Michael Pumilia
Tracking ~ A Walk Done Nicely


"Tracking is the easiest dog sport to learn. It is easier to master than other companion events such as Obedience or Agility. Its lessons can be taught while the dog is also learning these other types of events. If you can spare 1 hour a week, you can teach your dog to track."


Michael P. Pumilia is a Judge Emeritus of the American Kennel Club. He actively judged obedience trials for 36 years and tracking tests for 30 years. The photo above from the 1970’s shows his Dalmatians, on the left, Domino’s Winter Midnight, U.D.T. and Sa-Mi’s Buggy Whip, U.D.T.  “Winter” and “Witchie” earned Highest Scoring Dog in Trial (HIT) awards while Winter had multiple Highest Scoring Dog Combined (HC) honors. These activities began in 1972 when Michael moved to Pensacola, FL to begin naval aviator flight training after graduating Purdue University with a BS degree in aeronautical engineering. The study of aerodynamics provided him with many thoughts of air movement which he applied to learning how dogs handle scents during tracking.

Michael retired from Lockheed Martin Corp. with a 30 year career working on nearly every airplane the company produced during this time. Previously his military service had ended with a disability after 9 years.

Mr. Pumilia began writing articles on dog training which were first published in 1975 in Front & Finish®.  His column Training the Competitive Dog appeared throughout the late 1980’s and a few years later he followed up with From Where I Stand which ran even longer. In 2017 Mike is happy to start his newest endeavor Tracking – A Walk Done Easy for Front and Finish which will be compiled into a book when the articles are completed. 

  • Thursday, March 01, 2018 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Michael Pumilia

    I have discussed a human’s scent in Part 3 and the dog’s nose in Part 4. That’s two parts of this scenario that makes up this sport called Tracking. The next part is the tracklayer. That is who the dog is meant to follow. You as the handler get to follow the dog. That’s right, you plod behind the dog.  I introduced FRED, the “Fairly Reliable Emission Device”, in Part 3. Now I’m going to explain how Fred creates the track in detail.

    Fred represents the typical person and is surrounded by his molecules of scent flakes. The shape of the distribution is a bell curve. You might remember from your schooling “being graded on the curve”. Figure 1 shows this curve. We are viewing the skin flakes that the tracklayer has shedded in a instant of time. This is just a snapshot of what is going on. To better understand how a track is created, I’m going to use the curve in a different manner. 

    Figure 1. Typical Scent Distribution of a Person

    The snapshot of Fred in Figure 2 is changed so that we see the intensity of the scent as it decreases by the distance from the centerline of where he is standing. This particular view assumes the wind is not blowing. The  centerline is at zero feet on the horizontal axis. The distance shown is theoretical as is the intensity; I’m showing what Fred’s scent would do. Each person on a given day may have a different strength of odor. The intensity depends on what makes up the scent that day. A person could have freshly showered or applied cologne, deodorant or used a cleaning product in the kitchen prior to leaving. There are many variables. The distance each odorant travels from the centerline depends on its volatility.  Your skin flakes are different than liquid bleach which is different than ammonia. Each of these travels at a different speed. Also the wind speed affects how far the scents will travel. Even the pace that Fred uses to travel across the field affects the spread of his scent. So we have two ways to consider Fred’s bell curve of  scent distribution and its effect on the dog.    

    Figure 2. Scent Intensity v.s. Distribution from a Centerline

    The vertical axis is the Intensity of the scent. I’ve divided the area under the curve to highlight certain aspects related to various dogs. Figure 3 shows a variety of dogs and where they fall on the bell curve. A Good Tracking Dog needs a high amount of scent intensity in order for it to locate and follow a particular track. When the scent level falls below this intensity, the dog will “lose” the track. The Better Tracking Dog is one with more experience for tracking or could have a better nose than the Good Tracking Dog under consideration. It can follow a given track further than the Good Dog or a track that is older. The Best Tracking Dog requires very little scent in order to find the odorant and follow it. This track could be much older than any other tracks that the Better Dog could follow, even days older. For each type of dog,  you see that the track spreads out  based on intensity of scent. The lower the amount of scent is, the wider it is found on the ground.  In the figure, we are in a no-wind situation so the scent is evenly spread around Fred.  See figure 4.

    Scent intensity decreases as time passes. The lighter-than-air scent molecules will have blown away after about 30 minutes. The intensity will be so low that only extremely talented dogs would be able to find them. See figure 5.

