What is mantrailing?
Mantrailing is when a dog uses his nose to find a person, because they are missing or maybe just for fun.
Each person has a unique scent, made up of all the debris that falls off our body as we go about day to day life. It might contain your skin cells, sweat, hormones and bacteria.
As we move our scent billows from us and moves around with the air before settling and sticking in the environment.
We give the dog an article, contaminated with the scent of the person to sniff. Then our dogs can follow these trails of scent to locate that specific person.
This life saving skill is used by search and rescue, police and military forces across the world.
However, Mantrailing is not just for use by professionals, but is also a great activity for anyone who wants to spend quality time with their dog.
Mantrailing UK coaches pet owners and their dogs to learn this amazing game as a sport for fun.
How we feel can impact our individual scent, as it impacts the levels of hormones and chemicals in our system.
History of trailing
Humans have bred dogs to assist with specific tasks for thousands of years,but the earliest example of trailing that can be found is in the 17th century, where Swiss monks developed their own breed of dog that became what we know today as the St.Bernard. The first task these dogs were trained to do would have been to find the snow-covered track back to the monastery, preventing monks from becoming lost. Even more interestingly, there are multiple reports of incidents where these dogs were sent out to find people lost in the snow and guide them to the monastery to bring them to safety.Throughout history, as with many other innovations, further development of the training of dogs in trailing was prompted out of necessity by war. The concept of Mantrailing was used in the 18th century where dogs were specifically trained to track down escaped criminals and even slaves. The cases of training dogs in this manner have collectively contributed to the development of Mantrailing dogs in modern day society. After the second world war the idea of a rubble search dog spread over from England and one thought about how to train these dogs properly.
Slowly but surely, the public realised how important these dogs can be to locate missing people in catastrophic situations, such as the earthquakes in Italy, 1967, 1977 in Rumania and 1980 in Algeria. This enhanced the trust in the dogs dramatically.
People were still lacking believe in the capabilities in these dogs and decided to invest further into technology rather than the dogs. Again it was private people that took it upon themselves to keep training Search and Rescue dogs.
The dogs nose
Our dogs nose is probably more incredible than you realise, they can smell up to 100,000 times better than us. To put that into perspective, if you could read a sign a third of a mile away, they could read it 3000 miles away! Almost the distance from London to New York.
They can see scent in 3D and also tell the time using their nose, its these incredible skills that enable them to identify and follow our trails of scent. They can see where we have been and even how long ago.
In fact, we don’t actually teach our dog to trail, they already know how to do that!
This is where the team work comes in, we help them understand the game and they lead the way.
Trails and scent
It is thought that dogs can follow this scent trail even if it really old, trails are generally very reliable for up to 36 hours but there have been reports of dogs following trails weeks or even months later.
Many things can affect the trail, making it harder or easier for the dog to follow it. Different surfaces can make the scent stick more or not as much. Other people and animals can cross over it, meaning there are more distractions and contamination for the dog to work through.
Come rain or shine, our dogs can trail. However, the weather can make a big impact in the accuracy of our dogs trailing. High winds mean the scent might blow around and stick far away from the actual trail, whereas light rain helps it stick to the ground. Scent sticks to water molecules. Have you ever seen the heat flimmer on tarmac on a hot summer day? This scenario, can “burn off” the scent trail and can make it very hard or impossible for a dog to pick up a trail.
The scent article plays one of the most important, if not the most important role, within Mantrailing. The least contaminated the scent article the more likely the dog is to pick up a trail from the person of interest. Scent articles can be for example, clothing articles, objects such as door handles or mobile phones. Anything that the wanted individual has left their scent on. Cross contamination can happen, if the scent article comes in touch with someone else’s scent, e.g. a washing basket or has been touched by another individual (direct contamination).
“We wouldn´t go to work if we wouldn´t get paid” – that´s what we keep saying if people ask us, why we work with reward-based methods in dog training. Our motivation as humans to get up every morning at 6.30am to get ready to go to work, is money. Money that buys us our food, cars, houses, holidays – all the good and necessary things in life.
It´s kind of the same way with our dogs. We get paid in money, they get paid in treats/rewards.
If we make our dogs feel good about doing their job – doing what we ask them to do – then they will be enjoying their job more, therefore work harder.
If we want our dogs to work to the best of their capabilities, then we need to find the right reward. How we pay each dog, can be very individual. The reward can be wet food, cat food, yoghurt, banana or a toy, to name a few of them.
We found that even the most high-drive dogs prefer the food on the trail, even if they usually would spit out a sausage if they see a ball (literally). One of the reasons for this can be, that Mantrailing involves the hunting instinct. They hunt, they catch, they eat.
The communication between the dog handler and trail layer is very important. You need to instruct the trail layer exactly on how you would like the reward (toy or food) to be presented to your dog. The last thing you want is for your dog to get spooked or lose interest in the trail layer!
If your dog is rather shy, instruct them to just hold the food pot a bit further away without talking or looking at the dog (the handler can do the praising/talking). This will build confidence and trust between the dog and the trail layer.
If your dog is quite happy for a big party, instruct your trail layer to throw a BIG party. High pitched talking, stroking the dog, clapping hands, whatever your dog enjoys the most!
Operational Mantrailers are used for information gathering, but also to find a missing person. They are to determine or eliminate a direction of travel. If there is no trail to be found, because the person has never been in this location, the dog will show what we call an NSI (Negative Scent Identification). This can be specific on how the dog has been trained.
Mantrailers can also determine if a person has been picked up by a car or bus and where this has happened. They can find clothes, backpacks or any other articles that are in relation to the missing person.
Mantrailers can be part of a bigger team – the Mantrailers give a direction of
travel, the air scenting dogs, also called area search dogs, will check the
area for human scent.
How to train
There are many ways to teach a dog to find people. The Kocher Method is only one method used to teach such all over the world, for pet dogs as well as operational dogs.
Most important is, that the training is fun for the dog at all times.
Especially in the beginning, it is important that the dog succeeds quickly. The person that will hide for the dog is encouraging him/her with their favourite food or toy and the dog will see the person run away. Then the dog is presented with the scent article and encouraged to follow this person. Once the dog finds the “trail layer” we praise and reward the dog. The reward systems are very individual to every dog.
Benefits of Mantrailing
Confident dogs are happy dogs. Mantrailing builds up the dogs´ confidence and can help overcome or reduce behavioural issues in dogs. Mantrailing helps building a team between the dog handler and the dog. It is all about trusting each other and believing in the dogs´ capabilities. Their sense of smell is far better than ours after all.
Who can participate?
It doesn't matter what breed or age, the Mantrailing sport can be learned by any dog.
Ready to build a team with your dog
...are the requirements to be a Mantrailer.
Mantrailing is a great dog sport for reactive dogs as well as dogs with no recall. We also have dogs participating in this dog sport that are disabled, from tripawd to blind.
Mantrailing is also suitable for young dogs and even puppies. We recommend starting out puppies as soon as they are fully vaccinated to reach their full potential on the trail.
This dog sport will bring out the best in any dog handler team.
Pre-destined breeds for the job are e.g. Bloodhounds and hunting breeds such as the German Wirehaired Pointer and Bavarian Mountain Scenthound. Common breeds also used for the job are Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds.