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In a changing world the bad guys can come to power — like the Nazis of World War II. When the bad guys control the law, you might have to make a run for it — or die if you don’t. Knowing how to escape and evade tracking dogs can help you survive martial law, hard life in a political prison or concentration camp, or even interrogation and torture during a time of war.
It’s said that it’s just about impossible to lose a team of trained tracking dogs.
I’d like to say that if you want to learn how to evade a tracking dog because you’ve committed a crime, (or you’re considering it), there are several ways that criminals are caught, even smart criminals who think they can get away with it. That includes the white collar crimes, and often it can happen weeks or even months after a crime has taken place.
Instead of committing a crime to try to better your circumstances, clean up your act and clean up your thinking; for a lot of people that means finding faith — Jesus is in the business of changing lives. With that said, let’s talk about:
Escaping Tracking Dogs And Evading Capture
You’re on a survival website and this article isn’t about fleeing from law enforcement canine teams — this article is about fleeing from authorities with bad intentions, whether that is law enforcement under a foreign regime or martial law where the authorities are taking matters to extremes, or both. If you don’t think this could happen in the US, then you’re sorely mistaken. All over the world governments have moved further towards authoritarianism, and the trend doesn’t look like it’s going to stop.
Canine Tracking — Also Called Scent Tracking
In canine tracking dogs use their sense of smell to find and follow a “track” left by a human. Dogs have a highly sensitive olfactory system (sense of smell) that is vastly superior to a human’s sense of smell. They can isolate one person’s scent from another person’s.
At the same time they are or can be trained to visually look for certain cues left by a person they’re pursuing.
The dog’s “handler” is often more skilled than his or her dog at looking for visual cues.
It Is Difficult To Lose A Trained Tracking Dog — Or Is It?
Trying to lose a highly trained canine team is a gamble that most people will lose – at least that’s what many experts say on the subject. But it turns out that’s not the correct answer.
Escaping Tracking Dogs – It Starts with Fitness
When it comes to losing a tracking dog, there are a few things you can work to your advantage. One is speed and distance … while a dog might be a fast sprinter, humans are actually the superior long distance runners, and if you’re in shape you can tire out a dog as well as a dog’s handler.
It helps to be in great shape and capable of climbing steep grades — that comes with practice and time spent in the wilderness or even just regular and relatively vigorous exercise. If you want to be ready to get away from someone who’s chasing you, the baseline is that you need to be able to run at least as fast as them over long distances…. Otherwise you will eventually get caught.
So if you really want to be able to escape a tracking dog, the very first thing you need to do is get in decent shape. You can have all the survival knowledge you want, if you’re not in good shape, you won’t have the stamina to get away from something or someone that’s pursuing you. So if you’re not in good shape, start an exercise routine. One of the simplest ways to get fitter is to buy a treadmill and commit to a daily exercise routine – run for half an hour to begin with, and increase the speed and length of your run over time. If you can run for an hour at a steady pace, most American adults won’t be able to keep up.
Tricks Won’t Help You Lose Tracking Dogs
Rather than trying to confuse a trained dog team by doubling back, or creating a triangle of scents (one method some believe can work), or spraying the ground and your feet with pepper spray, the best thing you can do initially is get as far away as possible as quickly as possible, traveling through harsh terrain, and then keep on moving, hoping to tire out both dogs and handlers so they give up the search quickly. Your first priority is to get as far away from your pursuers as possible. Save the tricks for later, if the pursuit is ongoing and you’re not losing your trackers.
Of course, you do have to consider radio communications, including tracking from the air. So:
- Do not light any camp fires — they create a heat signature that a heat detector from a plane can see and hone in on.
- Do not head in the direction of a road that connects with the area you are fleeing from.
- Do not head toward a second populated area or town, unless it’s a safe area to flee to. (Keep in mind that radio communications to a patrol or outpost near that town could mean that a patrol will start searching for you from that direction, and even if you or others believe it’s safe to flee to, it may not actually be safe.)
Pepper Spray for Escaping Tracking Dogs
Some information out there has stated that pepper spray, or pepper itself (either black or red chili pepper) can help you escape a tracking dog. Basically, the idea is that you spray or scatter pepper on your tracks, and that will throw the dog off the scent. It’s been said so many times that it’s become an urban myth of sorts. You should know that this is not true. Modern tracking dogs have incredibly keen noses, and even after they come across the pepper, they will easily pick up your scent again shortly after. They will not lose the scent.
