Tracking Dogs- Part 3, by D.D.

As you can see, the dogs are the least of your worries. They are just one of the tools that are used to accomplish the overall goal of catching you. They are used for direction and tracking, and they supply information to the other searchers. A K9 may also be used to grab you, just as they would anywhere else they are used.

Even if you could somehow trick or neutralize the dog, you are still going to have to deal with quite a bit of other things. To get into range of doing harm to the dog or handler is to get very close to the people who are trying to find you, and help is only a radio call away. You will never encounter just the handler and the dog by themselves. The handler is armed, and behind them is a few more people who are armed and focused on support.

They don’t have to run you down. They just have to follow until someone else corners you or you give up. They will be constantly resupplied with water and rotated out for rest. They know your chances of that are slim. Many give a good long chase only to walk out and give up, because they are dying of thirst.

Understanding The Handlers

These guys are usually professionals. They have schools, certifications, experience, and decades of methods behind the art and science of using dogs. They will have learned from people who spent their lives doing this very thing. Many are dedicated to the cause and are driven to succeed for one reason or another. To them, the dog is a tool. The handler learns to read the dog like an instrument. He knows a great many things by observation, such as how hard the dog pulls and how eager he is. He can watch the dog lift its nose at a tree or lean in a direction. He can read confusion or if the dog is unsure. When he does read these things, he knows how to bring the dog back to a point it was sure or canvass another area. They can hold position and let the escorts fan out. Handlers will read maps and approach trails from angles they think will give them the best track. They will report a wealth of information to the other chasers. If they don’t catch you themselves, there is a good chance they had something to do with it.

Some departments don’t have their own tracking teams. They may have K9 units that consist of bomb or drug dogs but no actual trackers. A department like this will usually call on another department or hire a third-party civilian dog company. These civilian companies are usually made up of former military or police K9 handlers. They, in my experience, are more knowledgeable. They are the ones who chose to pursue a career in K9 services after leaving the military or police force. Their K9 companies do not deal with anything other than dogs. The don’t have to take classes on domestic violence or writing tickets, for example. The handlers are also people, which is to be kept in mind when trying to avoid being tracked.

How To “Win”

It is not the dog you have to beat; it is the handler. What you want is a morale win. You want the handler to give up. As I said before, the handler is a person. He or she has bad days and good days. They may have been called in off vacation or a day off to work on finding you. They get tired or are out of shape. They may be sick or have just been passed up for promotion. These things are not something you’ll likely be able control, but keep them in mind if you’re attempting a morale win. Every little bit counts.

Remember previously my notes on attacking the handler or the dog. Doing either of these things can harden the will of those looking for you. They will push through a lot more discomfort, if they have some payback in mind. They may let the bite dog chew on you for a little while longer before calling it off.

I have seen a handler show up at the start of a track wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He got out of his van took about 30 seconds to look an area over and then declare the dog couldn’t find anything. The dog never got out of the van. He didn’t feel like working that day. He didn’t feel like slogging through a wet jungle. This worked because he was the professional making the call on the dog’s ability. It also worked because tracking dogs were only one small part of a search.

Tracking dogs are usually on a leash. Sometimes, depending on the area, those leashes are thirty feet long. The dog tracks ahead, and the handler follows. I’ve seen more than one handler give up and declare a lost trail after they spent an hour unwrapping the dog from being twisted around tree after tree. It was almost as if the runner was doing it on purpose. Doing something like this takes a lot of time and will seriously hamper your forward progress.

Anywhere you go the tracker has to go and he has to take the dog with him. More often than not, the dog is leading him and may get into a situation or area that will take the handler more time to negotiate. A four of five foot climb or drop will cause them to lower or lift the dog up, or go around. The handler might have to crawl through very thick saw grass or briars. This can get annoying when it happens over and over again.

Some handlers don’t want to get wet. They will call a lost trail to avoid doing so. The handler on the government dime is getting paid whether they find you or not. That handler may be wearing body armor and/or weapons. This can add significantly to his ability and will to keep chasing you. They get hot and tired, as well.

Terrain dangerous enough to cause the handler concern is another deterrent. He’s got a dog pulling on a leash and walking close to perilous cliffs can cause him to back off. He may be afraid of heights or drowning. Knowledge that you’ve booby trapped the area can cause them to give up (the tracking portion).

Additional Notes

Some of the most successful people that avoided our teams, causing us to give up, were the ones that picked an easy and fast route and headed away in pretty much a straight line. They didn’t make any attempts to fool us and didn’t even try to cover their tracks. Speed and distance were their only concern. As we slowly followed them in full armor at the pace the dogs set, they kept increasing their distance. No one wanted to sleep in the jungle at night. By the end of the second day, they were far enough forward that the trail was getting weaker. Rain on the second day was almost a guarantee that the handlers would call it off. The further we had to go in, the further our resupply lines were stretched. We also knew that walking for days forward meant walking for days back. It just wasn’t worth it for what we were chasing them for. Even when the handlers wanted to go forward, the escort teams in full armor were getting tired and suggesting that he “got away”. If the person we were pursuing made it to any kind of civilization (even a small village), the tracking portion was over as far as dogs were concerned.

Remember what they are chasing you for. If there is a full-blown state-wide man-hunt in progress, you’ve probably done something (or they think you have) that is going to keep them looking for you for a long, long time. If they’ve decided to chase you for some lesser reason, you may be able to avoid capture by making it not worth the trouble, expense, or time it would take to catch you. Just stay away or ahead of them long enough and they’ll give up.

Helicopters can cost thousands of dollars an hour to keep in the air. If the searchers have this asset available, it will have specific areas to search and most likely be on stand-by to be called in when they need an overhead look at an area. Overtime, funds for third-party contractors, supplies, gas, et cetera are factors. Someone is keeping track of how much all of this is going to cost.

Get to an area with a lot of people, such as a city. This won’t stop the search and will bring its own problems, but it will pretty much stop the dogs from tracking you in the classic sense.

You can make things worse by trying. If for instance you stole a car, got involved in a high-speed chase, and then ran into the woods, they might look for you for hours before giving up. They got the car back. The rest is standard police work. Set up a booby trap that kills an officer and you’ll have major media reporting it and several departments and counties in on the search. They will NEVER EVER give up on you.

Dogs can be commanded to bark in attempt to flush you. Many people, upon hearing the dog is closer, make a panicked run for it. I’ve seen handlers, when they think they are close, yell something like “We see you! Come out with your hands up”. This actually works. A few people have come out and done just that.