2013 Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Calendar

Posted in dog, Search and Rescue with tags , on November 5, 2012 by rattlerjen

2013 Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Calendar

Grom and Jennifer Rock the Cover

Up the Stairs in an Odd Way

Posted in dog training, howto, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , on October 23, 2012 by rattlerjen

Exercise the muscles your dog rarely uses

Grom has learned to climb the stairs in a very unusual way.  Why has he learned this silly thing?  It is as important to exercise and stretch out your working dog as it is for the human half of the team.  Exercises such as climbing the stairs backwards works out muscles that your dog rarely uses.  This give his body the strength, stability, and flexibility to prevent injury and keep in tip top shape.

Steps to teaching your dog to climb the stairs backwards.

  1. Teach your dog to back up by holding a treat in front of his nose and moving it directly towards his chest so he must back up to follow it.  You may also try walking towards your dog while holding the treat under his nose.
  2. Say the word “Back” as your dog steps backwards, give him the treat.
  3. Repeat this several times. Always waiting until he takes a step back before you say the word “Back.” Practice this over several days with very short 3 minute training sessions
  4. Say the word “Back” and wait. When your dog takes one step back, click, and treat. (If he doesn’t, go back to step 3)
  5. Wait for two steps back, then three, etc before giving a click and treat.
  6. Now do this in front of the stairs. Wait until his back foot goes up on a step before rewarding. Once he puts one foot up on the stair when you say “Back” regularly, wait until he gets both back feet up until you reward him.
  7. Wait for your dog to go farther and farther up the stairs until you click and treat.  Eventually he will do the whole stair case with only one command of “Back.”

Altitude Sickness in Dogs

Posted in dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , on September 25, 2012 by rattlerjen

Grom and went hiking around in the mountains of New Mexico while we were on vacation.  He spent quite a bit of time resting under the shade of trees along the trail.  Could he have had altitude sickness?

What is it?

Maximal oxygen uptake decreases significantly at elevations above 5,000 feet. This is because oxygen is at a lower pressure at higher altitudes.  Your body has to work more to move oxygen throughout your body.  It can take 3 to 6 weeks of living at the higher altitude in order for your body and your dog’s body to adjust.


  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Bleeding from the nose and retina (only in extreme cases)
  • Increased pulse
  • Dry cough
  • Swelling of feet and possibly the face
  • Sudden collapse
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lethargy and refusal to move

It appears that the symptoms are the same for dogs as they are for humans and look quite similar to those of dehydration.


Luckily our ascent was very gradual up the mountain and we only climbed about 800 feet up.  Grom was used to being at sea level on the east coast, but he had been at 5,000 feet for nearly two weeks.  Both the dog and I were quite tired from this change.

If you ever do feel that your dog may be suffering from altitude sickness, the vet has a few remedies.  One is a drug known as acetazolamide, may be prescribed by your vet for treatment.  Oxygen may also help treat a dog for altitude sickness.

Final Word

Simply be aware that high altitude sickness does exist for both dogs and humans.  Take extra precautions when traveling with your dog. The best way to prevent altitude sickness in dogs or humans is to ascend slowly.  Be careful if you are quickly taking your dog to a higher altitude, especially on aircraft that does not have pressurized cabins (helicopters and small aircraft.) Take plenty of breaks, move slowly, and drink more water (lower vapor pressure also causes faster moisture loss.)  Don’t overdo it and you and your canine companion will be fine.


Hiking the La Luz Trail

Posted in life with a working dog, pets with tags , , , on September 18, 2012 by rattlerjen

The trail of light climbs 3,000 feet to the top of Sandia Peak

We decided to hike about a third of the trail for the view.  Boy, were there views!

At the bottom of the trail, the peak looked very far away

Looking back down after about an hour of climbing showed endless switchbacks

Aaron remembered to stop and give Grom lots of water.  Good handler!

The jumping cholla (Choy-Yah) cactus were blooming.  Grom learned not to pee on them.

Grom learned that pulling on the leash while hiking makes Jen fall down.

Much better!

We found out it was best for the dog to walk behind us.  It made it much easier for hikers to pass us.

Half way point equals a nice relaxing nap in the shade.

Aaron enjoyed the view of the city from a pine tree.

The view of the top was not bad either.

Group photo!

A tired dog is a cute dog.

Working on the Road

Posted in dog training, pets with tags , , on September 11, 2012 by rattlerjen

Have you ever taken your search dog on vacation with you?

Well, the last three weeks Grom came out with us on a family vacation.  Our challenge: How to keep his search training keen while on the go?


Field Cones (as targets for directionals)


50 Foot Leash



Search Toys

Agitation Harness

Safety First

Traveling with your dog can send you to unknown territories.  Be aware that laws are different from place to place.  People may be unfamiliar with search and rescue dogs and may treat you differently than you are used to in your own town.  Remember to err on the side of caution and be professional and respectful of local laws.  Be a good ambassador and strive to keep the good name of K9 Search and Rescue.

That said, traveling will bring you to many rest areas perfect for working on some search and rescue skills. “EEK!” you say.  Rest areas are next to busy highways, are small, and are filled with people on dogs.  What in the world am I suggesting? Put your pup on a 50 foot leash and use the green space to work on directionals, obedience, agitation, or indication work.


1. Start over

You are in a new place with lots of new smells and distractions.  Set your dog up for success by going back to basics.  Here I am showing my dog his first target I will send him to during a directionals exercise.

2. Make it easy and fun

Here grom is running to his first target. Go Grom, go!