With that said, what this technique can do is buy you a few minutes. The pepper might distract/disturb the tracking dog, buying you maybe 2-5 minutes of time to get further away. So it might make sense to use this technique if your pursuers are closing in on you. Also keep in mind that pepper spray is often useful for dealing with human attackers as well, so while it may not throw the dog off it’s scent, it might work as a last ditch resort to defend yourself against their human handlers. So it doesn’t hurt to have some sort of pepper spray with you just in case.
We recommend bear pepper spray as it’s the strongest kind of pepper spray that’s widely available and if it can disable a bear, it can definitely disable a dog (or it’s handlers).
What About Crossing A Lake, Pond, Or River?
Unfortunately, all water is said to do is carry your scent back to the ground as water drips off you, making it even easier for a dog to pick up your scent (so say the experts).
If you cross a body of water and a tracking dog and its handler believes you’ve entered the water, they will either have to cross the water also, or circle around to the other side where they will likely pick up your scent again where you exited the water as your scent drips off you and along the ground.
Crossing bodies of water is a trick to lose human trackers, who rely mostly on visuals. It breaks off your track because you won’t leave footprints or other telltale signs of human activity in a body of water. But this doesn’t work on dogs, who rely primarily on scent.
Not So Much Body Odor — Tracking Dogs Follow Dead Skin Cells
So the fact is when you get wet it’s easier for a dog to track your scent. The reason is this: Dead skin cells are washed off your body and fall to the ground which a dog’s nose is looking for and can quickly detect.
It’s not so much as your body odor they’re following — it’s the “fingerprint” left by your skin cells, which are constantly being shed by our body as new ones are produced to replace the ones we have lost, and so forth.
These skin cells coat our hair (dandruff) and of course our clothing. Our skin cells trail us everywhere we go. That’s one reason that trying to shower and bathe doesn’t remove our scent for these tracking dogs, no matter what kind of soap we use. At the same time, scent concealer (carried by hunters) doesn’t work, though it may partially cloak our body odor, it doesn’t do anything for these skin cells being shed.
What Mythbusters Said About Trying To Evade Tracking Dogs
Mythbusters in episode 148 Hair of the Dog showed that it was almost impossible to use a common tactic to lose a trained tracking dog (they used a bloodhound and its handler) — though they did conclude that is was plausible to use a populated area and its enormity of scents and distractions to help confuse a tracking dog and make a successful escape.
So escaping into a populated area is one potential way to evade a tracking dog. This tactic has the chance of overwhelming a dog’s senses – almost like shining an extremely bright light straight into a person’s eyes so they can’t see anything. However, escaping into populated areas carries risks and dangers as well. When we say populated, we don’t mean a small town – you need a high density area, so you’re looking for an urban area with as much foot traffic as possible.
Mythbusters concludes that a tracking team is probably going to find you if you don’t escape to a high population area. Again, it comes down to this constant trail of skin cells we are leaving everywhere we go.
A Trick That Could Work, In Theory, To Fool Tracking Dogs
With all that in mind, I’d like to propose a tactic that could serve to confuse tracking dogs and really cause the handler to not only doubt his dogs, but to scratch his head, trying to figure out what direction you are actually heading (if you’re going to repost this trick on a website or message board, we appreciate an attribution to SecretsofSurvival.com).
1. Drill or burrow small holes in the bottom of a bucket with a survival knife (our recommended choice of survival knife is the Marine Corps KA-BAR) so that a small amount of water drips out — a very small amount of water. Now, fill the bucket with water (from a lake, pond, or river) and then rinse your hands, feet, face, and hair with the water in the bucket so that the water is contaminated with your dead skin cells.
2. Now, either a second person or even a moving vehicle (hang the bucket from a truck trailer hitch, for example, or even a small raft made of tree branches pushed down a river or let loose on to a lake) will gradually drip water from that bucket, creating a strong false trail in a direction you do not plan to travel.
3. Next, shed your clothing and rub your body thoroughly with Vaseline (also a product for first aid kits) or another petroleum jelly product (petroleum jelly should greatly reduce the amount of skin cells being shed by your body for a short period of time), including your hair. Everything on your body must be thoroughly coated in Vaseline. Remember, tracking dogs scent on our dead skin cells and not so much as our individual body odor. If we can stop these skin cells from falling for a period of time, in theory we can get out of the area without leaving a trail of skin cells that leads in our direction of travel.
