Police Protection Dogs are a valuable asset to police forces everywhere and essential to many police operations. Among all of their capabilities, tracking is one of the most frequently used. However, when dealing with serious cases, as the police often do, the reliability of a dog’s tracking ability is of incredible importance. At present, United States courts do not consider a dog’s tracking ability to be 100% reliable. The results produced by a police tracking dog can only be used as supporting evidence, and cannot be presented as the only available evidence. Furthermore, the dog’s tracking ability must also be proven to be reliable. In all cases, the first test of reliability is the dog’s ability to track human scent.
A dog’s ability to reliably track human scent has been a topic of debate for many years. As humans, it is difficult for us to understand the process of scent tracking from a canine perspective. The canine nose is more than capable of identifying between a wide variety of scents, but ensuring that a police dog is following the correct scent is far more difficult. The biggest skeptics have always maintained that rather than tracking a humans unique scent signature, dogs track scents left behind by the disturbance of the ground as a human walks or runs, and thus kicks up a variety of dust and dirt particles along the way. Others have suggested that dogs are primarily focused on the scent of the feet or shoes that have left behind traces as they have rubbed against the ground. Others still say that unique human scents are left behind as a multitude of skin cells and hair are shed from our bodies. The reality is that a well trained tracking dog will be looking out for a mix of both human scent as well as ground disturbance. However, human scent must remain the focus with ground disturbance acting only to assist in maintaining the trail on a human scent. A reliable dog must be able to demonstrate the ability to track human scent without getting distracted by converging trails left by other humans.
The key to reliability in a police protection dog is to begin training at an early age. It is not enough to simply begin training track drive in a young Belgian Malinois puppy or German Shepherd puppy. Detecting human scent should be taught almost from the beginning, and should remain the focus of tracking exercises throughout the dog’s career.