I used to train dogs to follow the scent of an unknown person, find any items that person might have lost or dropped along the way, and ultimately find the person. It’s called tracking.
Only the dog knows when he’s on the right track. Dogs are born with the ability to follow a scent – they absolutely don’t need a human to teach them how to do that.
“Training” a dog to track only involves very minimally showing the dog what to do. It’s much more a matter of growing and nurturing profound trust and communication between the dog and the human.
What you need above all is a strong enough bond with the dog so that the dog will understand your goals and pursue your goals rather than his own.
So yes – you do need to be able to communicate to the dog that you want him to follow the track of the particular person you’re trying to locate rather than all the other tempting scents that the dog also can detect – squirrels, deer, rabbits, somebody with steaks in their cooler who also passed through the area, a dog of the opposite sex who is ready and eager to mate … the well trained tracking dog needs to put your objectives ahead of all those distractions and remain firmly committed to your plan, no matter how tempting the distractions may be.
And you need to be able to “read” what the dog is telling you he needs — did he lose the scent of the track? Did he find a shoe or a bread crumb that the person he’s seeking may have dropped along the way? Does he need a drink of water, or a break, a reminder of the task he’s working on, your encouragement to keep going, or does he need you to be quiet and stay in the background so he can concentrate? Does he need you to protect him from hazards or friendly people who want to snuggle him while he works? Or does he need a quick ear-scritch from the stranger who happened along, in order to keep his spirits and motivation high? You need to know, and to give the dog what he needs in order to remain focused on the pursuit of your goal.
Sometimes I fancy an analogy here … we are like God’s tracking dogs. God protects us and trusts us and knows what we need, and we learn to trust Him to provide. As our bond with Him grows, we grow in our ability to adopt His goals as our own and to tune out all the other temptations and distractions along the way…