4. Finally, a last step, if you can pull this off — have a second batch of clothing and shoes (that has been worn by someone else in recent days and have not been washed and so are carrying someone else’s skin cells) waiting for you a few hundred yards away or so. Re-coat your body in petroleum jelly (so that the first coat doesn’t wear off yet) and then throw on this new set of clothing and shoes.
5. Get out of Dodge while the tracking dogs are chasing your scent in the wrong direction.
If This “Trick” Isn’t An Option, How Do You Escape A Dog Tracking Team?
It turns out that Mythbusters did not consider a few important tactics from escape and evasion, nor did they account for a few surprising facts when it comes to local canine units or a private tracker.
1. Dogs Are Poor Long Distance Runners
You see, while dogs are good sprinters and can travel for hours at a walking pace, they are not good long distance runners and can tire and overheat before you do.
In a cool and moist environment dog and handler are going to be able to travel further and for a longer distance before tiring, but they will not be moving very fast.
In a hot and dry environment they are going to tire faster and overheat sooner.
The better shape you’re in, the better chance you have of getting away. That’s probably the biggest takeaway that you should know when it comes to evading tracking dogs. So if you’re out of shape, start running. Running will build up your stamina relatively quickly, and you won’t need to get that good at it to be fitter than most people (and dogs). Buy a treadmill and commit to running for half an hour to an hour every day.
2. The Handler Is The Weakest Link
The handler is said to be the weakest link. Most handlers are not young recruits due to the fact that it can take several years to become adept at tracking and training dogs. So, there’s a good chance your handler is a middle aged man or even older. Unless he’s in great shape, he may not be in for a long distance pursuit or steep climb or scramble through areas of heavy brush and fallen trees, or all three.
Tracking teams have to move somewhat slow, compared to the pace of a runner, giving their dog(s) time to move at a pace where their dogs are able to continue to stay on scent.
3. What About Traps?
Setting traps is a gamble — as both handler and tracking dogs are often trained to spot and avoid common traps. Plus, building an effective trap and disguising it can use up valuable time that would be better used traveling through and up and over harsh terrain.
Circling wide and coming in from the side or from behind to ambush a dog and handler comes with a gamble also — a tracking team may be traveling with heavily armed officers or who are trained to expect an ambush, catching you off guard, ending with you being shot and killed or shot and taken captive. If they are traveling with military trained dogs, these dogs can be trained to hear distant and distinct noises that alert the handler that a sniper is nearby. So you may never get close enough without detection.
Conclusion: Setting traps and circling around to ambush a tracking team is a gamble that probably won’t work for most people, not unless luck or God is on your side that day.
4. Tips From Tracker Dog Handlers
Ed Frawley, who is a respected trainer of law enforcement tracking dogs and owns one of the top German Shepherd breeding facilities in North America, as well as being an advanced tracker, confirms that it’s possible to lose a tracking dog and its handler.
When talking about a basic patrol dog, it turns out that these patrol dogs do not typically have a high success rate in tracking that leads to the capture of a fleeing suspect. In fact, when “local dogs” are called in they can tend to lose a track faster and also tire quicker.
This of course works in your favor, as long as you continue to keep moving. Here’s why:
“Once local dogs lose a track and or grow tired, an advanced handler with a superior canine with advanced training can be called in, but may have to drive from 100 – 200 miles away.
Because of the distance this advanced tracker has to travel from out of town to get to where your escape path begins, you have several hours head start but you now also have an advanced tracking team on your trail. But you can still get away …”
Real-life account of a tracking dog in pursuit
Ed writes: “Our dispatch was notified at @ 5 PM that an escaped federal prisoner from Duluth, MN was found about 140 miles south of our county. The prisoner had overpowered a local constable and disarmed him. Shots had been fired by the suspect as he ran into nearby woods with the officer’s gun. A manhunt was set up and a command post established. Local dogs had been called in but had lost the track and were now tired. Our K9 teams were requested to relieve the local dogs.”
Paulvermacher had recently been sent to federal prison on three counts of robbery. He was also the main suspect in the murder of a catholic priest in Madison, WI the previous year. The priest had been found in his own church with his throat cut.
My partner had retired his patrol dog and 2 weeks before this incident I had just brought him a new KNPV Malinoise from Holland. It was decided to leave this dog home and only take my dog.
