The Power of a Dog: Scent Discrimination and Trailing

There are so many things about dogs that are absolutely incredible. For the purposes of
our conversation today, we are going to focus on their mind-boggling sniffing abilities. There are
many theories on how dogs smell; what they smell; and how specific their noses can be. I’m not
sure we will ever know the exact answers, but what we do know is that dogs smell better than
we do and this is helpful for so many reasons. Dogs are trained to detect viruses, plant life,
manufactured substances, endangered and invasive species and so much more. Without these
Super Sniffers human society just wouldn’t be the same.

Scent Discrimination
Scent Discrimination is essentially a fancy way of saying that a dog can tell substances,
species or even humans apart just through sniffing. It’s a basic concept that even us as humans
can do. Dogs are just better at it than we are. For example, if someone were to blindfold you
and hold vanilla ice cream and then chocolate ice cream under your nose, you most likely would
be able to identify which was which and which one you wanted to ultimately eat. Dogs take that
one step, or maybe one-hundred steps, further and can distinguish between family members.
Some dogs can even tell identical twins apart. This superhero power has been, and continues to
be, used. Dogs trained to identify narcotics use Scent Discrimination to identify suitcases
carrying illicit substances. The dogs are trained to find (or discriminate) a certain odour and only
alert their handlers if that odour is present. Scent Discrimination is the technique used at True
North Canine to find missing and lost people. Our dogs are trained to find a specific person, not
to only find human smell. The ability to discriminate between different people’s scents increases
the success of finding them tenfold. For dogs trained in Scent Discrimination, finding the target
odour is like finding which ice cream you want to have. The dogs love finding what they’ve been
asked to search for probably more than the ice cream too.

Trailing is, by definition, following a trail. However, when a Scent Discriminant Trailing
dog is working, it’s a little more complicated than just following a trail. Dogs who trail, use their
sensitive smelling abilities to follow human scent particles that were left behind when a person is
moving. Wind, terrain changes, water, and air temperature can all impact how the scent particles
move. That means that dogs who are trailing will work with their noses both near the ground and up in the air. It is also likely that these dogs will not follow exactly where the person traveled, but rather where the scent particles moved or collected. It’s the dog’s job to discern which way the person went and take their handler in that direction. Consequently, when trailing dogs are
trained to scent discriminate, the success rate of finding a lost person increases. The dog knows
to follow that person’s signature scent and to ignore other people who may have passed
through the area. It’s an awe-inspiring dance that dog and handler dance together. Quite often
in trailing, the handler is unaware of where a person has wandered off to and must trust and
follow the dog’s nose.

Dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years. They have been our companions,
working partners, and family members. Without their abilities to sniff out Cancer, guide a person
safely across a busy street, snuggle when a child is sad, and indicate when there is floating
endangered whale species poop, our lives would be less enriched. I have learned in 20 years of
handling a working dog to never underestimate my dogs. Because just when you do, they will
humble you in a way that no one else can. Be the person your dog thinks you are.


Always guiding you in the right direction

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