Lost Track Recovery

By, John Lutenberg


Did you lose it again?


The time to think about how to relocate a track when you lose it is before you start your dog, not after you have lost the track.


If you run many tracks, especially if you run long tracks, you will experience track loss. When we ran escaped inmates from the prison they would try everything they could think of to lose us because they knew we were coming. That meant our average track was 5 to 8 miles long. There were very few trails of this distance 

that we didn’t experience track loss. Sometimes it would only take 30 seconds to relocate the track, sometimes it would take an hour and sometimes we never found it again.


I had the fortune running with a highly trained core of experienced officers. Most of the officers on the team were other K-9 handlers that understood how the dog worked and what was happening when the track was lost. They were all trained visual trackers; several of them were the best I have ever seen.


One of the most important things to learn for optimal track recovery is the subjects habits and travel pattern. Most people will have an idea of where they want to go and they will establish a direction of travel early on. When we figured out the general direction of our subject, we would watch ahead to see if the terrain would influence where the subject would walk. If the subject had to turn one way or another because of an obstacle or the terrain, we would already have a good idea of which way they went. If the dog missed a turn we would let it work but one of the visual trackers would always check the other possible directions of travel. If the tracker located the track before the dog, we would refocus the dog on the track. When you are trying to catch up with someone this is not the time to let the dog work it out. Wasting precious time puts you further behind your subject, especially if they have a good head start.


If the dog couldn’t relocate the track right away, we would circle from the point where we lost the trail. The handler and a cover officer would make a big circle one way and the visual trackers would circle the other way. 


One of the primary functions of the visual trackers was to watch for tracks or other sign left by the subject so that we always knew where the last piece of sign or track was located. If you are sure where the last track is, it is much easier to relocate the trail when you lose it.


Look for tracks or sign in the areas most likely to be productive. If there are areas where it would be possible for the subject to travel without leaving a sign, then be sure to check them with the dog.


If you can't relocate the track with the dog or by visual sign, keep working in ever-larger circles until you find it or it becomes evident that the track is not recoverable. 


You are part of the team, your dog can’t do it all alone. You need to obtain as many skills as possible to help capture your subject. Everybody likes to say, “Trust your dog.” That's fine but I have never seen a dog that didn’t make a mistake or lose a trail at some point along the way. I like to say, “Trust your dog but verify.”


If possible train and deploy with the same team all the time. You will find that this will greatly increase your probability of success.


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