Todd would come along to provide backup. We were also accompanied by a jailer in our department who had a bloodhound.
After driving the 140 miles we arrived just as it was getting dark. We then found out the suspect had actually fled at about 8 AM in the morning. A sighting had been made around 9 AM as the suspect ran into very thick woods about a mile from where he disarmed the constable. A one square mile perimeter had been set up with patrol cars about every 100 to 150 yards around this section of woods. We were told the local dogs had lost the track earlier in the day.”
So, what is Ed saying here? He’s telling us that a local tracking dog team may not be properly trained or fit for a long distance pursuit on foot through remote country.
5. What About Military Tracking Dogs?
More often military tracking dogs are trained and used to detect mines, booby traps, and nearby snipers. So, there are less adequately trained canine teams skilled for tracking a person fleeing through remote wilderness.
So that is in your favor.
At the same time, if you were skilled enough, carried a rifle, and circle around on an approaching military canine team, they are more likely to spot you, as these dogs are trained to find hiding snipers. Probably not a good idea. (Not unless there’s more than one of you, or you’ve got a choke point waiting and already planned for this).
6. Sentry Dogs
These are trained dogs used to guard the perimeter of bases and military camps. When an intruder(s) is detected, it results in a rapid deployment of armed personnel to the immediate area.
7. Patrol Dogs That Search Out Resistance Fighters And Or Refugees
It’s one thing to call in a tracking team and go after someone suspected to have fled, and another thing to bring in tracking teams for the purpose of finding and rooting out escapees and or resistance fighters.
On a map, trained personnel have the means to circle an area they suspect to find people in, and then they can come in from different directions, to round up anyone caught inside a search area. Refugees during wartime for example, or even people fleeing from martial law.
Staying in one location for an extended length of time, especially within range of a military base or outpost, increases the chances that your location will be found on a patrol or on a search.
A “patrol” in this case is something that takes place as part of standard operations; a “search” is when a person or persons is suspected to be in the general area and can continue until that person(s) is found.
The lesson here is this: Refugees during wartime need to keep moving and head in a direction that does not take them toward an area where a second military outpost or base is waiting.
8. Wilderness Evasion For Those Capable
Using a fast flowing river to slow down a tracking team
Dangerous rapids can offer a means of slowing down a dog team — but you can drown if you’re not careful.
Build an emergency zip line to cross a river and lose a dog tracking team
If you’re familiar with a river, and have previously found a way to navigate the rapids safely, which may include rope or even an emergency zip line, you can slow down a tracking team, possibly by a few hours by crossing at a place where most people would not be willing to make that crossing.
Realize this: A zip-line is not just a “ride” at a vacation resort like Whistler-Blackcomb or others found in Costa Rica.
In mountainous countries zip lines have been constructed by people for traversing canyons and gullies and crossing rivers in place of a bridge and have been for quite some time, even before the modern age.
A zip line should be built at an earlier time
A zip line can be built days before hand and is not something that is easily constructed during a pursuit, unless — that is — you have a few hours head start and some prior practice building a zip line.
1. First, you need some tools — if this is a river no wider than 100 yards, a compound bow with a heavy weight fishing line fastened securely to an arrow can be aimed at the sky and shot over the river where it will carry the fishing line into the brush on the other side.
2. While you can rig a survival bow or compound bow to pull this off, using an actual bowfishing arrow means you have an arrow constructed for the purpose of attaching a line to. A second important feature is that this arrow has a grapple barb for the arrow head (which will help your arrow catch in the brush so that the river doesn’t yank it back when the fishing line falls into the river after your arrow has been shot — that arrow needs to catch in the brush as the first step of this process).
3. Now, where you stand holding the compound bow, put the bow down and tie a stretch of long rope or better yet spool of Kevlar line and now using a sturdy tree near the river bank, climb 15 – 30 feet up and securely fasten it.
Once secure enough to be pulled across the river from the other side, hike a few miles up or down the shore to a place you have previously found where it’s safe to cross the river, make your crossing, and then travel down to where you shot the arrow over the rapids. The fishing line tied to the arrow you have retrieved can be used to pull in your rope or Kevlar line from the other side of the river where you can now fasten it to a tree.
