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Mantrailing: everything you need to know about this dog led sport

Mantrailing is when a dog uses their nose to find a person - but it’s not just for search and rescue dogs, thousands of dogs enjoy this team dog sport for fun!

We caught up with Tug-E-Nuff partner trainer Kathryn Jones from Trailing K9s to get the scoop on all things mantrailing. 

mantrailing instructor Kathryn Jones with spaniel Captain

Kathryn’s worked with 1000’s of mantrailing teams across the UK and is a qualified instructor with a wealth of experience with different breeds, different trails, and dogs with all kinds of motivations! 

In this blog, Kathryn shares with us what mantrailing is, how to get started, and the surprising benefits owners enjoy when they partake in this dog led sport. 

What is mantrailing?

Mantrailing is a dog led, non-competitive sport. It's based on search and rescue operations where a dog follows a scent trail to find a person at the end. 

It’s different from other dog sports in that it’s entirely dog led; the dog’s leading the game and making the decisions. It’s also very social, it helps you understand your dog, and is suitable for all breeds and ages. 

dog mantrailing on a long line in open green space

Kathryn loves mantrailing because people who come to mantrailing are just looking to have fun with their dogs. It’s an opportunity for dogs to do dog things and it’s hugely boosting in optimism for both owner and dog. 

Kathryn says her favourite thing about mantrailing is watching owners develop such wonder and belief in their dogs. Whether they have training struggles or not, seeing their dog achieve something is a huge confidence boost for the dog and handler. And it’s a brilliant bond building activity. 

Does a dog need any skills to start?

Here’s another big brownie point for mantrailing, your dog doesn’t need any foundation skills to get started

Mantrailing behaviours aren’t taught behaviours - we rely on things that dogs do naturally to guide us to find the person at the end of the trail. You're not teaching indication behaviours like you do with scent detection training, you're learning to read the ones that your dog naturally gives.

Kathryn says, you’re saying to your dog “Hey, could you use your nose to find this person? I know you're great at using your nose to find rabbits and squirrels, and the treats that I've got in my pocket. Now, could you use your nose in this specific way?”

The skill in mantrailing is in teaching the human end of the lead to read their dog’s body language and emotional markers. And to resist the urge to try to ‘teach’ their dog anything - this is a dog doing dog things - and we’re being led by them. 

spaniel mantrailing in urban environment

The only thing a dog needs to get started with mantrailing, is to be motivated by something. They might be motivated by food, by toys, or by social interaction - and we use that to get the dog started and to reward them heavily at the end of the trail. 

Is mantrailing good for dogs?

Mantrailing is great for dogs, it gives them an outlet with safety restrictions to do things that are innately doggy and very satisfying for them. 

A lot of the training we do with dogs is led by us wanting them to stop doing something or to do something in a specific way. Mantrailing lets dogs choose what to do in a safe environment. 

Dogs often become more optimistic and confident as a result of mantrailing. They get to use their nose and achieve something - which makes them feel good. 

labrador mantrailing in urban environment

Is mantrailing good for people? 

Kathryn says this is perhaps the most underrated benefit of mantrailing - the owners get so much out of it. Through showing up and doing a fun, pressure-free activity with your dog, you’re actively learning how your dog works and becoming more emotionally aware of their experiences. 

The knock on effect that really lights Kathryn up, is that mantrailers quickly learn to celebrate their dogs more. They notice the positive things their dogs do and how smart they are, and this feeds into life beyond the trail. 

What happens at the end of the trail?

Whatever organisation you mantrail with, the party for the dog at the end of the trail is a big deal. 

mantrailing dog tugging on ball toy

When the dog finds the person at the end of the trail, we celebrate the dog’s success and reward the dog heavily. Whether it’s with food, a toy or with social contact - the dog is in absolutely no doubt that they’ve done an amazing job. 

How does play come into mantrailing? 

Kathryn says “We use play for the reward at the end of the trail and to build engagement between the handler and their dog. When you use play and social interactions, a dog is more inspired to work with you and to do the task you set for them.

“If you can bring toys into your training, you’ve got this wonderful tool that you can use. It’s just you and your dog and it’s the best thing in the world.”

