Archive for dog training

A little new puppy update for spring

Posted in dog training, pets with tags , , , , on April 1, 2013 by rattlerjen

We have been busy here

Our new puppy is growing up so fast.  She can do nose work like nobody’s business!  We have been to two dog obedience classes and have had a lot of fun.

Starting over with a brand new puppy is hard work!

I have forgotten all of the things that I must do to turn her into a good search dog.  Time to review some of my previous posts! – 10 Dynamite Tips for a New Search and Rescue Dog

Right now we are working on her recall.

I have fallen into the dog training trap nearly all of us have done at one time.  She has a fantastic recall at home. (She looks a lot like the roadrunner from the cartoons,) her feet all a blur when coming when called.  Alas, when we are out and about.  She can decide a blowing leaf, a blade of grass, or a pile of deer poo far more important than listening to me.  It seems like such a pain in the touche to grab the long line, treats, toys, and pile the dog in the car to drive to someplace new for every training session.  So, I convince myself I will do it tomorrow and simply train my dog in the living room.  BAD dog owner!  This is something that will come back and bite me in the touche.  It is like going to the gym or for a walk, no one wants to get up and do it, but once there you are glad you did. I timed my last training session outing and it only took 10 minutes all told!  That includes the drive to and from the park!

Lesson learned.

If you want a well behaved dog, you need to take little field trips.

Now shut up, put those shoes on, and get off that bum!


The recall is very important to Search and Rescue dogs because we work air scenting dogs off leash. Forget the idea of the bloodhound dragging the handler around the woods.  Those are how tracking/trailing dogs work.  My dog can choose to chase deer, roll in poo, play with another dog, splash around in the stream, or work. He can play keep away and chase me games if he wants. Grom, my operational search dog choses to work instead.  He will even come back to a call or whistle blow while in hot persuit of a herd of deer!  How did I get such a wonderful recall?  Practice.

Practice at home with no distractions.  Then practice in many other places without distractions. Then add distractions working closer to the distractions and then working around more difficult distractions.

Best I get started then.

Tinkering with the Robot

Posted in dog training, howto, pets with tags , on January 28, 2013 by rattlerjen

This is what my husband got me for Christmas

Manners Minder Kit

Manners Minder

It has turned out to be a very cool way to train my dogs from a distance.

Here is Grom playing with his new toy.

My husband is a genius!

Our new little puppy, Molniya seems to have trouble staying quiet in her crate.  She has learned to bark in there and throws some pretty nice tantrums.  In order to reward her for being quiet, we needed a way to reward her.

Sure, we could drop a few treats in her crate every time we walked by, but wouldn’t it be more fun and rewarding for her to get treats even when we were somewhere else in the house?

My hubby found a great solution with a little bit of work.


  • dremel
  • funnel
  • board
  • rubber bands
  1. First, cut a hole in the top of the crate just big enough for the end of the funnel to fit through.
  2. Measure how far the funnel drops into the crate.
  3. Then measure the thickness of the board you will be using on top of the crate. (see video) We used a sheet of plywood. Cut a hole in the plywood the same size of the hole you cut in the top of the crate.
  4. Remove the food tray on the Manners Minder (it comes off easily for cleaning.)
  5. Bend the funnel flat on one side so that it lies flush with the manners minder tray area.
  6. Then, cut the funnel so that is not sticking into the hole in the crate and lies flush with the roof. The funnel will be cut at an angle since it will be lying against the Robot.
  7. Tie together enough rubber bands to fit around the back of the manners minder to either side of the funnel.  Drill a hole on either side of the funnel where the rubber bands will attach to.  Tie the rubber bands to either side and adjust so the funnel lies flat in the tray area.  Make sure the funnel is not blocking the hole where the treats come out!
  8. Put the board on the top of the crate and line it up with the hole in the crate.
  9. Place the funnel in the hole.
  10. Place the Manners Minder up against the leaning funnel and pull the rubber band loop around to the back of the robot to hold it on.
  11. Fill er up and let er rip!

Watch this baby at work!

