Book Review: Scent of the Missing

I have always been fascinated by the work that Search and Rescue Dogs do. I am amazed by how they can tell so much just from scent, and how we as humans have learnt to read their body language to tell us what that dog is saying about each scent. So when I saw this book at my local library, I knew I had to read it. The book is Scent of the Missing and was written by Susannah Charleson. The book follows her journey as an assistant to search and rescue (SAR) teams, and then her gaining and training of her own search and rescue dog.

First off, the book is very well written in an easy to read way. It is not a book you would have to think too much about, and could easily enjoy before bed. Susannah has perfectly written it in an order that makes sense, and tells the reader the things they need to know at the right time. It also had a bunch of photographs in the middle pages which always makes a non-fiction a lot better. The book itself is a reasonable length, and if I were being honest, I wish there was more to it! I really got into the book, and the people it contained that I wish it followed more of their story. Hopefully a follow up story comes out soon!

Susannah is a volunteer for the Metro Area Rescue K9 Unit in Dallas, Texas and worked as an assistant in the field when other search and rescue dog teams were working. After doing that for a few years, she adopted a Golden Retriever puppy and named her Puzzle. Together, they trained towards Puzzle getting her own accreditation. The book follows both of these storylines, and it is awesome to see not only Puzzle evolve, but Susannah too.

The book goes into a fair bit of detail on how Puzzle was trained, and what tests they put all new SAR dogs through. It was interesting to learn some of the techniques that Susannah used at home with the then puppy Puzzle, and what could easily be replicated for our pet dogs. From there, the book explores some of the points of struggle in training, as well as highlights as Puzzle is taught to find humans hidden from sight in a range of tests.

What I loved about this book is that Susannah often gave explanations on why certain terrains or search sites would be hard for a dog to pinpoint where a scent was coming from. She explained scent cones, and the way scent can bounce or mingle with certain objects or other scents. This was fascinating and gave me a better insight onto why dogs are not always 100% confident on the scents they pick up. It also helped to explain why a lot of the searches are done slow, and in sweeping motions, to make sure the dog didn't miss a scent that might have lingered differently.

It was also interesting to learn that dogs can be trained to smell human remains. This was interesting as the dogs are taught to only find human remains, and can tell the difference in the scent of a dead animal compared to that of a human. It also is interesting that they can be taught to look for only remains, and will pass by people on their search for remains. An interesting fact inside the book said that when human remains are buried near the root structures of trees, the dog may put their paws and stretch to alert on the tree, which exudes human scent!

This book was definitely insightful, as well as a compassionate read. I was drawn right in, and really enjoyed reading through this book. I have now starting doing some of the basic scent exercises with Diego so that he can learn the basics of scent training. I would recommend this book to dog owners, especially those interested in different types of training. It was also a good read for people interested in working in the broader rescue category as you may end up working alongside canine teams and it would be a great way for you to understand how they work.


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