    The skin flakes are heavier than air so they fall around the human as shown in these figures which are no wind conditions. Fred represents the average human. The scent distribution bell curve does change for certain situations. For example, the average tracklayer is not wearing a heavy jacket, waterproof boots, gloves and hat, and cold weather pants or coveralls. You probably recognize this as a Winter scene. This bell curve then would be thinner and not as tall because so much off the odorants would not escape the garments. A Summer day means short sleeve shirts and shorts and perhaps light weight sneakers. So plenty of skin flakes would be spread around and a sweaty condition would mean heavier flakes due to perspiration. The bell curve would be huge with greater intensity and greater spread of the molecules around Fred.    

    Figure 3. Scent Intensity Identifies Different Types of Tracking Dogs  


    Figure 4. Scent Disribution in a No-Wind Situation    

    Figure 5. Approximate Result as Time Goes By    

    There is a second way to look at the scent distribution. Instead of using the y-axis (scent intensity), I’ll use the x-axis which is distribution from the center of Fred. As Fred moves forward in this no-wind condition, his scent distribution will move forward with him. There is very little wind disturbance of the skin flakes leaving Fred, no upwind or downwind effect. See figure 6. There are eddy wakes of scent molecules created by Fred’s pace.

    Figure 6. Fred’s Scent Molecules Create a Wake in a No Wind Condition

    In any snapshot of time, the scent distribution bell curve seen in figure 2 can be pictured along the path that Fred walks. Remember that he is the tracklayer. This is how the track is built figuratively to the dog’s nose. See figure 7.

    Figure 7. Scent Distribution Along the Track with No Wind

    The width of the track is determined by the experience of each type of tracking dog shown in figure 3. Figure 8 shows how you should consider the track in your mind. For any given dog they usually follow the track in one of two ways – straight line or weaving. A dog that is considered a straight line tracker means it tends to follow right down the centerline of the scent path. Notice I didn’t say centerline of the track. In a no wind situation the two centerlines (track and scent path) fall on each other. If there is a wind, the scent path is not necessarily centered on the track. The track is where the tracklayer walked, the scent path is where his scent landed.

    I have a wonderful example to explain this. The late Dr. Arnold Korn had one of his Dachshunds entered in a tracking test I was judging in Memphis, TN. The site was a sod farm where the grass was perfect and cut to 1/8th of an inch. It was like a billiard table. Arnold had the first track in the morning. The weather was cloudy, the ground was damp and there was a slight wind. The first leg of the track turned out to be straight into the wind. So the dog was moving straight along where the tracklayer walked. The second leg turned 90 degrees to the right. The dog took the turn about 2 feet before the track turned. The other judge and I got into position so we could see the length of the leg. There before us we could see Dr. Korn’s footstep’s to the left of the tracklayer’s and 2 feet to the right of the tracklayer’s were the dog’s steps.   

    Figure 8. Scent Distribution Along a Track

    We saw three  perfectly parallel lines of steps in the dew. At the turn, the track went left. All three lines merged into one as the track went into the wind.

    A dog that weaves along a track is one that moves from side to side as it follows along the track. Sometimes the dog will go to the edge of where it loses the scent and then turn back towards the centerline. In figure 8, the better tracking dog would go from one green line then across the black centerline to the other green line, all while moving forward.  Or it could be a dog that favors a certain amount of scent intensity to be its imaginary edge, meaning it would not go all the way to the minimum scent strength shown by the green lines. This dog’ weaving path would be narrower than the dog that goes all the way from the minimum to minimum.

    A weaving dog runs a greater risk to miss a corner than does the straight tracking dog. The problem is where the weaver is located when the turn comes up and whether it’s a uphill or down hill track and how much of a cross wind is involved. I’ll talk more about this when I’m discussing “turns” training.

  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 6:32 PM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Michael Pumilia

    A longitudinal cross section of the average dog’s nose is shown in figure 4-9. It is a rendering based on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The use of MRI’s has really increased our understanding of all things within animals of all types. In the figure, the cross section of a dog’s nose is shown, with the tip of the nose on the left hand of the artwork. Thus we are looking at the inner workings of the right side of the head. “The internal fluid dynamics of olfaction in the dog is complicated by the compact, multipurpose design of the nasal cavity, where chemical sensing and respiratory air conditioning both occur. Computational solutions of inspiratory airflow during sniffing show that, although combined within the same organ, olfactory and respiratory airflows are fundamentally separate phenomena, each with a distinct flow path through the nasal cavity. In detail (a): Unsteady pathlines generated from trajectories of neutrally buoyant particles released from the naris (dog’s nostril) at equally spaced time intervals throughout inspiration reveal distinct respiratory and olfactory flow paths within the nasal cavity. In detail (b): The same inspiratory pathlines coloured by velocity magnitude show high velocity olfactory airflow travelling back through the dorsal meatus and low velocity airflow filtering through the olfactory recess in the forward–lateral direction. In detail (c): Expiratory pathlines originating from the nasopharynx (see figure 4-8) demonstrate that airflow bypasses the olfactory recess during expiration, leaving quiescent scent-laden air there, providing an additional residence time for enhanced odorant absorption.

