The ability to follow a trail for most dogs will be a month or less. One former handler and author claims that scent is not viable after 14 days and I believe this was very true for her dogs as well as those dogs and students trained by her. Quite simply, inexperienced and novice handlers should not work a trail or case where the dog has been missing five days or more.
This skill must be trained and practiced by expert handlers who work with scent specific dogs on a daily basis. Theory and guess-stimates work in some pursuits but not when it comes to a missing family member... we must be able to trust the K9 pros that will help to find her.
NOTE: We regularly train on trails that are aged three and four months... my personal preference is to get to a trail within 8 weeks or earlier. There is never a guarantee that the dog team will be able to decipher and follow any trail but in thirteen years and thousands of cases, they have been unable to find a viable trail... only once. They are incredible dogs who are selected and trained for this aspect of their work.
How Long Does Scent Last?
The duration of a viable scent trail is one of the most commonly asked questions. It is also one of the most controversial and subjective.
There are many theories and purported expert opinions. I have found that after 21 years working with and training scent specific dogs that the ability to detect and follow scent is different for each individual dog. Two of my dogs have successfully followed the scent of a dog missing 10 months after the subject walked through the area. (This was verified by a witness and the FBI). By comparison, I know of a dog on the east coast that cannot follow a trail if it is older than 24 hours.
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