BLOODHOUNDS : AN UNDERUTILIZED RESOURCE


By
Ann Brooke Holt, D.V.M.
Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S.
Rockville, Maryland
Presented at the National Association for Search and Rescue's annual conference, June 1994.


Late one evening last summer an air scenting dog handler called me after searching all day for a lost elderly man in southeastern North Carolina. The man had now been missing 72 hours and a clue had been located that afternoon. She said a Bloodhound would be a real asset to the search. She did not know I was between operational dogs at the time but I told her I would do what I could to find a Bloodhound team. So with a North Carolina road map on one side and the National Police Bloodhound Association (NPBA) Directory on the other, I identified seven or eight members within a 150 miles radius of the search. Then I called the Search Boss. Obviously a very cordial, well informed and experienced person. I explained the reason for my call and he sounded truly appreciative of my effort, but -- he said in one or two other instances they had used the local Bloodhound teams the Police Department had and he did not feel they were trained for trailing lost people, only criminals. The lost person in this case was a gentle old man and they would not want to risk him being injured by a Bloodhound even if the dog could trail him after seventy two hours. It was apparent he really did not want my list and they were expecting several hundred Marines from Camp LeJuene the following day.

The man was found by the Marines the following afternoon and he was alive, so all ended well. After nine years experience handling a Bloodhound, however, I couldn't help wondering how less stressful it would have been for the elderly gentleman; if four to eight hours after his initial disappearance, when immediate resources had been unable to locate him, a Bloodhound team had located him the mile to mile and a half from the Point Last Seen (PLS).

This incident plus numerous conversations with Sheriff's Deputies and Police Officers bemoaning the fact that they aren't called for missing person searches, even by their own departments sometimes, was the stimulus for this paper.

What do they teach us in the Managing the Search Function (MSF) or Managing the Search Operation (MSO) courses? If, after the initial history taking and hasty searches of the immediate areas are to no avail and additional trained resources may be needed, ask for: 1) mantrackers, who are usually scarce as hen's teeth at least in my area; 2) Bloodhound teams; 3) air scenting dog teams; 4) trained ground search teams and 5) finally, the 100 or more people from training academies, neighborhoods or wherever, to walk through areas shoulder to shoulder or at intervals of five to ten feet.

Why are Bloodhounds listed second?

In the city or residential areas where human scent abounds, along with moving vehicles; a bloodhound has only the scent of the subject to concentrate on and is on a lead so they can be constrained by the handler in traffic. By the way, it is simply not true that dogs can not track or trail on cement and asphalt -- it is done routinely.

In saying all this I do not in any way want to imply that mantrackers, air scenting dogs or trained ground searchers are not beneficial and necessary resources for the search. In my opinion mantrackers are observational geniuses and should be called, if you know where to locate one. Call them early because the more people that have walked around the PLS before the mantracker has arrived the more difficult if not impossible it is for him or her to do their job.

Air scenting dogs - as a handler of air scenting dogs for thirteen years and having participated in a couple of hundred searches, I believe they are invaluable to the wilderness, water, and disaster search effort. Like Bloodhounds they are efficient. In MSF or MSO classes I think they still say an air scenting dog team can cover the same amount of ground in the same period of time as twenty trained ground searchers and with the same degree of accuracy. However, they aren't that useful in urban and congested areas, which was my original reason for acquiring a Bloodhound for use in our Unit. Air Scenting dogs are trained to find humans, not individuals.

A major point, if I make no other, is that both types of dog teams are a benefit to the search effort - a search is an emergency. Fortunately because of the grant Pedigree gave NASAR, starting in 1983, to publish and mail "SAR DOG Alert" to NASAR members as well as Sheriff, Police and Fish and Game Departments, the attributes of air scenting dogs are well known to search managers and SAR Dog units can be located by using the "National SAR Dog Directory" available from the NASAR Book Store. You just have to call them.

Trained ground searchers, of course, have been and no doubt will continue to be the chief resource for searches for a long time to come.

What is a Bloodhound?
A medium to large, long eared hound, with floppy lips, a squarish body and a long tail that is carried upright like a sickle. Not gracefully agile, I call them beautifully ugly. They are short haired, very huggable, and persistently determined dogs; who can and do literally ignore everything else to get what they want whether it is a lost person or the other side of your door to go outside. Most (90%), but not all, are friendly.

Their social behavior is more a reflection of their owner's training priorities than the breed. As with any dog I wouldn't recommend walking up to one in their owners absence. Having said that I can honestly say I've never seen or heard of a Bloodhound injuring a found subject either in training or on a mission. Many are deliberately trained to jump on a standing subject to make the identification, important in police work, but certainly not to bite or injure.