Video from the top

Video from the front

Calendar Cover Duo

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue with tags , on November 6, 2012 by rattlerjen


Grom and I are featured on the cover of this year’s Calendar from Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association.  Get yours today!  A donation of $10 gets you the gift of the calendar filled with gorgeous photos.

If you live in the Northern Virginia Area, I may be able to deliver yours by hand and save you the two dollar shipping charge.  Just email me at

And yes, it is tax deductible and you are welcome to donate more.  It’s a perfect gift for the holiday’s and for a good cause.

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.”

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.

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

How to Hover in a Helicopter With Your Search Hound

Posted in howto, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , on June 28, 2012 by rattlerjen


Helicopters can be a wonderful resource as eyes in the sky, communication, and as transport.  They can get you to a search quickly and even fly you to places inaccessible to other vehicles.  Introduce your Search and Rescue dog to flying safely in a helicopter.

Parts of a helicopter

Dog Safety Gear

doggles muzzle muttmuffs

Helicopters are loud, blow debris, and filled with sensitive equipment.  There are four items your dog will need for a safe flight.

Eye Protection

Eye protection will save your dog’s eyes from the dust and debris kicked up by the rotors while loading and unloading. I have found Doggles work quite well and come in a variety of colors and styles.  Grom really likes his and barely knows they are on. You can buy them from the manufacturer here or at many area pet stores.

Ear Protection

Dogs have more sensitive hearing than we humans do.  I imagine the noises from the helicopter engine may be quite bothersome. I chose to solve the problem with using ear protection for horses. It is made from a sort of memory foam that expands and comfortably fills the ear canal providing a nice fit.  Grom is no horse, so I simply cut them in half and then down to size. Once I put them in his ears, he completely forgot about them.

If your dog hates having his ears messed with, try MuttMuffs. Daisy the GSD mystery mix is sporting a pair in the picture above.  She absolutely hates having her ears touched, but gladly trotted around with these professional looking “ears.”


Even the sweetest dog will use her mouth when terrified. An unexpected bump of turbulence can cause your dog to react and turn the inside of the cockpit into chaos.  Protect everyone with a properly fitted muzzle on your pup. Make sure your dog can comfortably drink water and pant while wearing his muzzle.

We decided to have an online company custom make a ventilation wire muzzle to fit our Malinois after several failed muzzle fittings at our local stores.  He looks like Hannibal Lecter, but fits beautifully allowing Grom to fully open his mouth and has great airflow.  Here is where we got it:


The most important piece of equipment is your dog harness.  It must be very sturdy and able to handle your dog’s weight and stay ON no matter how much your dog wiggles, trashes, or pulls to get out of it.  His harness is what will keep him in his seat during the ride, a possible handle for loading and unloading your dog from the aircraft, and something to safely grab and secure your dog. We thought our dog’s very thick search harness would do the trick, but he managed to wiggle out of it to get away from the wash of the helicopter.  It made my heart stop I tell you.  His agitation/tracking harness did a much better job at keeping him secure.

I would suggest an agitation, tracking, or rappelling harness to do the job.  Look for harnesses that have a handle or somewhere to grab, fit him properly for it, and make darn sure he cannot get out of it no matter what.  The harness is where you will attach your leash and where you will run the seatbelt through to keep him secure to the seat.

Practice at home

The sight and sound of a running helicopter may not be something easily simulated at home, but there are some things you can do to get ready.

First, practice loading and unloading out of the back seat of a car.  In the picture above, I am teaching Grom to put his paws up in the car and wait. This position gets him out of the wind and sound created by the rotors calming him down.  If I step up behind him, he is in the perfect place to allow me to load up my gear and prepare to load while blocking movement away from the helicopter.  I can grab his collar or harness with one hand easily if he gets spooked.

Practice running a seatbelt through his harness in the back seat of the car.  Seat belts in choppers tend to be similar to those found in airplanes and cars. See if you can quickly put your headset on, latch him in, nestle your gear in place, and latch yourself in safely.

Take your dog to a safe place next to busy train tracks.  NEVER let him off leash here.  The loud sound of the train and the wind does a good job simulating some of the effects your dog will feel when approaching a running helicopter.  Give your dog tons of pea sized treats (like cut up hot dogs) one at a time every time a train goes by.