3. Reward

Grom is having a great time at this rest stop.  He gets a reward for hitting his first target.  Catch that frisbee!

What the pup gets out of travel

We have found by exposing our dog to new areas and smells, he has become a much more confident dog out in the field.  He learns much by simply going on nice long walks, experiencing new things, and checking the world out. I am already dreaming of a camping trip out west with the dog next year.

The Wild Wild West

Posted in Search and Rescue on August 25, 2012 by rattlerjen

Grom and I are on vacation for a few weeks in the great South West.  Updates will happen, but we are in relaxation mode. Stick around for some wildly off schedule posts.



Pet Sitting Puppy Pals

Posted in dog, life with a working dog with tags , on August 14, 2012 by rattlerjen

Grom and Seamus are “Brothers from another mother”

At least they are if you could ask them.  I have had the opportunity to take care of Seamus the cuddly labrador for the past few weeks while his mom is out on vacation.  He and Grom are the best of friends.  They must do absolutely everything together.  I have to say, they are both pretty darn cute.

They share bones

Swim Time

Nibble Time

And even Nap Time

Seamus the Labrador is halfway through his Search and Rescue Wilderness tests.  Two Search and Rescue Dogs – Two Best friends.

Catching Scent

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , on August 7, 2012 by rattlerjen

Can you spot when your dog catches scent?

Or are you spending all of your time doing other things?

I spend quite a bit of my time crawling over slippery wet logs, bursting through thick brush, and trying to avoid stepping in treacherous holes.  As a clumbsy girl who had eight head injuries before I was eight years old, this is a challenge. A search and rescue dog handler must be able to multitask a plethora of different activities.

I must:

  • monitor communications over the radio
  • keep track of time and check into base periodically
  • constantly note exactly where I am on a topographical map
  • keep my eyes peeled for clues
  • keep notes
  • watch my team members who are walking with me
  • test the wind
  • analyse weather and land for scent conditions
  • look for the subject
  • watch my footing
  • navigate by sight with my compass and land marks
  • monitor health of my dog and group
  • think of evacuation routes as I go

but, The most important is:

Watching my dog

This list could be expanded with many more things, but I figured you were sick of reading it.

Your dog is the nose of the operation, you are the brains.  If you miss your dog alerting or catching scent, you could walk right past the missing person.  Scent conditions are complicated and can change on a whim.  Your dog could lose scent at any time. It is your job to figure out what the scent might be doing and direct your dog so he may best find  the person.

I have seen my dog catch scent and lose it in less than a minute.  If I did not stop, think, test the wind, and move my dog into a better place to catch the scent again, my subject may not have been found.

Each dog alerts differently (one of the reasons we cannot work each other’s dogs as an operational team unless we go through all the tests with them and certify with them.)  We can only recognize when the dog catches scent through experience and time with that particular dog.

I use my ears and eyes when I am tracking what my dog is doing.  So even when I have my eyes on something else, I have learned to hear when my dog has changed his behavior.

Can you catch the instant that this search dog catches scent as the handler is scrambling over the giant log?


Trust your Dog

Under the Weather

Posted in Search and Rescue on July 26, 2012 by rattlerjen

I have been under the weather this week.  Thanks for your patience while I get back to health.  Wait for another posting next week!



First Find Anniversary

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue with tags , on July 17, 2012 by rattlerjen

– Aaron Pennington

It’s been exactly a year since Groms first search- and his first find.

In the year since Grom and I certified, we’ve had a lot of work, and we’ve had a lot of tasks. But most of all, we’ve learned a lot about working together. These are the three biggest lessons that I’ve learned from working Grom for a year as a certified Search dog.

Always know where the wind is coming from and where it’s going.

Grom and I can work all day long, but if I never put him in the correct spot he will never make any kind of progress. He understands what his nose tells him right now, but he doesn’t have any concept of what the weather will be or what it was. There’s important information in both the past and the future, and it’s my job to make sure that he get the benefit of that information even if he doesn’t know it.

There’s a also huge benefit in knowing where to not go, and when to get out of the way. There’s very little as frustrating as getting stuck out in the field in a dangerous thunderstorm or snow storm– especially when you should have seen it coming.

Have fun while you work.

I know the whole point of having a dog from a working line is that they have the need, the desire, and the will to work. But the thing that amazes me more than anything is how much fun Grom has while working. You will never see him quite as happy, or fulfilled as you do when he’s working on a problem, especially a difficult one. Quick run-away type problems bore him after a few repetitions and short linear tasks are only good to whet his appetite.

No, the most fun you’ll ever see him have is on a hard problem where he has to plug his brain in and work out a scent pattern all on his own. He will charge in and out of scent, climb trees, crawl through culverts, and completely ignore his handler when he thinks he has the right answer at the tip of his nose. He loves the tug that comes with success, but to see him devote all of himself to a problem it so see him truly alive and at his best.

Trust your dog

I know when Grom is trying to tell me something. But I don’t always know what he’s trying to tell me.

Sometimes it’s something  important like “here’s the person you’re looking for.” or it could be something only important to him like “Check out the dead thing that I found to roll in!” To him there’s no difference, so my job becomes to figure out how much of what he’s telling me is important to the job and how much is just important to him.

So what’s the lesson here?

If it’s important to him, it’s important to me. Because sometimes he knows things are important, but he doesn’t know WHY it’s important. Once you figure out that, it becomes much easier to not second guess what the dog is thinking is important. When that becomes the case, you realize that you just go check out the what ever it is that he’s telling you to go check out.

It could be a clue, or exactly who you were looking for.

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