Archive for bark indication

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

Mending the Search Dog’s Pudding Brain

Posted in dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , on October 20, 2011 by rattlerjen

Read previous posts to find out all the fun problems we have been having with our pup.

Grom has decided that finding a person several times before coming and telling me is a fun new game.

Once, he indicated then decided to sniff some deer bones instead of playing.  Sounds like the little guy either lost his mind or decided he was going to change the rules of the game.

First, we set up a “puppy problem” to help diagnose the issue and increase his confidence.

After the fun little puppy problem, it was time to run a real search problem.  Aaron hid under a machine out in a farm field for Grom to find.  Here is the end of that search.

It looks like Grom has his confidence back.

He went right up to Aaron and did the rest of his job perfectly. We were not convinced that his problems were completely solved, however.  Seeing something once is never proof.  Field problems are easy for Grom.  Would he fall apart if things were a bit tougher?

We consulted a few veteran trainers on our team for advice.

Here are a few tips we learned.

  1. Keep in good radio contact with your subject.  Have them call you when the dog finds them.
  2. If your dog finds someone and comes back to you and does not indicate, hook the dog up and put him back in the car.  Game over.  Show no emotion and do not get upset.
  3. Let the dog sit in the crate for a little while and try the same search problem later during training.  This works extra well if he can see other dogs working and playing from his crate.
  4. On his second try, cue the dog at every step.  Call him back as soon as he finds the person. Then, act really happy as he is running back to you. Next, give him the “tell me” command. Finally, give the “show me” command and excitedly run after your dog back to the subject.
  5. Have the subject encourage the dog as he is running to him and give the pup a great play session.
  6. End on this for the day.
  7. Your dog will have learned that not indicating means the fun is over.  Then he is reminded of all the things you want him to do on the next search problem and gets a big reward.
  8. For the next few training days, start with a very easy short problem and cue the dog on every step before doing any other search problems.

Ok, that is one good tool in our tool box.

Next we found out something we may have been doing wrong!

If you watch some of the videos from our previous you may have noticed a trend.

Did you catch it?

Grom will bark! bark! pause, bark?  Then he will bark with less enthusiasm.  What he may be doing is going from “drive” to “obedience.”  We have been asking him for a ton of barks on every single search.  While it is ok for us to ask for a ton of barks sometimes; it simply is not going to keep up his excitement if we ask him for a ton of barks ALL of the time.

The indication part of the game just is not paying out. Now we ask for only one to three barks most of the time and up it to six or more barks only occasionally.

A combination of “Game Over” and fewer barks has led to success!

Working on that Backslide

Posted in dog training, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on October 18, 2011 by rattlerjen

You saw it last week folks.

Grom started having problems during our trip to New Mexico.

We decided to take a huge step back with his training to do something fun.  Even an operational dog appreciates something very easy and fun every once in a while.  While you my enjoy a challenging job, you would burn out quickly if you did not have a few super easy days.

How far back did we decide to go?

How about an entire year!

We decided to do what is known as a run away.  It is an exercise he learned to do as a puppy!

I ran away with Grom’s toy and hid behind a bush.  Grom saw exactly where I went.  Aaron gave Grom all of his commands including, “Mission” (go search for the person), “Preach” (Bark at me to tell me you have found the person), called the dog back,  and “Save” (Lead me to the lost person).

On a real search and during many training days, we do not call the dog back to us and give him the “Preach” command.  The dog works on his own during a search and is often out of view of his handler.  His job is to find the person then come back to the handler to tell them he has found someone.  Therefore, I can only give him the preach command if I SAW him next to the lost person in the woods.

Grom ranges very far from me sometimes, often coming back to see were I am and to check the scent of the people walking with me before bounding out of sight again. Barking is how he tells me HE has found someone and to go follow him.  Sometimes when a dog “forgets” how to do something, you can give him little hints and encourage him to build confidence and make the exercise fun again.