Meet the Crew

The pilot is captain of his ship.  Do absolutely everything he tells you.

The flight officer is responsible for your safety.  If you are lucky to have one, they will help you load and unload yourself, your dog, and your cargo. Due to temperature, weather, altitude, and weight restrictions, you might not be accompanied by anyone other than the pilot.

Cold Run

Before you try to load yourself and your dog into a “hot” running helicopter, go through a cold run with the engine off first.  A cold run is your chance to get the rules, safety, learn how to communicate, ask questions, and familiarize yourself with the craft. Pay special attention to the order in which you will need to do things when approaching and loading.  Observe how doors lock, unlock, open, and latch. Be sure to note where everything is located; often the headset is put away, doors are locked, and seat belts are latched at all times. You should also experiment with where your gear goes.  Ask yourself several questions, such as:

Can you reach and operate things you need to while holding your dog with your other hand? Where are you allowed to step? What things should you avoid?

Notes Before you Approach

TV shows have given us some pretty silly ideas about what to do around helicopters.  Here are a few things of note:

The pilot sits on the right seat of the cockpit. (Yeah, it’s backwards.)


Rotors are the spinny bits that give the helicopter lift and go. Despite what you saw on TV, you do not typically need to duck down low to avoid the blades.  Beware, a very strong gust of wind or landing on a slanted hill may cause the rotors to dip down lower than normal so don’t go jumping up and down or waving at your friends until you are well clear.

Rotors do create quite a gust of wind when they are spinning.  Watch for debris  blown around and protect your eyes.

Speaking of debris, make sure to secure all lose items on your body.  Take off and pocket, pack, or secure your hat, sunglasses, jewelry, cellphone, clothing and other items.  Loose items can be sucked up into the rotors and effectively kill your helicopter.


First, stay back at least 100 feet keeping in view of the cockpit.  Next, give a thumbs up signal to indicate to the pilot that you are ready.  Wait for him to return the signal before approaching the aircraft. Then, approach the aircraft from the front staying within the pilots view and look him in the eye.  Never approach the aircraft from the tail end or the tail rotor will be your end.  Keep your dog very close to you using a leash or even hold on to his harness while you walk. Be aware that your dog may decide to bolt at anytime especially when you get close to the aircraft.


Loading and unloading are the times you are most likely to have problems.  With so much going on you don’t want to accidentally drop  your dog’s leash while opening a door and have a scared pup loose on the tarmac.  Until your dog is belted in his seat, have your hand on your dogs leash or harness at all times.

The first thing you should do after opening the passenger door, is put your headset on and put the mic all the way up to your mouth. (Eat the Mic) This will allow the pilot and you to communicate. Secure your dog in the seat with a seat belt through the harness and an additional tie down on a secure point nearby to keep him in his seat.

Next, secure your gear in its place and belt yourself into your seat.  Finally, make sure the door is properly closed, latched, and locked.  Notify the pilot when you are ready.

The ride

The ride is the wonderful part of the journey where you get to relax and let the pilot do all the hard work.  Keep your pup’s muzzle on for everyone’s safety while in the cabin.  Make sure he is comfortable and relaxed.

Remember, keep your hands to yourself, touch nothing in the helicopter.


To unload, if you have a flight officer wait until she comes to your door before attempting to exit.  If you have no flight officer, wait until the pilot says it is ok to leave.  After opening the door, be sure to take off your headset first.  Get all of your gear out of the cabin and situated so you may grab it with one hand after closing the door.

Re-latch your seatbelt. Then, untie your dog and get him out of his seatbelt. Be sure to re-latch his seatbelt. You may lift or lead your dog out of the helicopter while always keeping a secure hold on his harness or leash.  This is a fine time for him to take off. Your dog should be the last thing out of the chopper. All you have left now is to close, latch, lock the door, grab your gear and go.  Just make sure to wave goodbye only after clearing the rotors.

Have you ever ridden in a helicopter? What are your tips?

Fun and Useful Tricks To Teach Your Search Dog

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , on May 31, 2012 by rattlerjen

Here are a few new skills you can practice teaching your dog that you will find very useful out in the field.

