What is an Airscent Dog?
Airscent dogs detect the smell of living, breathing, human beings. Airscent dogs do not work by tracking a subject, but by detecting human scent in the air as it blows off of a subject. Airscent dogs typically work off leash, and many regularly range up to 1/4 mile from their handlers. In SAR, airscent dogs are typically given a defined area in which to search. Based off of the direction of the wind, the dog-handler team will then work the area and either find the subject, or declare with some percentage of certainty that the subject is not in the given area. Because they are looking for scent actively coming from a human, airscent dogs continue to be useful even when there is little to no track scent left for trailing dogs to follow.
Training an Airscent Dog
- Build Motivation - The first step to every training system is to teach the dog the game and to make it something the dog enjoys. This can be done with food or with toys - the dog needs to become comfortable working at a distance from his handler and approaching strangers.
- Teach the Refind - When an airscent dog finds a subject, the handler will usually be too far away to know. The dog must be trained to return to the handler, give some indication that he has found the subject, then guide the handler back to the subject.
- Introduce Land Features - Scent behaves strangely around different land features, especially on ridges and in canyons. Dogs and handlers both need to learn how to work through these obstacles.
- Build Endurance and Focus - Practice areas gradually get larger and harder. Intentional distractions such as other dogs or wildlife are added.