    Figure 4-9. The Intranasal Fluid Dynamics of Canine Olfaction.
    [In detail (a) Red lines are olfactory pathlines; Blue lines, respiratory pathlines]

    The anatomical structure of the canine nasal cavity is remarkably well organized for efficient intranasal odorant transport, which may partly explain macrosmia [explained below] in the dog and other similarly organized animals. The overall location and configuration of the sensory region is shown here to be critical to the intranasal fluid dynamics of canine olfaction, forcing a unique nasal airflow pattern during sniffing that is optimized for odorant delivery to the sensory part of the nose.

    Specifically, the relegation of olfaction to an olfactory recess, in the rear of the nasal cavity and off the main respiratory passage, forces unidirectional airflow there during inspiration and a stagnant period during expiration.” (Reference 1)

                It’s the inner structure of the nose that provides the pathways for the scent leaden air to travel through the respiratory and olfactory epithelium of the dog. The cross section of the olfactory recess in figure 4-10 shows the scroll work of tissue where the olfactory receptors are located.

    Figure 4-10. Computer Model of the Left Side of the Canine Nasal Airway    

    The olfactory epithelium, which exclusively contains Olfactory Receptor Neurons (ORNs), is confined to the ethmoidal region (olfactory region) of the nasal cavity, where it lines the bony scrolls known as ethmoturbinates. Figure 4-11 shows a better illustration of the scroll work in the respiratory and olfactory regions. In the details of the figure, the white spaces are the air passages.

    Figure 4-11. The mesh resolution in the respiratory (left) and olfactory (right) regions of the nasal cavity are shown. 

    The respiratory region as shown in the detail in figure 4-11 has much more open spaces than the olfactory region because its purpose is to condition the air entering the nose. This area provides the heating and humidification of the inhaled air. This improves the air so that it can pass through the maxilloturbinate airway (see figure 4-8) toward the nasopharynx, where it enters the lower respiratory tract, completely bypassing the olfactory recess.

    The olfactory region contains a large surface area for odorant absorption to enhance ‘‘chromatographic’’ separation patterns, which may aid in odor discrimination. The surface consists of the epithelium where the ORN cells are covered with cilia (small whiskers) and then a layer of stagnant mucus. The odor molecules diffuse through the mucus until they reach the ORN binding sites. Beneath these sites are free nerve endings which convert the chemical signals into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. There the signals are processed. Airflow, shown in figure 4-12, enters the nose at the left through the nasal vestibule. The red, dark blue, and green streamlines illustrate the dorsal, lateral, and ventral olfactory flow paths, respectively. At the aft dorsal meatus the same inhaled air is divided into three streams which are directed to different areas within the olfactory recess. “The most significant distinction between the various olfactory streamlines is their residence time in the olfactory recess. In general, olfactory airflow that passes through the dorsal ethmoturbinates resides in the nasal cavity significantly longer than olfactory flow that passes through the ventral or lateral ethmoturbinate regions. Across all flow rates, olfactory airflow comprises approximately 15% of the total airflow inspired by the dog, the remainder going toward respiration.”  (Reference 4) This separate processing of the same air is the definition of chromatographic separation.

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  • Monday, January 01, 2018 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Michael Pumilia

    Editor's Note: We will be going back very soon to add the first segments of this valuable series for our subscribers.  We sincerely apologize for the delay!

    A dog’s nose is the primary sense it has. From the moment of birth, the nose is active and working to build a library of scents. The first order of business is to find food.  So the nose works to find its mother’s milk source. Buried in the puppy’s brain is an inherited registry of what milk should smell like. Then its nose identifies the precise smell of its mother’s milk and its mother’s body scent.  Later it will identify each of the littermates around it. The puppy’s eyes and ears are still closed and will not open for several days. Within hours each puppy in the litter will determine how to find a favorite teat on the mother and which other puppies it likes to snuggle with. All this is done in a dark world that is navigated by scents alone. Later the puppy will see what it has smelled and will hear the sounds of everything around it. The puppy’s life has really started.

