably carry to make a difference in slowing them down. Also, you would be leaving a serious trail to follow.

Kill The Dog

To get close enough to kill a dog, you are going to have to get close to the handler and anyone else with him (see Kill the Handler). This might buy you some time, but the only thing it is going to do is harden their will to find you. In many states attacking a police or military dog is considered the same as attacking an actual officer. Even if it isn’t, once you show your willingness to use lethal force you have probably guaranteed a much harder or lethal response if they do catch you. Now you have royally pissed off a handler, done thousands of dollars in damage to government equipment, and may have shown them you are armed and willing to kill.

After you have gone and done that, they will bring in another dog and the game will start over, except now the ending is much more grim.

Kill The Handler

I’ll let you guess the serious consequences of doing this. Attacking someone, regardless of whether you kill them, is going to get you a lethal response. If the dog is bite trained, it will defend the handler, especially if the handler gets a command off. It is to be noted that there will never be just one handler or a handler by himself with the dog. The handler works the dog and is usually followed by several armed people who will do the apprehending. These people are almost always in radio contact with many other people. If they get a call out, your location will be pinpointed. If you somehow eliminate everyone with a radio, the fact that a team is not reporting in will be an indicator, too. Now that you have ensured your capture, you have murder on your list of offenses, as well.

Booby Traps

This has the same effect as attacking the dog or handler. You have to have the materials, knowledge, and time to set things like this up. Once a tracking team encounters something like this, it will slow them down as they anticipate more of the same. Even if your trap doesn’t kill or injure someone, you will suffer the same effects as if you had actually used lethal force on an officer.

Factors That May Help You

I’ve listed some things that really don’t help your situation. Here are some that may:

  • Time- This is by far the biggest concern of the handlers I spoke with. The older the trail, the harder it is to follow. A day makes a big difference. A week makes it all but impossible. The fresher the trail, the easier it is to follow.
  • Heavy Rain- This destroys scent trails. It’s not fool proof, but it is a big inhibitor. It spreads things out, and if you have heavy cover (like a forest or jungle), it will mix things up and bring other things down.
  • Heavy Wind- This can disperse scent or give the dog trouble holding the trail.
  • Open Areas- You might not think so, but this kind of terrain can be helpful. There just isn’t as much to rub up against or “hold” the scent. Rain and wind have a greater effect in this terrain. The down side to these areas is that you can be spotted easier.

Factors That May Hinder You

There are some factors that make things worse, and these include:

  • Not having a place to go- Hauling butt into the deep woods at high speed for days is going to get you what? Yes, they didn’t catch you, but you got yourself killed from exposure.
  • Heavy/unique scent- The stronger the odor of whatever you have, the more of a trail you’ll lay down and the harder it is for time or mother nature to get rid of it.
  • Regularly Traveled Trails- Not only are these visible to the eye, they are often scented by you multiple times.
  • Lack of Physical Fitness- If you aren’t up for a run, then you aren’t up for a chase.
  • Carrying Weight- The more you carry, the more you’re going to have to rest and the slower you’re going to be. If you are shedding things, like water bottles, food wrappers, et cetera, it will only aid in finding you.
  • Lack of Supplies- Two days without water, especially if you are on the run, and you’re done. They will be looking for you for more than two days. They will stake out the places you can get something to eat or drink.

Understanding the Chase

What most people think of, when considering being tracked by dogs, is a hillbilly in overalls leading a pack of baying blood hounds. The runner is fearfully trying to catch a few minutes of rest while listening to the dogs get closer and closer. That’s not going to happen.

First of all, all the tracking dogs I worked with never made a sound. The closer the team thinks they are getting, the less sounds they’ll try to make, unless they are trying to flush you. The exception is when tracking dogs are let off the leash, which can bay and howl in pursuit.

Most chases are not long drawn out affairs. It takes a day or two. What will happen is that someone will have decided a man-hunt is called for. A command post will be established. They will seal down a large area and start patrolling roads, streets, and intersections. They will look at maps and decide where to focus their searches. They will understand how fast a person on foot moves. They will start flushing out hiding spots. Imagine a commander looking down at a map. He knows about what time you started running. He’ll pinpoint the starting position and then, calculating how fast he figures you can run in that amount of time, he’ll draw a circle on the map and inform everyone of the main search area. Other assets from helicopters to neighboring state law enforcement will be close in on that area. When (and if) they decide to use dogs, it will be to initially get a bearing and direction. The dog will locate the trail, and this will cut down the search area significantly. The dog team will then proceed to track, while all of those other assets close in on you from above and other directions. Depending on the terrain and direction, they may sprint forward and start hitting those hiding spots and choke points. Sending people forward can sometimes mess up a scent trail, but they’ll know this and avoid the most likely routes. Everyone will be in contact with each other via radio. That previously mentioned map will get updated constantly. Searchers will be rotated in and out to keep them fresh, though you get no such break. As time wears on, they know you will have to eat and drink. You may just give up. Eventually they’ll catch you crossing a road, river, lake, or hiding in an abandoned house, cave, bush, et cetera. If it is actually the tracking team that has cornered you or caught up enough to identify you, the escorts accompanying them will move in. This will be handled much like the chases you see on TV. The officers will call it in and everyone will converge while they run you down or hold you in position until you’re surrounded. Maybe a bite dog will be sent in to pin you. The rest is history.