Wind Matters

It is always essential to note the wind direction when you are tracking as the direction of the wind has a significant impact on how your dog is going to track.

A rough method of determining the wind direction is to take a few pieces of grass, throw them in the air and look at which direction they are blown. A more accurate technique is to use a Wind Vane (sometime also known as a Weather Vane).

With a constant breeze, the scent along a track is blown away downwind, roughly in the shape of a 3D cone from the source location. This is known as the scent plume. In essence the further away from the scent source, the broader is the scented region, but the more diffuse is the scent by itself.

If the tracks are set up so that the dogs starting point is downwind of the track and they move forwards into the wind (i.e. they track upwind) they will be receiving a lot more scent information about the track than if they were starting the track upwind and tracking in a downwind direction. This is because the scent plumes from all scent locations along the track are being blown directly towards them.

When teaching live classes, the first tracks that I have students mark out are always upwind of the dog to give them a better chance of success on their first attempts. It helps build understanding and motivation of the inexperienced dog) as the scent plume is directed towards the dog.

Tracking into the wind has two major negative aspects:

  1. It can teach the dog to scent the air rather than keeping their nose on the ground as the wind is carrying the scent and some drifts away from the source point
  2. It reduces the accuracy of the search along the track as the wind is carrying the air and drifts the scent in a 3d cone shape. This means there is a broad “region” of scent away from the source point.

From now I would like you to mark out your tracks moving downwind. So, for the live classes where we track upwind in Weeks 1 and 2, we switch the orientation of the track by 180 degrees.

The start of the track will be upwind and then you will build the track in a downwind direction so that you dog will be tracking in the same direction as the wind is blowing.

This way the dogs will not be able to have any information carried to them by the wind as the scent plume will be blown away from your dog.  Therefore, your dog will have to concentrate in following the path with its nose and will learn to be more accurate in following each step on the ground as there will be no “contamination” from the scent plume.

Finally, I have a couple of comments about the wind

  • Wind is capricious:  it can change direction unexpectedly. So, it is possible that the track you have built 10 minutes ago will not be in the right orientation for your dog; this is a common problem. This will affect your dogs’ tracking just be aware of it and if you see your dog slightly off track, drifting slightly in one side of the track it may be because the track is cross wind.
  • Wind is not a linear flow; it can have complex flow pattern and is affected by its strength, the environmental temperature or humidity and the landscape to name just a few factors.  Wind conditions have significant impact on the shape and strength of the scent plume. For example, in a strong wind we probably lose more skin rafts but these skins raft are probably dispersed over a broader area that a day with no wind.