    Let’s refer to my Michael’s Two Rules of Tracking and apply Rule 2: Focus Near; Focus Far. To understand how a dog uses its nose to track, we must Focus Near and explore the parts of the nose and see how they work. Once you know how the dog’s nose really works, then you will understand Rule 1: The Dog Knows What It’s Doing. I like to refer to Cesar Milan (See www.cesarsway.com) and his Natural Dog Law 4: A dog's senses form his reality. It says, “Humans and dogs experience the world through a very different combination of senses. To most humans, sight is the most important sense, followed by touch, sound, and smell. For dogs, the order is smell, sight, sound, and then touch, with a dog's sense of smell being by far the most important. The easy way to remember it is: Nose, eyes, ears, in that order.”

    A dog’s nose is an amazing piece of engineering work by Nature. Its capabilities are tens of thousands of times more precise than a human’s. The structure of the dog’s nose is different from us too. It’s also more different than you might think. “The ability of dogs to detect and identify odors is truly amazing. They are able to perform these tasks due to the specialized construction of their noses. Scientists have estimated that a dog's nose has about 220 million mucus-coated olfactory receptors, roughly 40 times as many as humans. (Derr 2002) Nerve cells in the epithelium, sensitive tissue lining the nasal cavity, are capable of recognizing and responding to an extraordinarily large repertoire of stimuli - some 10,000 chemical odors. They accomplish this feat, at least in part, with numerous mucus-coated fibers, which contain the receptor proteins. Those receptors recognize different chemicals and transmit that information to the brain, which perceives the chemicals as an odor. The brain is essentially saying something like, “I'm seeing activity in positions 1, 15, and 54 of the olfactory bulb, which correspond to odorant receptors 1, 15, and 54, so that must be jasmine.” Most odors consist of mixtures of odorant molecules. Therefore, other odors would be identified by different combinations.” (reference 1) See figure 4-1 to get a basic idea of what this means.

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  • Wednesday, November 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Michael Pumilia

    The goal of Tracking under American Kennel Club rules is to find a human’s dropped object such as a glove.  A starting point is shown to the dog and handler. The dog is brought up to that point and given a reasonable time to identify the human’s scent to be followed. The tracklayer has already gone along a predetermined track at least half an hour earlier but no longer than two hours. If the dog is able to follow this track, find the object and indicate where it is with a desired response such as sitting, lying down, etc.; then the requirements for the Tracking Dog (T.D.) title have been accomplished. That’s it in a nutshell.

    Now all we have to do is understand how to train the dog to learn what smell to follow and how to persevere long enough to get to the end of the track and find that dang object. So let’s try to understand what the human scent is that the dog actually smells and all the factors that influence how the human scent gets to the ground so the dog can follow it. For this purpose I created the “Fairly Reliable Emission Device” otherwise known as FRED. But I’m going to use “Fred” in these articles so I don’t have to type all those capitals each time I talk about FRED.

    Fred exists in a world of scent molecules that he generates and all the lotions and potions he applies to his skin and clothing. When we first start training, “You are Fred.” Your dog knows your scent intimately. Later we switch to someone the dog may know such as a member of the family, a training buddy, neighbor, etc. In a tracking certification and a tracking test, the tracklayer is an unknown. Let’s explore all the aspects of Fred so you can understand what makes up your scent and everyone else. Here is a simple explanation from someone’s article written in 1992 [1]:

    Note: Brackets [  ] indicate references found at the end of this article.

    “The primary premise is that each human emits an individualized smell (scent). This scent is generated by bacteria attached to regularly-shed small, epidermal flakes; by perspiration; and by skin oils which are unique to each individual. There is also a gaseous component, which includes air exhaled from the lungs and/or expelled from the digestive tract. The gaseous scent is dispersed more rapidly than the other components but remains distinctly individual. The cumulative debris, also known as 'rafts', envelops each person in an invisible cloud that constantly drifts or disperses. Some of this debris settled on the ground or on the surfaces beneath the individual; some may be carried on air currents for long distances. The variables determining the distance the debris is carried and duration of scent emission are moisture, terrain, temperature and wind speed.”

