You’ve heard these words, but what do they really mean, as far as dogs are concerned? What’s the difference between trailing and detection? In a nutshell, not much really! Trailing is detection, and detection is simply the dog using his olfactory abilities to locate his target odor. It doesn’t really matter what that odor is; human, drug, explosive, mushrooms, cancer, etc. It’s simply a matter of HOW the dog will work the problem.
You’ve probably seen detection dogs working and most are shown working off leash. Does that mean that they all must work off leash in order to be an effective search dog? Most certainly not! I prefer to work my detection dog on lead, unless I am working inside buildings or in cramped quarters. Working on lead just gives me added control over my dog and peace of mind about her safety.
Trailing or tracking involves the dog taking scent from an object and tracking that scent to the matching owner of that scent. Tracking and trailing are normally done with the dog’s nose to the ground, though occasionally they will lift their nose into the air, and ‘air scent’ or ‘scout’ the area for their target odor.
Detection is the dog learning, or being imprinted on a specific scent, and searching an area for the location of that odor. In detection, the dog is working an area by scenting for the target odor. He will normally do this by scenting/scouting the air, or by checking individual objects for the scent. Detection appears to be more detailed in how the dog works, however in reality, trailing and detection work are both very much detailed.
Detection is ideally suited if you want to train your dog to locate your missing keys, phone, or that pesky remote that we all tend to lose. Trailing on the other hand, is better suited to find your child who went for a walk down to the neighbor’s house, and he failed to let you know, or ask permission.