Grom had a ball doing this fun little exercise


Did this little exercise solve our little problem?

Find out on Thursday.

And Some More Back-sliding

Posted in dog, dog training, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on October 13, 2011 by rattlerjen

Oh Grom, what has happened to your brain on this trip?  Did your mind get addled by the air plane ride?

The high altitude?

The green chile?

Our adventure into Grom’s training mishaps in New Mexico continue with our trip to Los Alamos and our training with the fantastic Canine Mountain Corps MC².  One member of this Los Alamos group volunteered to hide for our little fur ball. What a great guy!

We let the nice man hide himself in a spot well known to him and let him “cook” for a while.

Here is the lovely starting place, a field just inside of a little fence along a dirt road.

search dog starting task

Don’t you just love those pine trees out there?

I directed him down the road with the aim of my hand and off the little guy dashed.  Thinking back on it now, I should have given him some time in the area before sending him on a search.  Oh what cornucopia of wonderful smells he must have had wafting by his nose.  He was however, on a mission and darted off like a horse out of the starting gate.

search and rescue dog released

Grom covered the terrain like a champ dodging alien cacti and strange smelling sage brush in search of the hidden man.  A few trees needed to be watered of course, but he was doing a great job working his nose.

The ground was steep as we climbed up the mountain and I was out of shape.  The elevation of Los Alamos is 7,000 feet.  I really need to go to the gym more often!

The soft grass quickly morphed into sand the color of the sunset and sandy rocks with wavy lines to match.  Wonderful scented pines towered over the high desert landscape, providing green among the reds, oranges, and yellows of the surrounding rocks.  I tried to keep up with my little monster, but mostly resorted to walking.  I can’t imagine actually doing a long task out in these mountains with my low altitude body.

Maybe I need to train for Ironman or something…

search dog runs to indicate

Grom shows no lack of athletic ability as he literally runs circles around me.

We crossed several narrow but steep drainages as we criss-crossed the side of the mountain.  Grom disappeared over each rise, leaping like a desert coyote after a taunting crow, a huge grin on his face showing me how much fun he was having.

After a few minutes, Grom vanished over a rise into yet another drainage with his ears up and forward.  The little guy must have caught scent of something or someone.   I labored up to the hiking trail overlooking the drainage ahead when Grom came bounding back barking his little head off.

rescue indication bark

Off we raced towards the drainage ahead, Grom taking the trail to the drainage instead of back tracking the way he had come. He ran down the trail past the drainage then made a sharp right turn downhill.  Did this dog have any idea where he was going?

search dog returns forest scene

Half way down the hill I noticed a man sitting happily against a huge rock, waiting to play with a nice little black dog.  Where was the dog?

I pretend not to see the hidden man and walk towards my little search dog.

“What in the hell is he doing?  The man is RIGHT THERE!”

Looking at Grom sniffing at the ground I shrug my shoulders and ask, “Where is he?”

Grom looks at me uninterested and continues investigating the ground.  I walk forward to see what he was sniffing at and found an entire dear skeleton, nothing but bleached bones from the desert sun.

It was my turn to look confused.

“For Pete’s Sake that man has your TOYS!”

I called him off the bones and restarted him with his search command.

“Oh, right!  I was doing something”

Grom takes off towards the man, runs back, and gives a weak bark.  Heck, at this point I would take anything. I gave the dog the “show me where the man is” command and allowed the poor guy to finally play with the dog.

search dogs find in los alamos

Grom, of course, thought everything was just fine.  I, of course, threatened to serve him with a side of noodles.

Next up:  Attempts to solve the problem.

Going for a Boat Ride

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by rattlerjen

It’s wet and wild!

There are people in the water.

They have my toys!

Grom is learning for the first time that humans can indeed hide in the water.  I am very lucky to have a dog that really likes riding in a boat. He still is not too thrilled with swimming.  Go figure.

First the dog is introduced to just seeing people in the water.  The best part is he gets to play with those he finds.  The reward must always come from the water, so the swimmer has Grom’s favorite mangled tug.