    Since 1992 a lot more has been learned about human scent and how it is dispersed. On the whimsy side is this from www.dogster.com : [2]

    2. To a dog, you stink

    As clean as you are, and as much soap and perfume and deodorant you wear, you are still splendidly stinky to your dog. Every human has a unique scent fingerprint, and that’s pretty much everything a dog needs to tell one person from another. “To our dogs, we are our scent,” says canine cognition expert Alexandra Horowitz, author of the enlightening book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. In that book, she writes this wonderful description:

    “Humans stink. The human armpit is one of the most profound sources of odor produced by any animal; our breath is a confusing melody of smells; our genitals reek. The organ that covers our body –- our skin — is itself covered in sweat and sebaceous glands, which are regularly churning out fluid and oils holding our particular brand of scent. When we touch objects, we leave a bit of ourselves on them; a slough of skin, with its clutch of bacteria steadily munching and excreting away. This is our smell, our signature odor.”

    Here is a more complete explanation of what composes the human scent. It comes from U.S. Patent 6,073,499 which describes a human sniff scanner [3]. The following is interesting highlights from the document.

    • “The entire outer layer of skin is shed every one or two days.
    • Some millions of skin flakes are shed by the average person every minute.
    • It is primarily composed of human skin.

    The skin flakes released by the epidermis are immediately caught up in the upward motion of the human boundary layer. Their average size is much smaller than the interweave pores of almost all clothing fabrics; they move freely through the clothing and away from the skin where they were released. (This is proved by the fact that counts of bacteria shed from the body are about the same whether the subjects are clothed or nude.)

    The thermal plume of  typical person while walking conveys some 7 million skin flakes away from the body each minute.

    The entire human boundary layer is thus a heavily particle-laden flow containing an extremely large number of microscopic skin flakes.

    All regions of the body generate such flakes and the human thermal plume likewise contains myriad skin flakes that have originated from all regions of the body.”

    Interestingly, I found an answer to one of my questions from long ago in a recently found article from a couple of years ago. My question was about the smell of identical twins; they are genetically the same. Here’s the answer:

     “It was discovered that the canines were able to differentiate between fraternal twins, but experienced difficulty in differentiating between identical twins unless their environments differed. The high similarity of the type and abundance of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) identified for identical twins, as well as the differences in the VOCs that were identified for the fraternal twins, corroborate the previous canine differentiation studies demonstrating that identical twins can be differentiated based on human scent.” [4]

    We are the accumulation of everything we are as a functioning person plus everything we eat, wear, emotions we are currently feeling, and what is blown onto our body. Our skin provides the envelope for all of this. The figure below provides an image of this.

    Fred represents the typical person and is surrounded by his molecules of scent flakes. The shape of the distribution is a bell curve. You might remember from your schooling “being graded by the curve”. This is that curve. The closer you are to the center of gravity of Fred the stronger the intensity his smell is. The further from him you get, the faster the smell decreases. So the question can be raised as to how many molecules of scent are needed for a dog to identify Fred from all other smells. The chart [5] below is used as an example to show the probability of a dog correctly identifying several substances as percentage (%) of success versus parts per billion. It was one I  found back in 2005. Using the chart for example, the odds of finding Dimethyl Dinitro Butane (DDB) is 1 out of two tries (50 %) when the concentration is ½ part per billion. It’s shown as the green line. At 1 part per billion, the odds improve to 75 %. Now that gets a little hard to wrap your mind around because the numbers are so big. Instead, let’s imagine a red ping pong ball as a molecule of DDB. Now we will fill a football field with more white balls until we have a billion balls in all. That means the stack of balls for the entire gridiron would be over 40 feet high. For the dog to correctly identfy this Butane each time, the concentration needs to improve to about 10 red balls per 1 billion balls. So just add 9 red balls in lieu of the same number of white ones. That is a minute amount – 10 red amongst 1,000,000,000 balls.

    By the way, Wikipedia says “Dimethyl Dinitro Butane is a volatile organic compound used as a detection taggant for explosives, mostly in the United States where it is virtually the only such taggant in use.”

    As you can see though, it would take nearly 700 parts of Cyclohexanone per one billion parts of air for a dog to achieve 95% success.   

    Human Tracking is much easier to train than explosive detection for instance. Dogs are used to human scents since near birth. We are living organisms that the critters can easily relate to, especially if we have treats.         


