Monday, September 19, 2016

Using Pepper to Conceal a Scent Trail?

In "Swamps, Marijuana, Moonshine: 2 Prison Escapees’ 3 Weeks on the Run in New York," published in the New York Times, David Sweat, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. in June 2015, related some of his experiences during the escape, including "amassing a supply of black pepper he later used to throw dogs off his scent...." Although this method of throwing a dog off a scent had been refuted in Mythbusters, this myth seems to still hang around.

In doing some research into this matter, the consensus (independent of the Mythbusters) is that pepper won't throw off a dog that is trained to track. From another New York Times article:
Dr. Horowitz, who directs the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College and is writing a book about dogs’ sense of smell, explained that as people move, they slough off dead skin cells, and the scent from those cells lingers both in the air and on the ground. 
If someone dumped pepper in his tracks, she said, “that might disrupt the dog’s ability to follow the track, but the dog can ‘air-scent’ and get the track from the air.
Business Insider apparently also investigated Sweat's claim and found it wanting. That article reported:
But this is "very unlikely," Paul Waggoner, associate director of Auburn University's Canine Research Detection Institute, told Business Insider by email. 
Pepper — whether it be black, white, or cayanne — would not throw off a trained tracking dog. 
First of all dogs have an incredible sense of smell that is much more sophisticated than a human's and operates thousands of times more acutely than our own noses. 
Not only that, their noses are divided in two. Breathing air goes to one side, while the air the dog wants to smell goes to a separate area where the dog's 300 million receptors sort through the aromas. 
Using their super noses, tracking dogs are trained for years sniff out missing people, fugitives, bombs, narcotics, and even cadavers and even whale poop. That's right, dogs can sniff out a dead body. And they can even be trained to seek out scents given off by drowned people. 
Dogs are trained to deal with a huge variety of scents — for example at disaster zones — and successfully find their targets, Waggoner said. 
Compared to that pepper shouldn't be a problem. 
"A strong odorant might momentarily interrupt tracking, but modern training of tracking/trailing dogs is such that it provides dogs with experience in working 'through' such circumstances," said Waggoner.
Graeme Shimmin, a novelist, researched the issue for one of his books, and determined that there was no way to throw off a blood hound. Shimmin shared, however, what the Air Force teaches on this issue:
But the US Air Force teaches an anti bloodhound tactic that works on its Aircrew Escape and Evasion course. First, find a position where you can see the dog and its handler coming.   
Then, when you see them coming, shoot the handler - it’s not the dog that’s going to kill you.
Other advice that I came across that might work is to be more athletic than the dog handler (basically, make the dog handler reach a point where he is too exhausted to continue with the chase), cross difficult terrain that the dog and/or his handler cannot travel, or set back fires.

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