How to Use the Wind

Last week we learned about how air currents carry scent. How Scent and Airflow Works

This week we are going to learn how to put that information to good use. In training, we always want to set up our dogs for success.  In searches we need to be able to tell when our dog is in scent, figure out the possible air scent conditions may be present, and use that to help the dog find the person.

Equipment used to see the wind

My product of choice is a simple travel sized bottle of baby powder.  I keep several small bottles in my pack and a large jumbo bottle back in my car to refill the smaller ones. A good search dog handler will use a large amount of powder on a search. I create the effect I need by quickly squeezing the bottle to produce little clouds of powder.

When and Where should you check the air?

You simply cannot check too often.  The more you know about the scent picture, the better. One of the very first things I do before heading out is test the wind with my puff bottle. I make sure to test the wind:

  • beginning of my task
  • in the middle of roads and trails
  • at least 30 feet into the woods on both sides of roads and trails
  • on either side of a ridge
  • in drainages
  • near water
  • before I make notes on my map
  • when my dog shows interest (his nose and tails goes up)
  • when my dog starts running around like a mini clown car in a parade
  • whenever my dog does something strange
  • before and after I take a break
  • when I feel the direction of wind change
  • in sunny spots
  • in shady spots
  • near a possible clue
  • when I feel like it

If someone invents a really inexpensive portable cool-smoke producing device that runs for 6 hours let me know!

 Oh, and make sure to get a little on your dog for good luck.

Wind Speed

<1 mph – calm – smoke rises vertically
1-4 mph – light air –  smoke drifts and leaves rustle
5-7 mph – light breeze – wind felt on face
8-11 mph – gentle breeze – flags extended and leaves move
12-18 mph – moderate breeze – small branches move
19-24 mph – fresh breeze – small trees sway
25-31 mph – strong breeze – Large branches move
32-28 mph – near gale – whole trees move, inconvenience in walking
39-46 mph – gale – twigs and branches blown off trees, difficult to walk
47-54 mph – strong gale – minor structural damage may occur, shingles blown off roofs
55-63 mph – storm – trees uprooted, structural damage likely
64-73 mph – violent storm – widespread damage to structures
74+ mph – hurricane – severe structural damage and widespread devastation

Types of “Wind”

Prevailing Wind

Wind can change from one minute to the next, but there will always be a prevailing wind across an area during an extended period of time.  It is good to find out what the prevailing wind is in the area for the time of year.  A constant breeze could potentially blow all day, carrying scent from a lost person into an area you are searching hours later during a time of no wind. High clouds usually move with the prevailing wind.

Small Air Currents

If you missed it, air currents are explained in detail in:  How Scent and Airflow Works

These can flow in different directions depending on a number of factors including:

Knowing how air currents flow will affect how you and your dog need to search an area.

Warm Air Rises

Remember that your body is a nice hot 98.6 F on average.  Air and scent travels up off your body at about 2 miles per hour.  This can carry scent straight up, hit the ceiling, travel across a room, and fall to the floor on the other side of a room.  Where is your dog going to smell the person?

This is a good thing to remember when working your dog out in the wilderness as well.

How to Work in Relation to the Wind

Generally, you want to work your dog perpendicular to and towards the direction of where the wind is coming from. Dogs find the direction to where scent is coming from by moving in and out of the scent cloud or plume. This is called working a scent cone.

To set your dog up for success, start at the most downwind portion of your sector and walk grids across the wind. Depending on topography, vegetation, wind strength, weather, and other factors distance between each grid ranges from 25 meters to 100 meters.

If the wind keeps changing direction do not keep changing your direction. We call this “chasing the wind” and will leave you walking in circles.  Use your judgment and experience to determine if changing your search strategy due to the change in wind.

What have you learned from the wind when searching?  Feel free to share in comments.


7 Responses to “How to Use the Wind”

  1. I’m a total novice to all this but wanted to tell you that I love the information you give out in these highly entertaining posts!

  2. I am quite new to tracking, only about 6 months. I have a small hound and her nose is good. Tracking is coming very naturally to her. A few months ago, on frozen ground another handler and I laid a track on sparse grass. The wind (fairly steady) was coming from our left. The track we laid was about 15 feet from a berm with brush. Both dogs were tracking at the base of the berm where the scent clearly had been swirling. It was interesting to watch. Thanks for the tip on the baby powder! Can’t wait to try it.

    • I do know there are suppliers of non-hot smoke bombs used with HVAC guys to find leaks in ventilation systems. I myself have not used them, but know that many human remains detection handlers do. If any dog handlers out there have a supplier please let us know!

  3. Baby oatmeal is a better visual aid than powders. It is flaky like rafts and aerodynmically more reactive to wind. Fascinating to watch it flow. How do you apply these learnings to trailing dogs?

  4. I train bomb dogs for the government and we use smoke pens. They last 6 hours but we generally only use them for a minute or less at a time. Just Google “smoke pen”. There are a ton of suppliers.

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