    • 1.     The use of dogs in search, rescue and recovery,  Vikki Fenton, BSN, Journal of Wilderness Medicine 3, 292-300 (1992) 0953-9859 © 1992 Chapman & Hall
    • 2.     7 Amazing Facts About Your Dog’s Sense of Smell, Maria Goodavage, http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-facts-sense-of-smell
    • 3.     US6073499 Human Sniff Scanner, Gary S. Settles, Jun. 13, 2000
    • 4.     Furton KG, Caraballo NI, Cerreta MM, Holness HK. 2015 Advances in the use of odour as forensic evidence through optimizing and standardizing instruments and canines. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 370: 20140262. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2014.0262  © 2015 Royal Society
    • 5.     Hand-Held Explosives Sensor System, Charles D. Bosco, University Transportation Center for Alabama, UTCA Final Report 03306, Sep 16, 2003
  • Tuesday, August 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Michael Pumilia

    Scent is those micro particles out there that can be smelled. How’s that for a simple explanation to what could be a complex answer? But for us to use as an easy way for everyone to understand, it is an elegant answer. A more correct, simple answer is also what I call the Molecule Theory of Scent. The things that we and most animals use to identify thousands of things living, dead, or inanimate objects are molecules – little capsules of atoms all put together. A molecule leaves its origin, floats in the air, and/or lands on the ground and is swept up into the nostrils of the receiving animal. Once there, the sensors in the nostrils tells the brain what was found and the brain checks its memory bank to identify the molecule. Either the molecule has been experienced previously or not. The next query the brain makes is to decide whether the molecule is interesting enough to follow or not. The second question is based on experience and/or expectation. For the dog that is tracking, it must decide if the scent is the target scent.  The training for tracking is to teach the dog what you want it to follow.

    In the wild, animals find many scents each day. Their survival depends on their nose. For example, a fox runs across a particular scent. It identifies it as a rabbit. The next question is answered with, “Yes, I’m interested.”  But experience tells it whether to follow or not. A young fox might decide to follow, but the more experienced fox would be able to discern the age of the track. If it’s recent, then, “yes, I should follow.” But if it is old, then, “No, don’t follow.” This gets us to the next part of experience. The young fox would not know which way to go – left or right. The more experienced one, by sniffing both left and right, would be able to understand that the rabbit in this case went from right to left in figure 1. Likewise, if the fox starts out to the left in the figure and later runs across still another scent, it would again make its decisions. In this case, the cross track is a moose. The experienced fox disregards it and moves along.

    Figure 1.

                The best example I’ve ever seen to explain the Molecule Theory of Scent was on an old black and white TV set back in the early 1970’s. The camera was focused on football player Otis Sistrunk of the Oakland Raiders sitting on the bench. The player was very warm although the weather was cold. Steam rose from his shaved head while sweat dripped from his chin. With the body’s heat rising, the sweat at the top of the head is carried aloft as steam. Sweat on the lower face forms at each pore and the sweat collects into droplets which gravity then makes them stream down and off the face. But steam and sweat are two forms of the same molecule. Throw in a few grains of salt with water and you make sweat. This is a matter of how many molecules are collected together, vapor versus liquid. The vapor carries along in the breeze much further than the liquid, just like clouds versus rain. The vapor is affected by the wind; the liquid by gravity.

                For a human, our scent is the combination of everything we are and wear. Our skin and hair follicle are always falling off, in addition to sweat. These intermingle with what we wear such as soaps, shampoos, colognes, greases, and food. Then you need to add in the things our clothes have been washed in, touched, or what has been carried in the pockets. All of this identifies what scent we scatter about as we pass through this world. Our dogs learn early on who we are by our scent. And also they learn what food is, especially human food, which seems to be much better than doggie foods. This probably explains why they can tell which pocket has the doggie treat real early in life. We probably have all seen the TV pictures of herds of seals on a shore and pups everywhere but the mother and child always know how to get back together with one another. It’s scent.

                Actual scent of people, dogs, and all other animals is a complex grouping of individual characteristic molecules that make each individual different and recognizable. If you had a group of 30 dogs of the same breed, each has a unique set of identifiers, a chemical signature. One part of the signature defines that the object is a living thing, another identifies it as a dog, another identifies it as a particular breed, then on to sex, age, etc. Plants have unique smells. Inanimate objects like rocks, dirt, fluids, solids and water all have a scent; it depends on what is mixed in with it.

                In tracking, we tend to focus on the human and ground cover scents. The person laying the track imparts both his smell to the ground and also by crushing the cover underneath his feet .This is known as the grass effect. Some people say dogs track the grass effect more than the person. It may be true with beginning dogs, but the human scent is quickly focused upon through training. The human scent is carried to the ground thus creating a path by three means. First, the heavier molecules fall to the ground by gravity. Second, the lighter particles are blown about by the wind. Third, even if the air is still, the movement of the person through the air creates turbulence. Each method changes how the overall scent finally gets to the ground and where.