Grom thought that people in the water are lots of fun.  So, the swimmer started asking the dog for a bark before he was allowed to get his toy.  No problem there.  What a loudmouth!

Finally the swimmer hid underwater and moved to opposite sides of the boat.

We ended with putting the dog in a down so he had no idea what direction the swimmer was moving.  The swimmer held his breath under the water. I gave Grom the search command, “mission!”

Let the sniffing begin.

K9 Rocky Says

Do I smell something on shore over there?

Search dog rocky on boat

K9 Echo cruises off shore

Sniff Sniff Sniff

Hey!  I think there is someone down there.  Check this out.

echo search dog sniff off boat

Woof! Woof! Woof!

What are you doing down there?

echo rescue dog bark matt boat

Toy! Toy! Toy! Toy!

echo the search dog tugs with matt off  boat

What do you mean I was supposed to stay in the boat?


You look like you needed help cooling off.

Echo the dog shakes water on his handler

Search Dog Gives Handler His Opinion of Her

Posted in Dog diary, dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2010 by rattlerjen

The dog and I were enjoying a sweltering hot day in the spots of shade under a thin pine tree this past weekend. A black dog and blond girl on antibiotics with a warning to stay out of the sun were just hanging out. Both of us were panting. The temperature was in the nineties and I don’t believe the humidity could be much higher in the Amazon.
Every spot of sun that hit my skin began to itch and burn after only a few minutes. I believe I know what it must be like be a vampire, and not the kind that sparkles.
Lyme disease (or whatever it is that I have) treatment aside, we began training day by hitting the ground running. Our leader for the day laid everything out with military precision. She had everyone beginning the instant we climbed out of our cars. People and dogs began scurrying around like ants just discovered invading a picnic basket; I was loving it.

My pup, Grom, was imprisoned in the shaded car in his crate with all the doors and back opened, battery operated fan going, a full bowl of water, keys on my car seat, and a watchful group of people. I got to go out and have fun without him. Boy, did he hate that.  He could not complain too much, he got a free play session soon after arriving on site.

Our task was to navigate to a set of coordinates and retrieve a backpack hidden there using only map and compass.   Everything had changed about the area since the map was last updated. Ponds and swamps were created, others were drained, and cornfields were planted.  We found the little orange backpack after ignoring everything on the map except for the contour lines following the terrain.  Most maps haven’t been updated in decades.

Grom was ready to train after my little walk out in the woods.  I could barely get his search vest on his little black bouncing body.  He pulled me like a sled dog all the way to the site we chose for training.  Well, except for the three times he decided to pee on something.  How much water can a dog hold anyway?  All three puppies were brought out at the same time to the little trail through the woods.  This was a new distraction for the pups, usually the dogs come out one at a time.  New is good, lots of people hike out in the woods with their dogs.  Last thing I need is a search dog that will not work because there is another dog around; or a clown on a pogo stick for that matter.

I was asked if I would bet my lunch and half my search gear that Grom would bark on command no matter what.  I would bet my lunch of delicious blue cheese, brie, fresh bread, fruit, and meat, but no way was I going to bet my gear.  This woman seemed like the sort that would come up with something incredibly strange like suspending me 20 feet up in a tree or maybe she kept a gorilla suit in her car.  I was not going to risk it.  She asked me to lay face down on the ground and ask him to bark.  Whew!  We had practiced that one a lot.  The little guy paused and then gave me several great barks.

Grom watched as one dog trained in the woods with her jump indication.  My dog was getting excited.  Another pup present who used to bark at nearly every dog he saw, watched on silently.  Things were going well.

Our trainer for the day suggested we all step back to having the subject, or missing person, hold the dog while we call him back to tell us where the person is.  We were just starting to work on him starting at me and finding an easily hidden subject; aka a “runaway.”  Stepping back a step is much better than making the mistake and going forward too quickly.  I figure, if my dog is getting bored with a training step, then I am not introducing enough variables into the equation.  Those could be distance, new place, new person, new time of day, new weather situation, strange things a person is wearing, other dogs, horses, parrots, clowns, noises…

gorilla suits.

