"Bloodtrailing for the Beginners"
By: Cheryl Napper
The object of this article is to help the inexperienced trainer teach their dog how to successfully follow a bloodtrail. As an outfitter and guide for wild boar I’ve found the most important tool in our camp to be our bloodtrailing jagdterrier. While a dog either has the instinct to follow a trail, or it doesn’t- there is still much training required to hone and perfect these skills. You can’t just set a dog down on a bloodtrail and expect it to know what to do. Also, part of the training process requires you, the handler, to work as a team with your dog. After going through the training process with your dog, you will learn to read your dogs reaction and know if it’s still on the bloodtrail, or has wandered off and is looking for the next clue.
The first thing to do when training a dog to bloodtrail is to purchase a harness and long (20-30’) cord which you can work the dog on. I prefer to use a well-worn check cord that is smooth and free of knots when working in thick brush. If your cord has any loops in it, it is likely to get hung up on brush, so make sure you use something that will slip through the brush easily, yet is easy to pick up should you drop it. Another important item you will need is a source of blood which you can use for training purposes. It doesn’t matter what species the blood is from, and I personally prefer to use a variety of different species. When I put my dog down on a trail, I want her to follow the blood from that particular animal, whether it be deer, hog, rabbit or whatever. I don’t want her to think we’re always going to be tracking a hog; I want her to know that her job is to follow blood, regardless of what kind of animal it came from. If you hunt, it is quite easy to save some blood from the animals you kill. I prefer to use blood that is as fresh as possible. Another good source is to check with a meat processor in your area to find out what days they slaughter livestock. Most will be quite willing to allow you to take some of the blood. Keep in mind that blood is going to clot shortly after removing it from the animal, but you can also use the clots in laying out your practice trail, or simply strain it and use only the liquid portion. I started training my dog as a pup, but the same techniques can be used for older dogs.
To start out, obtain some blood and a container from which to dispense it. Plastic squeeze bottles, turkey basters, syringes, or just about anything you can trickle a small amount at a time from will work. Start with short, heavy trails of about 10 feet long. Pour your blood in a straight trail, and then place a small snack at the end of it, such as a piece of hot dog. Bring your dog out on a leash and show it the beginning of the trail. Say the word “find” to the dog, and allow it to sniff the blood. Encourage the dog to follow along the blood, pointing to it, and encouraging the dog to walk along the blood trail until it reaches the snack. If the dog successfully walks the trail to the end, allow it to eat the snack. Repeat this every day on a different trail. Each day make the trail a few feet longer and always keep your dog on a leash so you can control it’s direction and make corrections when necessary. If your dog wanders off the trail, gently correct it by picking it up and placing it back on the trail. Never allow the dog to get the snack if it didn’t follow the blood to find it. If the dog ever loses interest, stop the training session but do not give it the snack reward. Every time the dog successfully follows the blood to the snack, give it plenty of praise. Each day you repeat this, make the trail more difficult. In addition to making the trail longer, start using less and less blood. Instead of a constant stream of blood, start trickling it, allowing greater distances between drops. Add turns to the trail, and obstacles such as logs, shrubs or trees it must go around, or even small streams and puddles. Never allow your trail to loop back upon itself though. Keep the dog moving forward at all times.
Eventually, you will need to find an area with a lot of wildlife and other scents that will distract your dog. Heavily wooded areas or areas with tall grass work well. You want your dog to work with it’s nose, and not by sight. As the dog becomes more proficient at tracking, I recommend getting a fresh animal hide, or dead animal to lay for the reward. You want to make sure it’s in a spot where the dog can’t see it until it nears the end of the trail. Lay your trail out, again making it sparser and sparser each time you go out. When the dog finds the dead game at the end of the trail, make sure you reward it with plenty of praise and allow it to wool on the hide or game, encouraging it to do so. Once your dog masters this task, you’ll want to start aging your blood trail. Lay out the blood, then let it sit for several hours before working your dog on it. Oftentimes we’ll need to track an animal that was shot the night before in areas where other animals have since frequented. Your dog will need to learn to differentiate between an old bloodtrail, and fresh scent from other animals that may have crossed the bloodtrail. It helps to flag your bloodtrail with tissue paper, or surveyors tape up in high branches; That way you know if your dog is following the right trail or not. If your dog ever wanders off the trail, bring it back to the blood and start over. Do not allow the dog to wander off in search of other game, as this is highly undesirable. Your dog’s only desire when tracking, should be in locating that one animal that is bleeding. If your dog ever takes off after running game while tracking, make sure you correct them sternly.
Once your dog is successfully following man-made trails, it’s time to work them on the real thing. I started by shooting small game or whatever else was in season at the time. Allow the trail to age several hours (or overnight) first and then let the dog follow the bloodtrail to the dead animal. Always avoid walking the bloodtrail before putting your dog on it, otherwise the dog may learn to follow your scent instead of that from the blood. Fortunately in Texas there’s always something to hunt, which made this step convenient for us, but where hunting opportunities are limited it may be a little more difficult.. It’s important to get your dog on as many bloodtrails as possible while training it. You may want to contact as many friends and acquaintances as possible to help you with this task. Even if you made a good shot on an animal and have an easy bloodtrail to follow, make sure you bring your dog out and let it find the game. Most folks are more then happy to help you train a bloodtrailing dog that they may be able to use later on. There’s simply no better way for the dog to learn than by getting out and doing the real thing. Just make sure that you check with the laws in your state before taking your dog in the field. There are many states that restrict the use of dogs on game animals, such as deer, so make sure you know the regulations before you get out there.