    Gravity makes the heavier scent molecules fall around our feet. By moving up hill and down hill, it causes gravity to spread the scents in certain ways. By stomping each foot as a person walks, a greater scent trail occurs as additional molecules are shed from the body.

     Next, so many people focus on tracking as two dimensional. They feel a track is only so many yards forward and perhaps cast left or right from the pathway.  It’s really a three dimensional world. The smell is also carried away by the breeze. At a distance it may fall again to earth. But it can be stuck on fence lines, bushes, buildings, and trees. In addition, scent molecules can flow through lines of objects and then come to the ground further away. The wind also creates swirls, voids, and pools of scent. A depression in the ground and even puddles of water can store a reservoir of scent molecules which has more scent than the track. 

     The movement of the tracklayer, while vigorously swinging the arms, causes scent to be scattered even further than you might think. It may not be a lot, but it does have a consequence.

    The strength of the scent diminishes with time. One theory is that the airborne molecules dissipate in approximately 30 minutes. The gravity-borne molecules fade but this can be several days later. In these conditions, a good tracking dog can follow the trail. Many an escaped convict can vouch for that. And a lost child can be found.

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  • Saturday, July 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Michael Pumilia

    Part 1: Tracking can be a Walk Done Easily        

    Tracking is the easiest dog sport to learn. It is easier to master than other companion events such as Obedience or Agility. Its lessons can be taught while the dog is also learning these other types of events. If you can spare 1 hour a week, you can teach your dog to track. Or rather, the dog can teach you that it can track. In some cases, just half an hour is needed. It takes just one tracking test to earn your Tracking Dog (TD) title from the American Kennel Club. And you must have your dog pass a Certification Test prior to entering your first, official test. Imagine not having to enter a bunch of shows to earn legs or points towards a title, which saves you time, travel and money. Tracking is not scored on points. Tracking is not a strictly timed event; you are not racing the clock. Tracking does not have dumbbells, jumps, tunnels, weave poles, or seesaws.  I find that the tracking community is a low key, low stress group of people that gather to enjoy the accomplishments of their dogs and the camaraderie of each other. The end result of a test is simply Pass or Fail. There is no vying for placements, no need to get Winners to earn breed points, no rankings, and unlike Obedience Champion points, you don’t have to be first or second in the class in order to win the points. Pass / Fail; that’s it. The fields used for the tests must be set aside so they are pristine. The rules are very simple and straight forward. Two judges are used and they must agree before any dog is passed or failed. The best part is that the dog is out front finding the track and the handler must follow where the dog leads. Pretty simple, huh? In fact, you can go out in just one day, walk around in a field for a few minutes, and presto – a new title!

    My first experience to tracking came more than 40 years ago. Travis Truitt, a tracking judge from Birmingham, AL, came over to Pensacola, FL and gave a seminar on tracking for the local dog club. In just a couple of hours I was hooked. Living in this part of Florida, I had available acres of pine woods, short grass, and palmetto bushes. I had three Dalmatians at the time. With the dogs held by another person, I would run off into the woods, make several turns, and then hide behind one of the bushes. In a few minutes, the dogs were let loose. It didn’t take them but a few minutes to find me. By letting them work as a pack, they fed off of each others’ instincts to track me down.

    Formal tracking was started on Saturday mornings. Short tracks were laid using multiple tracking stakes and a tracking harness was placed on the dog who would track. The tracks were aged for just 15 minutes. Just one hour was spent and our little group of four handlers each had a chance to work. Afterwards, we would go for a late breakfast; this helped our motivation too.

    To teach Tracking to the dog and learn how to handle the dog while it is working, just remember:

    Michael’s Two Rules of Tracking:

       Rule 1: The Dog Knows What It’s Doing.

       Rule 2: Focus Near; Focus Far.

    This is then followed by the “P’s of Tracking”. At first I had three P’s. Then serendipity happened. At a tracking test in 2006, local tracking judge Lynda McKee and I were tracklayers. During a break on plotting day, I brought out my ideas on the three P’s of tracking. Lynda gave me two more which acted as bookends for what I had. So here they all are:

    The Five P’s of Tracking:

     Plan, Plot, Plod, Plop, and Ponder

    • Plan your training and tracking lessons in the field.
    • Plot the tracking path in the field.
    • Plod along the track.
    • Plop the object to be found.
    • Ponder how the dog and handler performed the track, what was learned, and what to do next time.