How do they work?
It is not my intent to teach you how to handle a Bloodhound but a little description of how they work may help you when you see it.

They are primarily trailing dogs that follow the scent of a particular person from a place the person was to where he/she is. When working they may use the scent left by a person, in footprints, on the bushes, walls, doorways or anywhere scent has settled. In addition they use the airborne scent carried from the person as air scenting dogs do. Generally the older the person's scent trail becomes, the closer the dog stays to the actual trail. An experienced dog will work a fresh trail (< 8 hours) enthusiastically and very fast, an older trail (> 12 hours) more slowly and deliberately.

In this country practically all of the dogs are worked in a harness attached to a 20-30 foot lead which the handler holds. Some handlers drop the lead and run behind their dog. You may see both methods. I use the former because it's easier to read my dog's body English and easier on me physically especially going up hill. I might add that going down hill can be a nightmare especially in the dark.

Why are Bloodhounds underutilized?
In my opinion most SAR people have not seen them work or more importantly do not know what a team can provide to the search effort. Also locating experienced Bloodhound teams, except in a few areas such as Southern California and Washington State, appears to be difficult and largely depends on the local contacts an individual handler has made. A few, based on individual contacts, are listed in the "National SAR Dog Directory".

The most experienced active teams that I know, several hundred to be more specific, are associated with a Police, Sheriff's or Corrections Department and yes, their bread and butter is criminal work, that is what keeps them active. The nature of their job is to do their work and go home. Not to talk to the press, the Department does that. Neither do they belong to interdisciplinary groups like NASAR, because they are busy people who have their work, family, dogs and community. Many have had 20-30 years trailing Bloodhounds and are frequently called by their community to find the lost child, elderly person or hunter who has not returned. These are the searches we never read about or are called to respond to. They happen and are resolved quickly.

So how can you locate them as part of your Preplan ?
My suggestion is initially call your local Police or Sheriff's Department, the State Police or State Corrections Department. Many State prison systems keep one or more Bloodhound teams on location. The "trustees" take care of them and play "escapee" for the handlers. One advantage, the other prisoners hear of the "trustee's" experiences and know they will be caught.

Use the "National SAR Dog Directory" page for your State and surrounding ones to identify which units have trailing teams or if an unaffiliated handler is near you. The Directory is updated yearly so these teams are active.

Finally, I have taken the liberty of listing the location by State of the Agencies (Departments) whose members belong to the NPBA (To be distributed at the Conference.). Call them and find out the names of active handlers near you. These are the best suggestions I have. If you know of other sources, use them but Preplan! Then when the time comes, be it at 11:30 pm or 3 am, they will quickly be on the road to your search location.

How can you be assured they are experienced?
Bloodhounds teams are not certified or licensed anyplace that I know about. Most SAR Dog units have internal standards however which a team must meet before they are considered search ready. If you have questions though ask for a demonstration, interview them and even ask to see their training records if you still have doubts. You want a team that has trained in the environment you will be managing searches. A dog team trained only in the dry desert will not do well in the humid woodlands of Virginia until it becomes acclimated. Just as a dog trained at sea level or below 5000 feet will not do well in the mountains of the Rockies; or a dog trained only in the city will not do well in the woods, there are just to many smelly distractions; and visa versa. For this reason, the Virginia Bloodhound SAR Unit to which I belong requires a team be evaluated by their peers while running a 12 hour old urban and a 12 hour old wilderness trail before recommending them to search managers. We originally had considered requiring a 24 hour old trail but the logistics of doing so because of the nature of our group - spread literally all over Virginia made it almost impossible if we were to evaluate everyone.

You want a dog that is trained regularly - a mature dog, at least once a month; a young dog, two or three times a week. A dog team that has run trails, aged from 0 to at least 24 hours or longer in all weather conditions, both day and night. (For example, my records show the oldest training trail in a city I ran with my old dog was 96 hours and in wilderness 7 days.). A dog that is accustomed to taking scent on command from anything the handler presents to the dog, whether it is bagged or unbagged. Examples of articles are the obvious - footprints, clothing (hats, gloves, shirts, underwear) and the less obvious - sheets, tools, cigarette butts, door handles, car seats, window-sills, blood, urine or any other bodily excretion (or secretion).

The point is you want a dog that has been trained under the conditions you may experience on a search and a handler that is committed to finding people under realistic conditions. You do not want a dog whose handler gets around to putting a harness on his dog once or twice a year or that can track Junior or Sally when it's dinner time and they should have been home 10 minutes ago. Neither do you want a handler who is unfamiliar handling the dog or reading it. This is an ability which only comes from trailing together hundreds of times and "umpteen" miles. Nor do you want a handler that appears in shorts, smooth soled shoes and a "cut off T" in an area where there are rocks, mud, blackberries and greenbriar. Believe me it has happened!