4. While peasant farmers and hunter-gatherers living in mountainous countries can build zip-lines in place of bridges using simple materials, today we have several modern tools that can be used to make a zip line safer and stronger and even faster to construct. While these tools can be bought from most hardware stores or adventure outdoor shops, realize that these same items can be constructed out of other materials on hand, if you don’t have things like a pulley, or hand winch, or safety harness.
5. If you want a zip line to be an option for you in the wild, practice zip line building in your local forest or even in your own backyard if you have the option.
Additional Tips On Wilderness Evasion
Tips suggested by Wilderness College on evading a tracker who is tracking visually and without the aid of a tracking dog:
Changing shoe tread — trackers will key in on a certain shoe tread so if you have the ability to change shoes at different points along the trail it may help to confuse the tracker. Shoes with indistinct tread is also a plus.
Use roads — Before you reach a road, start angling your tracks to indicate that you are traveling one way up the road, then, once you are on the road where your tracks are undetectable, reverse your direction and go back the other way. If you can cover several hundred yards on the road before hopping back into the woods you may buy yourself several hours.
Learn more about making it through the wilderness in our section on wilderness survival here.
Also read our recommendations for appropriate bushcraft gear to carry with you.
- Cross obstacles that are hard for the dogs to follow like fallen logs or steep rock faces.
- Make several sharp direction changes. This serves to make the handler doubt the dog which may cause him to call off the search.
- Move with the wind. Hunters are well aware that smells float downwind. If you have the option to move upwind or downwind, moving downwind (with the wind) will greatly improve your chances of evading scent dogs.
Finally, Consider Mountaineering As A Way To Escape
Tracking dogs are not rock climbers — if you’ve pre-planned an escape route, you can have rope and anchors ready to go and in place, that can allow you a way to climb up and over a small cliff or steep rock face — just be sure you have enough head start time that you can make it up the cliff or rock face before anyone gets close enough to get eyes on you.
Important point: Be sure not to leave any rope trailing below you or litter on the ground below, tell tale signs that you’ve climbed up the rock face.
Set Fires To Deter Trackers
If the wind is blowing in the direction that you are fleeing from, and you are in an area of dry timber, consider setting several small fires next to each other, with the hope that a forest fire will erupt, blowing smoke and flames in the direction of your trackers. You of course better flee into the wind — the flames will be blowing in the opposite direction behind you toward the trackers.
Scare The Pants Off Your Trackers
Take the time to carve and mold the prints of large bear paws in the ground, if bears are threats in your area.
Take one of your shirts and tear it to shreds, and make it look like animal teeth have torn holes in it.
Use some blood (you’ll have to carry a bottle of animal blood just for this occasion) and pour large amounts of it over the shirt and on the ground.
Finally, make drag marks in the soil and brush leading a few feet away from the bloody, torn shirt, and rub some blood in the ground so it pools with the dirt.
Make a couple more large bear prints and knock down brush leading a few feet into the forest or tall grass.
If you have an old shoe, tear it off, cut shreds and bite marks into part of it (burrow holes with the head of your knife to create the illusion of teeth marks) and dabble some blood on it.
Stand back and survey your work. If the scene of an animal attack looks somewhat genuine, an average patrol may report back that a bear or even a mountain lion got to you before they did. Even if a tracking dog wants to follow your scent into the woods, a patrol could be too scared of encountering a predatory bear and is likely to call off the search.
Remember, one of history’s greatest methods of evasion is faking your own death. No one is likely to look for you if they believe you are dead.
Besides, in bear country, most locals know that a predatory bear is a real threat and so faking a bear attack really isn’t that far fetched. Other animals to consider pinning the blame on are mountain lions, wolves, or a pack of wild dogs (dog packs are a threat in countries known for refugees; keep that in mind — if we ever face martial law or even a major catastrophe dogs that have turned wild and have formed packs will be a threat).
Using A Boat Or Paddle Craft To Help An Escape
A small boat or canoe can be waiting for you next to a shoreline, hidden in the brush, offering you a way to escape the general search area; cross at an area of shore far away from any bridges as well as any roads that may exist on the other side; this reduces the chance that another patrol or dog tracking team can easily catch up to you if they have been radioed for by the first team of trackers.
In the end, the good news about an escape on foot is that properly trained canine teams and handlers may be few and far between in number. A greater concern instead should be dealing with the threat from any dangerous wildlife and finding food and water along the way (also called living off the land which comes with prior knowledge of wilderness survival and also carrying effective survival gear.)