Watching your rabbit dogs likely gives you an array of feelings depending on the day. At times, you will be proud. Sometimes frustration will be paramount. There will be good days and there will be bad. Many things can make for a bad day, but among the particularly disparaging is a lost scent trail.
As you watch your rabbit dogs at work, likely from an elevated vantage point, it may seem clear to you where the scent trail is. This is because you have a clear sight of the rabbit and its movement, which is something your dogs may not have. Since beagles are scent hounds, it should not matter that they are unable to see the movements a rabbit is making, right? That is right, as they should be depending on a far more superior sense, that being their sense of smell.
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A dog's sense of smell is incredibly reliable, and a beagle is no exception to that rule. With that in mind, why is it that dogs still seem to lose the scent trail from time to time? In most cases, this will happen with a young, inexperienced dog, but veterans are susceptible to such happenings as well.
When it comes to young dogs or those in training, there will come times when the scent is lost. Being able to stay on track is largely in the nose, but it also requires development of a predictive behavior. As rabbits run, they turn sharply, and a dog has to learn to expect and anticipate such evasive actions. At times it will be necessary to call dogs back and put them back on the scent trail, but with time and practice they will come to realize that they have overrun the check and will correct naturally. With experience comes the knowledge and ability to stop and turn back, seeking out the trail, and over time this will occur with less and less assistance from you. It may still be possible to have bad days when no amount of assistance gets the dog(s) back on track, but overall with a little patience, this should happen less and less frequently.
Wind is another enemy to a scent hound. Though most rabbit dogs will keep their nose to the ground all or most of the time, some will lift their heads, smelling the air as well. This may not be much of a problem on a day where the air is still, but the presence of wind changes everything. Wind can cause your dog to run a line near to but not quite on the path of the rabbit, giving the rabbit a better chance at evasion.
One more factor to consider is moisture, or a lack thereof. Both air and soil and become damp through rainfall and humidity. These conditions will allow a better scent print and you may notice more consistent tracking in wet weather. However, if conditions are dry, the opposite may hold true. Dry air and soil have a harder time hanging on to scent, making its impact a weak one. This will likely become a problem for your rabbit dogs, decreasing the effectiveness of their tracking.
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Last but not least is Olfactory Adaptation. This is basically what occurs when you get used to a smell. If you were to stand outside of a gas station for several minutes, the smell of gasoline would at first seem strong, but over time it will grow weaker. This is not because the smell is dissipating so much as because you are experiencing a reduction in awareness. You have to breathe fresh air before you will notice the gasoline smell again. The same issue affects rabbit dogs. They sometimes seem to lose track of a scent trail when really they have become immune to it. In cases such as this, your dog actually needs to go off track for a couple of minutes in order to be able to smell that same track once again. To ward off problems with Olfactory Adaptation occurs, it is best to hunt with a pack because not all dogs will go scent blind at the same time, keeping members of your pack on track at all times.
Dogs also have bad and good days with which they must contend, much like we humans do. Your dog could be tired, ill, or sore, so always pay attention to behaviors. The best tool when it comes to determining abnormal behavior for your dogs lies in knowing what is normal for them.
Have you noticed any other reasons your dogs might go off a scent trail? Do you have tried and true practices for getting them back on track quickly? Let us know in the comments!