What is ‘Scent In A Bottle’ tracking?
Well to be honest we have no experience of using this method (SIAB) so on a recent trip to Thames Valley Police I was really pleased to be treated with a look at the method as it was introduced to some puppies for the first time.
In short the method is using scent contained in a bottle to lay a track. I know it sounds obvious, though there is clearly a bit more detail, but in truth I found the simplicity of this method its strength. I saw it being used for introducing hard surface tracking which is where its value looks really appealing.
The Dogs – Before I get into the exercise we did on the day I’ll give you a little background on the dogs we used. They were all dogs that are coming through the TVP puppy programme and varied in age from 4 months to a year old. All have had an introduction to tracking using a more traditional method of food – footstep training on a soft surface. Although one dog, a recent gift dog, had no prior tracking input.
The Equipment – Well the first item is the bottle. It’s a pressurised pump style garden sprayer. The scent is created by soaking an item of clothing, in this case the tracklayers socks, in water over night and then pouring that water into the sprayer to be used for the scent trail. Now I am aware that in many cases distilled water is used for this to eliminate other odours, but TVP tell me they have played around with that and using normal tap water with no noticeable difference or effect. The only other thing required is food to be laid on the track.
The Theory – Ok, I am prepared to be shot down in a ball of flames here, and that’s ok. I am not setting myself up as an expert but am merely sharing with you an experience. I would welcome and love to hear from other handlers who may have a more detailed knowledge of SIAB as there will almost inevitably be a few gaps in my newly acquired knowledge. My simple understanding is that it is much the same as other food style tracking. Food is placed on a track to encourage the dog to follow the trail creating a connection between a reward and the track. However, in this case the scent track/trail is created by using water contaminated with human scent, sprayed in a line. I am not sure if it would have any value for soft surface tracking but for hard surface I can see its value. Fortunately for me TVP have been very progressive in their look at this method and told me that they have trialled two dogs of similar age and abilities. One conditioned entirely with SIAB on hard surface and the second with a mixture of SIAB and traditional soft surface footstep food methods. At the moment there is no significant differences, though that may of course change as the dogs develop. So there you have it. As it says on the tin. You end up with scent contained in water, held in a bottle and used to create a track. SIAB.
The Exercise – We used a car park in the grounds of the now disused Bramshill Police College which I was sad to see, as the last time I was here it was a busy vibrant education centre. As I mentioned earlier, most of these dogs have had a tracking input so already possess an understanding of the exercise, though this was the first time they were exposed to a hard surface track. However, I was curious as to whether their previous tracking experiences would give us a true reflection on this first attempt at hard surface. I love TVP’s open and progressive attitude because the instructor Dave Hibbert then conducted a little experiment to cross-check this theory. He laid a hard surface track, scrubbing in the track and placing food on it, as he would do for a soft surface track. But without using the ‘water-based scent’. A dog which has experience of this traditional method on a soft surface was offered up to the track to see if it recognised the exercise. A bit to my surprise the dog showed no recognition and was clearly bringing none of its soft surface tracking exposure to this new environment. So that was my questioned answered.
The next step was the SIAB track. This was laid by walking out laying a straight line track placing food on the track but no scrubbing-in just a normal walk. The track was then re-walked spraying the water-based scent along the line of the track. A set of three short tracks were laid with the dogs running them consecutively, as a method of re-in forcing the learning exposure. The first dog up was the one I had just watched struggle on the non SIAB experimental track. To my amazement this dog immediately clicked into the exercise. As soon as its puppy walker drew the dog’s nose to the ground it was off. The second and third tracks got stronger as this dog began to apply its previously learnt experiences. What was obvious was that the SIAB was enough for this dog to connect its already conditioned behaviour with what was required, albeit in an unfamiliar environment, which it was unable to do in the first non SIAB exercise.
We then exposed a dog with no previous tracking training of any kind to the same exercise. The SIAB tracks laid out exactly as previously explained. The dog predictably needed some guidance on the first run but by the third run was beginning to show signs of understanding the exercise.
Conclusion – I can offer nothing conclusive on this method but I am aware that many police dog units are trying this method and was grateful for the opportunity to see it first-hand. My initial impression is a positive one. I thought for some reason it was going to be more complicated but it’s really simple. Simple in its theory, simple to set-up and simple to use. All good qualities in my book. It is probably the best method I have seen for training hard surface tracking. As I drew attention to earlier I am no expert in this method, so please, please, share your experiences in SIAB if you have them. The more knowledge we share the better we all are for it. I am obviously curious as to whether, using pure water verses tap water makes a difference long term, if teaching hard surface exclusively verses teaching variable surfaces has any long term issues and what training hurdles can pop-up as the method is developed. But, I can only see a positive outcome from this limited look at SIAB. I like it and many thanks to TVP for the opportunity to watch. If you are doing SIAB I’d like to come and look at what you are doing.
Written by Mick Gentile
Thanks to Thames Valley Police staff and puppy walkers for allowing us to follow their assessment day.
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