G-man did well.  He needed a bit of reminding to bark the first time.  Our trainer suggested giving him his commands on the first run.  Then, immediately do a second run with fewer hints and let him work it out.  We did a speedy four runs letting the dog win his toy on the last one.  We were directed to take the dog’s gear off and let him rest and drink while the other dogs worked. Grom pranced back to our waiting area proudly displaying his toy in his mouth.

Once there, he dropped the toy and sucked 30 ounces of water down like a camel.  Then, promptly plopped down in the shade next to my foot.  That did not last for long.  Another dog barking sent Grom bouncing like a rubber ball.  It took several minutes for him to realize it was not his time to play before he settled down again.

I was standing around, waiting for my turn when someone said, “Grom just peed on you.”

“What?”  I said in a perplexed tone.  Maybe I was going delirious.  Perhaps I was becoming dehydrated and heard that wrong.

“He just lifted his leg on your right pant leg.”  She said with a smile.

I looked down to notice that indeed my right pant leg was soaked from the knee down.   Dogs are such harsh critics.

My car had the last laugh, however.  It needed a jump after I unwittingly left the keys in and the lights running.

That sent me right to a blueberry ice cream sundae on the way home.  So there!

Tug Toy Pull

Posted in Dog diary, dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2010 by rattlerjen

I really want that toy.  Why wont she just give me that thing?  Hey hey HEY hey HEY HEY HEY HEY!!! hey  HEY!  is that a squirrel?  HEY! HEY! HEY!

I am digging my paws in for this one.  Darn!  I almost got it that time.

HEY! HEY!  HEY!  boing boing  HEY!

Snap snap snap,  SNAP!



“Why are you touching my feet?  TUG

“Really, what is with the feet?”


wiggle wiggle.

YAAAAY!  I won.  Mine!

What’s a good bark indication look like?

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by rattlerjen

Some of you have been asking what a good indication looks like

after reading my blog from a few days ago.

Here is an example of what Grom should be doing with his “bark indication.”   Notice how this Shepherd puppy runs like a bullet back from the subject (lost person) and barks her head off?  

Well, that is what we are going for.  It is much different from what our little dog is doing.  (Mostly wandering around sniffing the flowers.)  The good news; we took the advice from the team (see blog post) and applied it to his training.  It seems to be working!

I ran backwards making lots of noise after calling the dog’s name.  Halfway to me, I gave his bark command, while still acting like a goofball.  Grom ran right to me like the speedster that he is.  With only a one second pause, he began barking his head off!  Now that is a good dog.

On another note…

Grom tried to eat or destroy today:

  • power supply to laptop
  • green slime experiment for class today
  • box of washers
  • husband’s sock while still on his foot
  • the comforter
  • my computer
  • a paper towel tube
  • applied paw to my eye and left a large lovely scratch  (possible black eye)

For those of you living with a working dog; your moment of Zen.

Walking is Hard, but I Can Stay Here All Day

Posted in dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2010 by rattlerjen

Grom stood in a very odd place in the classroom.  He was directly in the center of the room on top of some agility equipment.  Why this made him nearly perfect at his stays while dogs moved around him, I have no idea.

It was a very full class with lots of happy doggies.  Grom was quite comfortable looking over everything from on top his perch.  Perhaps he was calm because our faces were closer to him.  I sat down with him on the floor later in the class and he calmed down quickly. It’s an idea I am going to file away for later.  If your dog is getting frustrated or is losing focus, try sitting down on the floor next to them.