    Now isn’t that simple? Well, there is a little more to it than that but always keep the Rules and Five P’s in mind in everything you do. Plus, tracking is the only companion event that allows a new title to be achieved in just one day! This series of articles will discuss many of the nuances of tracking. Its aim is to enlighten you about a great sport. I’ll bring up topics such as: What is Scent?, Scent Patterns, Starting Tracking, Laying Tracks, and Tracking Your Dog.

    Now let’s start by answering a few questions many people have when they first contemplate this sport.

    First Question: When Should I Start Tracking My Dog?

    Answer: Whenever You Want! The youngest dog to get a Tracking Title was 6 months old. The oldest that I’ve heard about was 12 years old. For my own dogs, I like to start while they are learning Open obedience. It makes for a nice break from learning the off lead heeling, jumping, and retrieving. The dog in tracking works away from you, makes up its own mind on what is happening, and gets instant satisfaction from finding the object. Getting a dog to work away from you can be a downfall in learning Open. Many a dog, in the training class environment, has problems learning to go out and perform a task on its own, such a retrieving. Tracking is less intense or demanding on the dog. It is simply learning to follow its own natural instinct. The training is really making it understand which scent to search for.

    Second Question: Is There a Lot of Equipment?

    Answer: Only a long leash, an object to find, and a tracking harness are needed. To start teaching, only a few stakes and small plot of land are required. It is also nice to have another person on hand to hold the dog while the track is being laid but a tie-down stake can fit the bill.

    Third Question: Do I Need a Lot of Books, Videos or Instructors to Get Started?

    Answer: No. I once taught a woman by mail. I would lay out some things to get her started in the first series of letters. By her response, I would then add some more steps or adjust something she should try next. In just 4 months of this back and forth communication, her dog was certified for tracking. The reward came when the dog passed its first test. Now this was back before email.

    Fourth Question: Does Different Terrain Make It More Difficult?

    Answer: No, a dog trained on one type of cover (i.e. grass) can easily transition to another. Similarly, altitude and temperature do not hinder the dog as much as people think. For example, at the first tracking test run by the Dalmatian Club of America, a dog trained in Maine found a totally different type of grass in Colorado in August at an altitude of 6,400 feet. Plus when the dog ran its track, there were hundreds of brightly colored crickets flying up from the grass as the dog moved forward. This Dal passed. As for its owner, a few years later he became a tracking judge. On a personal note, my dogs learned to track on grass, sand, and concrete in the 1970’s, long before the AKC adopted Variable Surface Tracking (VST). It is simply a matter of having the dog learn which particular scent to follow.

    Fifth Question: Do I Have to Walk a Long Way?

    Answer: Not at all. AKC requires a track of 440 to 500 yards. Think of that as approximately a quarter mile. And it just has 3 to 5 turns to break up the distance. Basically it’s a short walk or trot to an exciting finish.

    Sixth Question: Do I Have to be a Cartographer to Plot a Track?

    Answer: It might help, but no. A few skills are needed and they are easy to learn. I’ll explain the basics later in this series and add some tricks I’ve learned in 30 years as a tracking judge. The hardest part is learning to walk in a straight line. (Funny, that’s what I say in obedience class all the time.)

    Seventh Question: Are Only Certain Dogs Able to Track?

    Answer: Any dog can learn to track. The height of the dog or length of coat on the dog seems more a detriment to the human than the dog. The key is motivating the dog to persevere if the ground cover, terrain or climate becomes difficult. To prove a point though, take the leash off the dog and see what it does in any perceived difficult situation. My bet is 9 of 10 dogs will say “Let’s Play.” For those 9 owners, the problem is not the dog. Nothing says the ground must be absolutely flat or the grass cut low or the weather has to be a balmy day. This is where training in different conditions helps the dog. But if that doesn’t happen, it should not stop you from proceeding with tracking training or entering a test. I have seen a Chihuahua pass in very tall grass as well as a Borzoi which passed in very short grass over rocky, sloping terrain.

    Factoid: On average, about 10 billion, tiny scales of dead skin rub off your body every day. In a lifetime, you could fill eight 5-pound flour bags.

    (Note: These articles will be organized into a series of books which will present Tracking, Variable Surface Tracking, TDX Tracking, and Advanced Tracking topics.)

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

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