Tracker dog Ray?

I remember reading an article on how dogs track, and why they tend to appear to zig-zag!

Apparently, when tracking another animal they will zig-zag simply because air movement has moved the scent, so they follow the scent in the direction that the air movement took it until it becomes faint. They will then change direction to pick up the scent again and repeat the whole process. The end result is a route full of detours and, if the quarry keeps moving in a straight line and at a proportional pace, I guess it will never get caught! Mother Nature is quite wonderful!

We were out walking Ray the other day. We have had some minor snow falls which, sadly, dictated the Town and many other people dumping salt and other chemicals on the sidewalks. Our solution is to encourage Ray to walk on the grass allowance (hidden beneath snow) that separates the sidewalk from the road. He has no problems with snow, but salt crystals (sharp edges) trapped between his pads cause him trouble, as does the salt if it melts (stings) on his feet.

We were happily wandering along and Ray was his usual congenial self, leaving evidence of his passing at every opportunity, when his nose went down in a very businesslike manner. The leash tightened so we knew that he was suddenly on a mission of significant importance. True to my understanding of canine tracking habits, he started weaving from side to side and was obviously homing in on something.

From our vantage point (just over 3ft higher than his), we saw where he was going! About 6ft ahead was a scattering of McDonald’s french fries (container was nearby). They were partially buried in the snow but clearly visible… even from his height! The situation was resolved very easily with a “Leave it!” and some guidance with the leash, but it leaves some unanswered questions.

With a sense of smell that is millions of times more sensitive than ours, wouldn’t you think that the scent of french fries (even cold and snow covered ones) would have been strong enough to home straight in on them (at least from about 6ft away), rather than this side to side routine? Wouldn’t you think that the scent would have been strong enough that he would have simply looked up and thought “Oh … there they are!”?

The problem of course is mine and not his! I am making the grand assumption that he would actually think when, in reality, he may just function in “automatic mode”. He had no idea that 6ft in front of him were fries. Given that the fries were not moving, he probably knew that if he wandered back and forth a few more times, and covered 15-20 more feet he would be at the source of the scent but then, I must now question Mother Nature! Why would she create a creature with such an incredibly awesome nose, but with no way of engaging other parts of the brain as necessary?

23 thoughts on “Tracker dog Ray?

  1. ….or Ray might just like the serpentining to and fro’ because it’s fun to pretend to be Trusty from Lady and the Tramp. 🙂 On a more serious note I just began a new book called, “Inside Of A Dog – what dogs seem smell and know”, by Alexandra Horowitz. I’m only about 80 pages into it but it’s an interesting read so far and the author covers in some detail smell and scent.

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    • Interesting. I hope that you’ll share appropriate tid-bits! When we took Ray to see a dog behaviorist, he gave us access to a huge resource of all things dogs which I am slowly working through …. but slowly is the operative word! No time to read books at the present. 🙂


  2. I remember watching patiently with my old dog, who is still my profile picture (she was always patient so easy to be patient with!), she would smell the whole area around her obvious target (like a freshly peed puddle, or abandoned food, etc.) and her face would relax and transform when she reached it, like “Aw, THAT was it!” The new, younger dog is still all over the place, but I’ve occasionally benefited- like the time he was so busy zigzagging he missed the squirrel that ran out in a straight line, 4 feet in front of us!

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        • Ray knows “Leave it!” in the context of food so we are working on getting him to adapt to squirrels from the same command. The problem is timing! We have to catch him after he has seen the squirrel, but before he tries to get it. i.e. He needs to know that if he “leaves it” (the squirrel) he will get a treat. Once his “prey drive” kicks in … we don’t exist!

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          • That’s better than Blue Moon. He’s still much newer than Ray, and I don’t think his owner took him on good walks much (officially he was surrendered because his owner was too sick to care for him, and I see no indications of abuse from him, just poor socialization)… So it means that as soon as we get to the park, he gets so excited he looses whatever common sense he has & throws himself in every direction. There was a time that the mere sight of a tree, just a tree, set him crying and whining, and he would proceed to try and climb or jump up the trunk until you dragged him away. Needless to say, we did not enjoy walking him at all during this period! He’s calmed down enough to realize that not all trees come with squirrels, finally, but we’re a long ways off from a good citizenship award!

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  3. Maybe Ray got a whiff of whatever else was in the fries box before it was discarded. Maggie has been known to become rather friendly with a fellow boater when he’s on the trash run, as there is usually meat trimmings of some description in the bag! I love to watch her when she’s sniffing things out though. She is so thorough, and doesn’t miss an inch. She can still ‘lift’ a pheasant or partridge, but has reached an arrangement with the rabbits and ducks here. They don’t run, and she won’t chase. 🙂

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  4. Hi Colin! Well…I don’t think I know the answer to your questions…but I loved that the target of significant importance ended up being a pile of McDonald’s fries! I was expecting another vicious squirrel encounter. But this is better; french fries are much friendlier… 😀

    I adore Ray! 🙂

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