Rural vs urban Tracking Deployments


K9 tracking deployments have changed significantly over the years. Where rural or wilderness deployments used to be more common, todays population growth and suburban sprawl cover much of what used to be rural areas. Urban deployments now make up close to 90 percent of all tracking deployments for a large number of municipal police departments and search & rescue organizations.


Tracking environments are extremely challenging with urban deployments being commonplace, creating a high demand for tracking teams in inner city areas, and rural deployments covering long distances in rough terrain.


There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of deployments and both environments present very different problems for the dog, handler, and backup personnel. 


In urban environments, obstacles such as walls, traffic, and highways make it difficult for tactical teams or cover officers to move smoothly and safely with a tracking dog. K9s teams should practice navigating these obstacles in realistic scenarios. All too often we get caught up in just training for track accuracy and recovery with our own K9 group, forgetting the fact that moving with non-K9 personnel can be much more difficult for you, your dog and non-K9 officers or team members if you don’t practice. Your dog needs to become comfortable working in situations with more than one or two people in tow.


Working in rural environments has its own set of challenges. In rural areas, deployment response time may be slower allowing suspects to run longer distances and plan an ambush. Forests or areas with heavy brush provide good concealment and cover for suspects. Tight perimeters are more difficult to set up and maintain over a large area due to lack of man-power. Multiple agencies may be called to assist on larger man-hunts in rural environments making it difficult to coordinate K9 teams. 


Tracking dogs tend to work faster in rural environments making it difficult for tactical teams to keep up and maintain safe formations on long, difficult trails. In these situations, handlers need to learn to slow down so officers can provide effective cover. On the positive side, rural trails are usually much easier for the K9 to follow, having less human or environmental contamination present, little to no hard surface areas and fewer distractions, thus allowing the K9 team a higher degree of success in locating a subject.


Although both are certainly dangerous for law enforcement, in an urban setting, most larger municipal departments have the advantage of being able to provide more cover officers. More support means better perimeter containment and better cover for K9 handlers. Response time in urban areas tends to be faster allowing K9 teams to deploy quickly. On the other hand, tracking in an urban environment can prove difficult for the dog. Hard surfaces, fences, road crossing, distractions, and heavy contamination make the tracking environment more challenging with handlers having a lesser degree of success. 


I can’t count how many times I have been involved in searches where I have seen and experienced first hand, street officers driving their cars alongside the tracking team in urban areas with this being the only available support for a handler who is on foot with his dog, or where cover officers were watching the dog rather than paying attention to their surroundings.


Now more than ever, both urban and rural tracking deployments require knowledgeable and reliable back-up personnel. Good tracking dogs tend to work faster than tactical team members can retain their formations. Handers with fast working dogs need to keep this in mind and "slow down out there!" Working cohesively with tactical teams requires training time with K9 tracking teams to familiarize non-K9 officers with what it's like to track for long distances in rough terrain.


Smaller departments may not have enough resources to provide adequate cover for tracking teams in any environment. Because of this, often handlers are forced to deploy with inexperienced or ill-equipped duty officers. In some cases, handlers may even attempt to deploy alone under the assumption that their K9 is enough protection if there is a hostile confrontation. This misconception can be a deadly mistake.


Stay safe out there! <Back to articles>


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