Mantrailing and the black and tan coonhound

by Robert Urban


When I first started out with the notion of working a Black and Tan in trailing work I was aware that the very first thing I needed to consider was temperament. To be a mantrailing candidate the hound must have a strong relationship with its handler, be biddable, level-headed and have a strong desire to please. These are features not necessarily found in the typical Black and Tan, at least not all in one package!

When I first considered Tory to be a good possibility for this type of work I approached my Chief with the proposal. He was already very receptive to the general idea of forming a non-aggression type K-9 unit. I took Tory in to the office with me one day when he was about 4 months old. He was bold, fearless, ran around on the linoleum floors; up and down the stairs; and greeted everybody enthusiastically and generally sold himself! We began our "aptitude" training with playing very basic hide and seek games. I would hand him off to one of our other officers, wave "bye bye" to him and run off and hide. I would only go maybe 50-75 yards, just be out of sight. Tory would be throwing a fit, boo-hooing, etc. and after just a couple min. would be given encouragement by his handler to "GO FIND" me. He handled that very quickly, opening up on track in his desperation to find DAD! I should note that at all times from Day #1 he is on lead and in harness. From that point we worked with finding other officers as quarry and me as his sole handler. While still a puppy, I would have someone have one of his favorite toys, play with him a little bit with it, then run off, calling out his name. Tory would naturally get VERY upset over this, whining and carrying on. I would hold him still, encouraging him until the elapsed time had passed at which point I would give him the command of GO FIND or WHERE'D HE GO? As our training progressed and he grew older we continued to lengthen the age of the track as well as the distance, throwing in changes of direction, crosstracks, changes of surface, etc. As in anything else, we had setbacks and some days were (and are) better than others.

Once we had progressed to the point where he was reliably using his nose and understanding what we were doing, we began working very intensely with a friend who does a lot of tracking and has titled her Golden Retrievers in AKC tracking. Although trailing is different from AKC tracking, working Tory strictly in tracking for about 6 months taught me how to read his body language and disciplined him to stick to the line or track better. I learned very quickly that a young hound who relies on just trailing or even airscenting can get himself in trouble very quickly when air currents change and he looses the scent. If neither of you know or remember where you last had the track you're in trouble! Tracking will help prevent that from happening and will force you and the hound to slow down.

As an aside I will address my understanding of tracking vs. trailing. In police K-9 circles, tracking is generally considered to be what the typical patrol or utility dog does. This is usually a German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois. A tracking dog will typically follow almost or directly in the footsteps of the person you're seeking. Some trainers say the dog follows the scent of the disturbed vegetation or soil left from the quarry. A trailing dog is generally held to be the province of the Bloodhound though Labs, Shepherds and other breeds (B&T Coonhounds!) can also trail. A trailing dog follows body scent only and a good one will discriminate without any trouble one human from the next. As we move or stand our body is constantly shedding "rafts" of dead skin cells. This coupled with bodily fluids, and quite possibly adrenaline act as our own unique body odor. Body scent remains in the general swath of our path for an undetermined time. Temp, humidity, ground cover, precipitation, wind and age will all play a part in holding scent in an area, making this a rather inexact science.

It is my impression that a good trailing dog will sometimes track and certainly airscent during the course of a search. Each dog will develop their own style and once their handler learns to "read" their dog, it makes the job much easier. Reading your dog is, in my opinion the toughest part of training. The dog will make very subtle cues as to what they're doing and if you miss one because you're trying to look for physical evidence (footprints, etc.) you can blow the track, especially on the young dog. Tory will frequently turn his head in the direction the track turned but keep going straight ahead to check himself. He will make just a short pause and turn his head, then continue on. If by chance he loses the track and I missed that cue, it can be difficult to go back and restart him. On a physical safety note, when we are close or in the immediate vicinity of our quarry (about 50 yards or less), Tory will USUALLY stop and audibly inhale through his nostrils, lift his head up and look back at me. This tells me he has "located" our quarry and we are in the immediate area of where he is located or hiding. If I allow him to continue, he will frequently go directly in to the quarry, head up almost in a typical show ring posture. If the quarry has been hiding in the area for quite a while (more than 1hr) there may be a lot of "pool" scent and Tory will have tough time pinpointing exactly where our person is. He will want to cast around in ever decreasing circles until he locates his quarry or moves the track outside of the scent pool. In the case of a armed, criminal apprehension, once he locates we call in the cavalry. I always have at least one backup officer with me on any criminal search whose job it is to watch our backs (and fronts!), not interfere with the dog and run the radio. If a patrol or "bite" dog is available we will pull back and send it in if practical.

There is much confusion in the world of scenting dogs. Search and Rescue dogs are somewhat of a different breed although part of what a mantrailer does is S.A.R. I guess it is easier to say what we don't do. We don't do area searches for missing objects, we don't search through the rubble of earthquakes or avalanches. We don't do cadaver recovery (yet) though that will be our next field of endeavor. We don't do narcotics searches, bombs or other paraphernalia. Like any coonhunter will tell you, a good straight dog is the ideal and hard to come by. At this point in time, Tory is well on his way to becoming a good, single purpose mantrailer. If he does nothing else, myself, my co-breeders and my Department will be very proud of him.

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Page updated 13 December 1999