While Fredrik and I don’t hunt ourselves we nevertheless enjoy training our dogs in the field of blood tracking. A trained blood tracking dog is a valuable resource when recovering wounded game and can also help locate animals that have been wounded in traffic. In Sweden, a registered blood tracking dog must according to law be available within two hours when hunting moose, deer and other big animals, to avoid unnecessary suffering if the animal is wounded but not immediately found. As a result, it’s quite common for dog owners to train their dogs in the field of blood tracking. The great thing about this sport is that your dog get to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors while doing what comes absolutely naturally to him.
We find blood tracking to be especially suitable for restless teenage dogs as it allows them to use both their bodies and brains during a relatively relaxed working assignment. It is also a great activity for senior Mals who may not be able to run on the sledding team but still need regular exercise and stimulation. So far we haven’t come across a Malamute that doesn’t enjoy tracking. Someone once suggested that blood tracking is detrimental to the working discipline of sled dogs since it encourages their hunting instincts and make them more prone to chasing wild animals. In our view, this is far from the truth. In fact we feel that dogs that are trained regularly in the sport of blood tracking are able to focus better at any sport they are involved in, simply because tracking and spending time in the great outdoors make them generally more relaxed, happy and harmonious.
Our boy Thunder has successfully completed the Swedish aptitude test in blood tracking.The test instructor provided the following written critique after the test: “A dog that works purposefully and seeks and solves his tracking task with elegance. He displays excellent tracking ability and good cooperative skills.” Since Thunder really enjoys tracking we are now working towards having him approved as a certified blood tracking dog.
Titan has also tried his paw at blood tracking. Last weekend we prepared a 400 metre long trail for him to practice at. At the official tracking trials the trail is over 600 metres (1969 ft) long.
Mission accomplished – Titan found the hoof! While some dogs like to carry the hoof when the work is completed, others are not that interested and prefer to be rewarded with a treat or toy instead. After the training session we put the hoof back in the freezer, that way it can be used many times.
HOW TO DO IT
When laying a scent line we drag a moose hoof behind us while sprinkling small amounts of blood at regular intervals from a plastic bottle. We use no more than 2 deciliter blood over 600 metres. The trails at the official tracking trials in Sweden include at least 4 angles and a shorter section where no blood is used and we design our trails to resemble these as much as possible. We mark the trail with coloured tape which we place high on trees to make them less visible to the dog. Through these markings we know if the dog is going in the right direction and can gently correct his/her work if needed. To make things easier for us, we use different colours for straight track, for angles, and for sections without blood. We let the track age for at least 12 hours before going out, as otherwise it would be too easy for the dog. When training puppies and inexperienced dogs we use lines that are fresh and gradually build up the level of difficulty. By always laying the track downwind we encourage our dogs to work with a deep nose.
If you are interested in learning more about blood tracking we recommend the following books:
In Swedish: Aktivera din hund genom viltspårning, Kristian Carlsson (2006) and Träna Viltspår : Grunderna i eftersök för dig och din hund, Marita Carlsson (2009).
In English: Tracking Dogs for Finding Wounded Deer, John Jeanneney (2004). This book is often referred to as the “bible of blood tracking” and is suitable for beginners and veterans alike. You can also learn more about blood tracking (American style) by visiting the website of United Blood Trackers and by reading the blog of tracking experts John and Jolanta Jeanneney, named Born To Track.
The perhaps important thing to remember when starting your dog in tracking is to trust your dog and allow him or her to work in front of you. Ideally, you should be no closer to your dog than 5 metres (16ft) behind. Dogs are natural trackers and do best when they are allowed to work without any help or interference. Most dogs, regardless of breed, love to track!