Canine Constables: The Remarkable Bloodhound
Source: Pleple2000/Wiki Media Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Ever since the results of the recent Westminster Kennel Club Show named Trumpet, a Bloodhound, Best in Show, I have been inundated with people trying to find out more about the breed. The only information most people seem to have about this type of dog seems to be the stereotype of a frenzied pack of murderous bloodhounds in a wild and boisterous pursuit of runaway slaves or runaway criminals. Because of this, some of the questions have been whether the “blood” in the Bloodhound refers to bloodthirsty hounds, as people assume they ripped fugitives apart once they caught them.
Before we get into the science associated with these dogs, let me disabuse you of this stereotype: Bloodhounds are large, gentle beasts that are more likely to confront a cornered criminal with excited friendly licks rather than bare teeth. .
The Making of a Scent Dog
These big-nosed, jowly dogs have been around for a long time. Traditionally, they trace back to the St. Hubert Hound, which was a clearly established line of dogs bred by monks at the St. Hubert Monastery in Belgium as early as 1200 AD. These dogs had been bred for their ability to sniff and were used to track deer, wolves and wild boar. They were imported to the UK and were well established as “Bloodhounds” by the 14th century, differing from the St. Hubert Hound only in size and coat color.
Although all dogs have good scent recognition skills, their sensitivity can be improved through selective breeding. If we look inside the dachshund’s nose we will find around 125 million scent receptor cells, while the German shepherd has around 225 million and the smaller beagle about the same. The big-nosed bloodhound registers around 300 million olfactory receptors, the most of any dog. (Humans with nasal deficiency only have 5 million.)
Soon after the breed was established, they were given a new set of duties, in addition to tracking game. They were tasked with search and rescue, such as finding lost humans in wilderness areas. Their occupation later expanded when their talents were employed by law enforcement to track and find criminals, such as escaped prisoners. The first published report of a bloodhound stalking a person came from scientist Robert Boyle, best known for his important gas work, in the mid-1600s. He was extremely skeptical of reports of a bloodhound’s abilities until that he was able to confirm that a bloodhound had managed to follow a man for a distance of several kilometers.
Bloodhounds have since repeatedly demonstrated their remarkable tracking abilities. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, a sleuth named Nick Carter (named after a popular detective novel) was credited with over 650 finds and his nose collected evidence that sent 126 criminals to jail.
Tracking the MLK Killer
James Earl Ray, who years later would be convicted of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., managed to escape from the maximum-security Missouri State Penitentiary near Jefferson City, where he was serving time for another crime. It took several hours before his jailbreak was noticed and the usual recovery procedures were implemented; however, he has not been found. Over 48 hours later, a sleuth named Buttercup was brought in to join the search. The only clue the police had was the direction in which Ray had started. There were clear footprints in the damp floor, from a pair of rubber boots Ray had stolen because he thought they would keep dogs from picking up the scent. This kind of deception really doesn’t work, because the rafts of skin that carry the scent are lost from all parts of the body, and there’s always enough for the dog to follow. The weather had been drizzly and the ground was wet, but Buttercup didn’t need the extra information of a fresh track. She left and never deviated from the olfactory track. Hours later, she was yelling excitedly at Ray’s hideout, about seven miles from the jail.
The Incredible Bloodhound Nose
Buttercup’s performance seems amazing, but there are reports of dogs following even older trails for longer distances. The longest I could verify is from a search and rescue sleuth named Randy, whose handler, Stephen Johnson, was called in to track a pair of children who had been lost in a large wilderness park. . The children had last been seen playing at one end of the campground near a path, so the search began there. Randy sniffed at some of the kids’ clothes, then confidently started up the path at a brisk pace. About 5 hours later, and nearly 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the campsite, Randy found the two frightened and hungry children. They were still moving as fast as their little paws would allow in a direction away from where they started in a misguided and misdirected attempt to get home when the big brown dog came to their rescue.
Can you escape the Bloodhound?
Adventure and crime stories have often misled audiences by depicting how criminals evade stalking bloodhounds by jumping into a stream and running down it to wash away their scent and obscure the trail. The idea that this strategy would work is only a half-truth. The problem is that bodies of water retain the smell. If the stream is wide and deep enough, and the flow is fast enough, the human scent can dissipate. But if the stream is not very deep and the flow is not very fast, or if there are breezes blowing over the water, the smell will actually spread along the banks of the stream and will cling to damp surfaces. For a fresh trail, this still provides more than enough information for tracker dogs. However, five or six hours of direct sunlight will likely destroy the smell. High winds can also dissipate and disperse the smell just like flowing water. Thus, the ideal conditions for a prison break to escape the tracker dogs would be either during a heavy rain shower with high winds, or a very hot, sunny day with high winds and a lead of five or six hours.
A good tracking dog does not depend solely on the scent of its prey to follow its trail. Footsteps disturb the ground and bring up fresh smells. Walking on grass or other vegetation crushes them or breaks them into pieces, again giving rise to new smells. When the track is fresh, these will mingle with the smell of the quarry. Fortunately for the tracking dog, many of these scents linger longer than sweat and pheromones, even in direct sunlight, so even if the scent of the prey fades, the dog can use these scents to stay on the track, as long as there are not many of them. other people walk on the same ground.
It’s hard to escape the long arm of the law or the big nose of the bloodhound.
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