You also do not need but might get some "Prima Donnas". As in any human endeavour there are and will always be people that in their minds are more important than the rest of us and like to be treated that way. How you deal with them as the search manager is up to you - send 'em home, ignore them, use them and "forget" to call them again if another resource is available. In my opinion the only important people on a search are the victim, their family and the representative(s) of the agency I'm working for.

There is the handler that when called says, "I'm on my way but don't put other teams (dogs or people) in the field until after I have arrived and finished trailing my dog", and they are 2 hours or more away. There is the handler that upon arriving announces that all teams in the field must be held in place or brought in until he or she has finished trailing. Then again there is the handler that arrives, starts his dog, cannot find a valid trail and leaves without debriefing at base or, even worse, despite the information you might have, effectively undermines the search effort by announcing to others that the subject is not in the area and leaves. A clue might be found five minutes after the handler left and you are left without a resource. That has happened, too.

People like these may be very experienced and not team players, or they are inexperienced and do not know any better or have a poorly trained dog.

Let's face it all of us would like to search under ideal conditions: the mantracker - not to have people walking around the PLS; the air scenting dog team - not to have anyone else except the lost person in or near the area down wind from where they are searching. But rarely do searches start with all our resources present at the beginning. Further a well trained dog should have been taught to work through distractions. By that I mean areas contaminated by other peoples' scent, people moving about when the dog is working, the presence of other animals and by noise.

I said earlier Bloodhounds are determined and I mean it - when concentrated on a trail they are deaf and blind to anything else along the way. I've seen them literally run into a fence or parked automobile if the scent went that way (they just shake their head and start looking for a way up, under or around). Last summer I laid a demonstration trail for a friend's dog through a crowd of three hundred people milling around, talking and eating at a fairground. The dog tracked me thirty minutes later without hesitation.

That's what we train for! Some young dogs will be attracted to people standing and moving around and will have to go over and smell them to make sure they are not what they are looking for, then the dog continues trailing. That is okay. They seem to use their eyes more. In the woods if a dog is distracted by people, all the handler has to do is ask the ground team or dog team to stop just a minute until they get passed or their hound has gotten a whiff of them - no big deal. Most air scenting dog teams I've worked with are used to finding people other than the lost subject in the woods. These handlers just reward their dog for finding and keeps on going.

The air scenting and Bloodhound groups I belong to occasionally get together and stage a "mock search". The sectors are specifically set up so a Bloodhound trails through an area being searched by an air scenting team. I haven't heard anyone complain yet about their dog being distracted. Further depending on the wind currents and where the air scenting team starts their search, sometimes the Bloodhound team finds the victim first and sometimes the air scenting team does. Illustrating to me at least that both teams are an asset and can be used together for the victim's benefit. The sooner the victim is found the better it is for all of us. How many of you have been on or known of a search where the subject is finally found and the subsequent autopsy report reveals death occurred two hours before the find was made? What could have done better? Were the right resources used?

The handlers that go home without debriefing or telling you where they have been may do so out of innocence. Handlers not affiliated with an organized SAR team may never have heard of words like Incident Command System (ICS). Most public service departments - police, fire, corrections departments - have their own command systems and are not accustomed to working with "civilians". Neither, in my experience, have they had much experience working with map and compass as either a search tool or as a method of recording search activity. Show them a topo map to point out the PLS, for instance, and you are liable to get a studious silence or a glassy stare, just as you are liable to get from me in a discussion about the various tools mountain climbers use. During briefings explain your procedures, signing in, debriefing, using a map and offer to send someone with the Bloodhound handler that is knowledgeable in coordinates etc.. In doing so, however, make sure that person can and will stay with the Bloodhound team all the way. I can't tell you how many times I've suddenly found myself all alone. When trailing a motivated dog you are so busy watching (reading) the dog, handling the lead and watching where you put your feet in the wilderness it is easy to loose track of which ridge and which stream you just crossed or in the city count how many blocks you've traveled. If a Bloodhound team finds the victim injured it is crucial that they know their location and can radio their position coordinates. (In the future a GPS unit may well become a standard piece of equipment for Bloodhound teams.) Some handlers will tell you the hound will lead them back. That may be true but it won't help the injured person and the 4 or 5 mile or longer round about trail they just ran might not be the most direct route back to Base or to the road for a pick up. Send someone with them, if for no other reason than safety.

