The ability to detect the direction of a track is of vital importance to animals of prey and is retained in many modern breeds of dogs. To study this ability, four trained German shepherd tracking dogs, equipped with head microphones to transmit sniffing activity, were video-monitored after being brought at right angles to a track where the position of each footprint was known. Three phases could be recognized in the dogs' behaviour: (1) an initial searching phase, during which the dog tried to find the track, (2) a deciding phase, during which it tried to determine the direction of the track and (3) a tracking phase, in which it followed the track. During ten tests on 20-min-old tracks on grass, and ten tests on 3-min-old tracks on concrete, the dogs always followed the track in the correct direction (i.e. in the direction the track was leading). During the deciding phase the dogs moved at half the speed and their periods of sniffing lasted three times as long as during the other two phases. The deciding phase lasted 3–5 s, while the dogs sniffed at 2–5 footprints. The dogs' ability to determine track direction in this time must rely on accurate methods of sampling air and a remarkable sensitivity for certain substances.
- © 1993 by Company of Biologists