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Friday, August 2, 2013

Should blood be used in training dogs to track wounded big game?

By John Jeanneney

Recently this inquiry has come in "My friend and I practice with our dogs once per week on blood tracks. Now I have some people telling me that you should never use blood. What are your thoughts?"  

And then we read on Facebook this statement  "Blood is on the inside of the body and contains no scent. Blood has an odor of Iron, but no scent until it is exposed to the skin. Entirely too much emphasis is being placed on Blood training, when you should be practicing scent training. Many good dogs are being confused by handlers and trainers using blood as a training tool."

Blood is not all that important in tracking real deer. I wish that they didn’t call it blood tracking. Still blood is one of the scents that a dog tracks naturally, and yes blood has scent! I train puppies in the early stages on deer blood that I dip from the chest cavities of the deer that I find. This is not blood that has flowed over the skin of the deer. This blood has plenty of scent and ten week old pups follow it with ease, and they learn to love it. It is a better motivator in the early stages of training than a dragged deer leg. At the end of the blood trails I like to have a piece of deer skin and pieces of liver and heart as a reward.

Speaking of deer legs, the main scent that they produce comes from the interdigital gland between the cloves of each foot. When a deer walks waxy particles from the glands are puffed out onto the ground, and they hold up very well for 24 hours. These interdigital glands have an individual scent for each deer, and they are much more important, over time, than the skin particles that come down from the body of the deer. The tarsal glands are also important, but in my experience they are not as individual as the interdigital, particularly with bucks during the rut.

These German scent shoes are available from the United Blood Trackers at 
The favorite advanced training device in Europe is the scent shoe. I use these scent shoes myself, and they are a great motivator for dogs who have had some natural work and are getting bored with that “fake blood stuff”. As you can see from the picture the deer foot is held on the scent shoe with hose clamps in the position of a walking deer. I can walk out a trail on dry forest leaves, and the dog can follow after 24 hours if there is no heavy rain.

Note that the tarsal glands on the hocks are not involved and that skin particles are minimal.
When a dog tracks, it puts together in its mind all of the different scents left by the deer. At the hit site there will be blood, hair, interdigital gland scent, and probably some skin particles too. When the visible blood runs out, the dog keeps going on the combination of other scents left by the deer. Personally, I find that it is effective to introduce a puppy to all the scents associated with the deer. I start with liver drags at five or six week, then blood trails, and finally scent shoe trails.

There is more than one good way to train tracking dogs, and some ways that are not so good. I don’t think that we should get hung up on some theory that training with blood is bad. Blood does have scent, and using it in a squeeze bottle it is a quick and convenient way to lay lines for young dogs. It works! Many thousands of tracking dogs have been trained in Europe and North America using big game blood. Originally, I was skeptical about the scent shoe idea, but now I am sold on it as a part of the training procedure.  A few drops of blood, now and then, adds to the attractiveness. And what you place at the end of the line is very important!

The video shows 11-week-old Urho working a 2.5-hour blood line. No scent shoes were used on this line. Urho was started on liver drags at 5-6 weeks, which were followed at 10 weeks by trails laid with deer blood, with a deer skin at the end. Two days ago he worked the line laid with a dragged deer leg, and  he knew that it would lead to something interesting. Training of tracking dogs involves various techniques. Urho's future training will include more advanced blood work and lines laid with scent shoes.


Andy Bensing said...

I could not agree with your more. there are many ways to successfully train a blood tracking dog. The question posed by your blog post, "Should blood be used in training dogs to track wounded big game? only comes up because as in many fields of endeavor there are always those who attempt to set themselves apart from the rest by saying theirs is the only way to do something. That is rarely the case in any field.

Kevin Hanus Sr. said...

John, Thanks for the article . I couldn't agree more. We have been following your advice in your book on training our
pups and they are doing great.

Joe said...

I just recently found your blog and have find it most interesting. I was happy to discover that my home state of Virginia recently legalized the use of tracking dogs.

Lindsjö taxar said...

Great job from Urho.
We only train with Little blood and drag a roe foot at the same time. Never Heard of that shoe