During the first 30 minutes of class, our little obedience scholar stayed as all the other dogs in the class moved around him.  Only did he get up when a few exuberant dogs tried to climb up the stairs to get up there with him.  I was amazed.  What a difference from last week when he had the attention of cheese.  We even had dogs walk on either side of him during a large portion of the class.  He did an awesome job himself on the game.  Grom had to heel next to me as I walked up to a bucket of toys.  He parked himself in a solid down stay while I transferred the toys to a shopping bag. The little nut even heeled nicely with me as we strolled around a cone and back to the now empty bucket.

Either 30 minutes was up and he reverted back to puppy brain, or all the other dogs moving around caused him trouble.  The rest of class was spent practicing heeling with your dog.  Grom wanted to visit the butt of every other dog in the room. He could care less if I had filet mignon in my pocket, other dogs were more important.   I spent the rest of class bent over making really stupid high pitched noises to get the puppy’s attention while shoving food under his nose.  By this time in the class I was ready to shove food UP his nose!  Walking was hard today.

The trainers were nice enough to help with Grom’s “hugging” problem.  Both trainer gave Grom a very light hug while shoving treats in his face.  Yay!  With more help like that, it will be no time before Grom will let anyone hug or restrain him.

Excellent News on the indication training:

I suspected that Grom was just tired and frustrated with obedience class after 30 minutes.  He had energy and the need to work out his frustrations, I guessed.  We were in a new place, so why not try working on his indication?

With my encouragement and silliness, Grom gave a near perfect indication bark behavior chain on the second try.  Yessss!

Wait, no really, what’s the game again?

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2010 by rattlerjen

2 ticks removed at end of training.  One tiny dog tick on my foot and one dear tick on my leg.

Note: Wear more bug repellant.

Looks like we have our work cut out for us on G-man

In the following video, our dog decided to show us all the problems he is having with training.  He completely messed up with everything but play.  I am really happy.  Shouldn’t I be disappointed?  Heck no!  This is the best thing I could possibly ask for.  The worst thing that could happen is to show up on training day and no one has suggestions on how you can improve. You want the dog to show the problems he is having, not hide them.

So, what did the little monster do this time?

We learned the traumatic trip to the vet to get his heartworm test did much more harm than earlier known.  Looks like the vet tech putting him in a full nelson to get his blood drawn has caused the little guy to be terrified of anyone putting their arms around him.  You can see him completely freaking out when the girl tried to hold him.

Then, instead of running right towards me to give me a few good barks.  He decides to visit my husband first, then forget what it was he was doing when he finally got to me.  The group believes that the dog thinks my husband is involved in the indication game and is confused with both of us there.  That makes perfect sense since the other person is nearly always around when training occurs.  No wonder he is confused.  His third problem is wandering around instead of running to me and barking.  Check out this epic fail:

Ok, no big deal, time to give the dog a second chance.  This time the subject, aka person playing the lost person, holds the dog by his collar.  I call the dog right away and give him his bark command.  He feels much more comfortable being held just by the collar this time.  The dog still decides to visit my husband before me.  I do call it a win.  The dog did finally bark, a definite improvement, and was rewarded for it.  We ended on a high note, so back in the car.  Yay!


  • dog not focused on task
  • dog visits other handler before completing task
  • dog uncomfortable with being held
  • dog has the attention span of a flea


  • Give the dog a cue that it is work time.  A special harness or collar can be put on him every time he does search related training.  We decided both his search vest and harness would be good.
  • Allow only one of us be present when he is doing search work until he is really focused on the task
  • Help the dog during training.  You may have noticed that I stood there waiting for the dog to figure out what I wanted him to do.  Remember that a new place or context is enough for the dog to forget what he is supposed to do.  Training is not a test.  My plan will be to call the dog to me and act very excited and interesting.  As he is running toward me, I will ask for his bark command.  I will run backward and act silly to keep him focused on me.  I will give him the bark command again once he gets to me if he forgets to do it.
  • For his problem with being held, I will just need to have lots of people hold him while he gets treats

As for the attention span of a flea:

He is 11 months old, his brain is doing the tween thing.  He will grow out of it.  We hope.

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