We also use it to tap into the dog’s genetics and their natural prey behaviours. Trailing taps into the hunting part of the prey drive sequence - and we can use toys to satisfy the other parts of the sequence that a dog enjoys. 

Playing tug at the end of the trail gives dogs an outlet for the grab, bite and parade part of the prey drive sequence. And for dogs who value the dissecting and consuming part of hunting, we can use The Clam to give them a safe outlet for these behaviours. 

With a toy, you can also up and down the level of energy the dog taps into and you can prolong your training in a way that you can’t with food. A dog gets full of food - but most adult dogs don’t get tired of play! 

Are some breeds more suited to mantrailing than others?

All breeds of dogs can enjoy mantrailing! Kathryn says she’s had everything from Newfoundlands through to Shihtzus and even Bulldogs take to the trail and enjoy it. 

Hunting breeds, guardian breeds, and hounds are particularly keen to mantrail. Breeds that have been bred to work with us, to please us, and to use their noses get a lot out of mantrailing. 

black labrador preparing for mantrailing

Kathryn says, “All dogs had to hunt at some point to survive. We didn't always just get dogs and feed them, they had to scavenge and hunt to eat. With mantrailing, we can tap into this natural instinct and hunt together.”  

She says, “The only dogs who don’t always love mantrailing are sighthounds like lurchers. They're so visually motivated and enjoy a chase at speed, so they can find mantrailing too slow, or once you remove the person they can lack lustre if the reward isn't right.”

You can mantrail with a sighthound, but you have to work harder to motivate them to want to partake!  Some really enjoy social contact and praise from their owner and others need a good game of tuggy at the end where they get the satisfaction of ‘killing the prey’.

hound mantrailing in woodlands

Kathryn really likes looking at what dogs were bred to do and bringing their genetic motivators into mantrailing. 

Check out our top toy picks by breed here. 

What age can dogs start mantrailing?

Dogs of any age can start mantrailing. You can start a puppy mantrailing from around 10 weeks of age, starting with very short and easy trails that account for their short attention spans! 

But dogs who are later in life can start mantrailing too - Kathryn has dogs who start at 9 or 10 yrs of age with no prior experience and love it. The oldest mantrailing dog she’s seen was 15 years old, which proves it really is a dog sport suitable for all ages. 

Because the sport is led by the dog, the pace is set by them too. Which means it can be a low impact meander along the trail or a faster trail that matches the dog’s speed. 

How to get started with mantrailing  

Mantrailing is very much a team sport, so you need to start with a qualified instructor. Because the sport is led by the dog, you need someone handling and someone coaching for health and safety. And of course, you need someone hiding at the end of the trail! 

It’s a brilliant community sport where you get to meet other owners that you may not otherwise interact with. The dogs take it in turns and wait in the car while other dogs trail - which means even if you have a reactive dog, you can enjoy the social element of mantrailing. 

dog mantrailing on long lead

The safety aspect is really important. Because the handler is so focused on reading the dog and following their lead, you need someone experienced to coach you on the trail. They’re your eyes and ears, always looking one step ahead to keep everyone safe. 

A lot of trails happen in public spaces, whether that’s industrial estates, woodlands or towns. With a dog leading the way on a 10 metre line, it’s crucial to have an experienced instructor overseeing the trail and guiding the handler where needed. 

How to find a mantrailing instructor

Kathryn recommends asking on your local dog training groups or asking your local dog trainers to help you find a qualified and experienced instructor. 

Ask questions and check that they’ve completed an instructor course and stay up to date with their CPD. It can also be worth asking about their experience of your breed - since this can have a big influence on how your dog navigates the trail. 

If you have a reactive dog, look for an experienced instructor for safety. It’s a great sport for reactive dogs, but you need someone very experienced to keep everyone safe.

In Conclusion

If you’re looking for a non-competitive way to have fun with your dog, develop your understanding of their body language and behaviour and to grow your bond, mantrailing is a brilliant dog sport to try. 

Kathryn offers mantrailing workshops all over the country and has an excellent membership for mantrailing fans who are keen to learn more about this fast growing dog sport. 


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