I've just recommended briefing a Bloodhound team about your search management procedures. What else can you do to assist them? The most important single thing you can do is make arrangements for an uncontaminated scent article to be available while the team is on the way to the search. When they arrive the handler can collect it, which most handlers would prefer, or you can have it "bagged" and waiting for them. Saves a lot of time.

What is an uncontaminated scent article?
It can be anything the lost subject has touched, worn or excreted. It can be a sterile gauze that is left for a few minutes on something like a chair, footprint or bed that the subject has left scent on. The important thing is that no one else has handled, touched, sat, or breathed upon the article. Or at least if someone has have that individual present when the handler scents the dog so the dog has a chance to figure out "who is missing". A scent discriminating dog takes (uses) the most recent scent added to an article.

The article can be bagged or unbagged. I prefer food storage bags, (some plastic trash bags have a deodorant in them) or new paper bags, not the one you carried your lunch or gym clothes in yesterday. Pick the article up with the end of a stick or pencil and drop it in the bag or better turn the bag inside out without touching it's inner surface, pick the article up thru it and turn the bag right side out over the article. For you that live in a city and have companion dogs, much the same way you pick up dog poop. Then close the bag.

Should you learn that someone handled the article by accident or had to push it into the bag and there are no other articles around, have that person available when the handler is starting his/her dog. Most importantly tell the handler. This is one place complete honesty may mean the success or failure of the team performing its job and hopefully locating the lost person.

A year or so ago I arrived at a search about 2 am and was met by the couple on Base night duty. They had a "bagged scent article (a shoe)" that had been found in the morning where the runaway was thought to have been sleeping. The couple swore that they were the only people that could have touched the article. I spent the rest of the night and well into the morning running short futile trails that led nowhere in a cold, wet rain. During lunch break I heard the article had been found by a farm hand, who gave it to the farm's owner, who gave it to the local police chief, who gave it to the search boss, who gave it to the couple to bag.

Simple, innocent things can contaminate a scent article and you may have no way of knowing it. A few years ago I arrived at a search in the early evening for an elderly senile person who went missing from a nursing home early that morning. Because he and his two roommates shared closets and there was a community laundry basket I took my dog, Polly, into the nursing home and scented her off his bed. Polly "took" the scent and obviously had a trail right out of the building. For the next several hours we trailed up and down streets and across pastures in that farming community. Sometime after midnight I called it quits thinking we had really screwed up. The man was found by an air scenting dog the next morning hiding in a briar patch not far from the nursing home. At the debriefing I found out that the nurse on duty the previous morning had "smoothed the sheets" and made his bed. Then after her shift was over as a concerned staff person she went looking for him for several hours. Guess where she had walked? The same streets and pastures I'd walked. How would anyone on duty that night have known? I guess I should have asked direct questions and have since, at the risk of being obnoxious, but it explains why Bloodhound handlers can be uptight about scent articles.

Why does a dog go 180 degrees in the wrong direction sometimes?
Bad handling? Bad scent article? The dog is distracted? The dog feels bad? The handler misreads a subtle head movement? It all can happen. But that does not necessarily mean the team is no good if there is an otherwise good record of their trailing under a variety of conditions. Neither do air scenting dogs alert only on the victim, nor do mantrackers find every track or ground searchers every clue. The point is a Bloodhound team is a valuable asset to the overall search effort. Let us locate them as part of the Preplan and use them.

Finally a word about other breeds of trailing or tracking dogs. Call it a disclaimer if you will. All dogs track - it is instinctive. Training enhances a dog's natural ability. Many air scenting dogs are cross trained, as are a few Bloodhounds trained to air scent off lead or do water searches from a boat. I've talked about Bloodhounds because they are the only breed of dog that has been bred for hundreds of years to follow aged trails (days old) for specific humans. Saying that does not mean to say that individuals of other breeds can not follow aged trails. It depends on the handlers motivation, the dog's motivation and their motivation as a team. I will say that the average Bloodhound can be readily trained to follow the aged trail while only the exceptional German Shepherd, Labrador, Weimaraner, Newfoundland or other breeds are able to. If you can find these exceptional individuals and their handlers, by all means use them, too!

I have not tried to tell you how to train a Bloodhound but rather why they are a resource for you to use in the overall search effort. While writing this paper I had a letter from Donald Dissinger in Denver who related the experience of a Bloodhound team finding the body of a young girl 10 days after she was missing. Why wasn't the team called in earlier?

Locate a team(s) in your area now and use a proven resource when the time comes.


INTRODUCTION HOMEPAGE E-MAIL SAR LINKS