Book Review: Tracking Dogs – Scents and Skills

The Scandinavian Working Dog Institute (SWDI) has a growing international demand for its services, which include quality control, certification, training, and development of working dog teams. Their audience includes SAR, police, military, and other working dog teams.

The English version of their book, Tracking Dogs – Scent and Skills, was published in 2015. As the title suggests, it is focused on the training of tracking dogs, although it does touch on detection work and other related K9 profiles.

The book opens with the obligatory review of human scent, how a dog’s nose works, and how they learn. The bulk of the book is then devoted to a detailed review of SWDI’s basic approach to tracking. Their standard approach is to start with hard surface tracking, and then introduce the dog to other surfaces. They then add angles (turns), length, distractions, and time (age). They only add the pick up the track and determination of track direction once the dog is solid on tracking basics. Once again, back chaining seems to make sense in this application.

SWDI also has an alternative approach to tracking that starts with searching for and indicating on small objects (such as coins, pieces of Kong, etc.). Once the dog is searching and indicating with intensity, the search exercise is transitioned gradually to a track scenario. I suppose one could think of the track as a linear search in this context.

One of the fundamental aspects of the SWDI approach is focus training. This involves throwing or placing a toy in front of the dog and having the dog focus on the object before it is released to recover the toy. It’s also a great technique for building motivation and practicing impulse control. However, a colleague who recently took part in an SWDI session did wonder about how effectively the visual focus translates to odour. In any event, it’s a quick and fun activity, although Keji can only handle a few reps before his head is in danger of blowing off (but he’s on the far end of the motivation spectrum).

In addition to their book and website, SWDI has a very active Facebook presence. They are prolific posters of videos featuring their own dogs as well as those of their workshop participants. This video link contains highlights from an SWDI session in December with members of the Ontario Provincial Police K9 Unit. It illustrates many of the concepts outlined in the book.

The book also includes a brief reference to scent line-up or ID dogs, and scent discrimination tracking. Interestingly, this short section of the book concludes with this cautionary note, “To be honest, most handlers who claim they have an ID-tracking dog are either trying to fool you or have been fooled themselves.” More on that subject in an upcoming review of a book on k9 fraud by another author.

As a final aside, and quite impressively, the SWDI book arrived from Sweden within a week of ordering it online. Nice.