Lifting up over a fence

Those fences are found in the middle of nowhere. Topped with horrible rusty barbed wire that must be just crawling with tetanus. Leave the worry out of how to get your dog safely over it. Teach your dog to tolerate being picked up and passed to another person. I have seen this used on several occasions on encountering nasty obstacles. All you need is a pocket full of treats to make it fun and a friend who wants to work on his biceps.


Sometimes it is just easier to go under a fence. Teach your dog to crawl under a broomstick you progressively lower each time he successfully ducks under. First try luring him with a treat, then wait until the dog does it by himself before giving the treat. No treats for jumping over, just raise the bar and try again. Yeah, I made a funny.

Jumping up on top of an object

Very useful if you need your dog to get up on top of something. I love using this trick when I need to pick ticks or prickly seeds of my dog without having to bend down. I just ask him to hop up on a nice stump or boulder.

Being carried by you

Search dogs can get hurt. Don’t find out your dog cannot stand being carried when you need to get him back to base.

Wearing a Muzzle

Even the sweetest dog will turn into Cujo if he is hurt and scared.  Get him used to a cage muzzle by wrapping foil around it and pour some nice broth in the end and freeze.  Remove the foil and hold the muzzle out while your dog tries out his new muzzle popsicle.  Move on to smearing peanut butter on the end and practice putting the muzzle on and adjusting while he happily eats his treat.

Ride a litter

Don’t just think about evacuating your dog on your shoulders, put your team and equipment to work and get him used to riding in a litter. Twelve hands are better than one!

Learning to Ignore BOOM!

Do you live out in the nice quiet country? Get him used to the loud noises that may occur during a search. Simply fill your pockets with the tastiest treats you can find (I like hotdogs diced to the size of peas) and go on a field trip. Go to a fire station, construction site, or near train tracks and with leash tightly in one hand, feed your dog tiny treats one at a time when sirens wail, trucks roar, or trains blast by. If your dog is too scared, start out far away and move in a bit closer on each field trip. Always make sure to end on a good happy note!

Where is your toy?

Practice a bit of search and rescue in the house from the comfort of your sofa. Teach your dog not only to find people, but to find his toys hidden around the house. Start easy and let him watch you hide his toy at first. Move on to more advanced stages by hiding the toy up high or in cabinets and other inaccessible places. This will teach your dog to look high and low for the source and to work out complex scent pictures.

Finding your Keys

Tie some fabric or leather to your keys for easy doggie retrieval and teach your dog to look for your keys. Now that is useful!


Zig and Zag around obstacles can be a great way to prevent your dog from going around one tree and you the other when on a leash.

Leave it

Yummie! Dead Skunk! Teach your dog to leave things alone that he should well, leave alone.


If your dog is a spaz like mine, he dashes around at full speed through brambles and quicksand alike. Teach your dog to navigate treacherous terrain by using the slow command.

Walk it

Much like the slow command, teach your dog to carefully walk up, on, and down obstacles slowly rather than leaping. I love using this trick when there is a nice thick downed tree providing a path across water.


Wouldn’t it be nice if your good dog stays in his crate after the door comes open, or patiently sits at the door before going outside? Here is a great trick that will keep both of you safe.


Danger ahead! Teach your dog to hit the brakes when you tell him to stop. My dog screeches to a halt and hits the deck when I yell Platz!

Show me your belly

Roll over halfway there buddy, I wanna see some tummy! I love using this trick to check my pup’s paws and legs for cuts. If it is really hot outside, pouring water on a pups inner thighs will give him a good cool down. It is also popular for tummy rubs.


We are told to drink before we are thirsty. It’s a useful thing to teach your dog to drink when you ask him too. I will set an alarm and make sure to water my dog at timed intervals. That way he can stay nice and hydrated no matter what.


What better way to make friends than to teach your dog to meet new friends politely. A good ol shake of the paw will do the trick.


Have a dog nervous person around? Warm their hearts with an adorable wave.

Go to your place

What if you get stuck somewhere waiting around with no crate in sight? Teach your dog to lay next to or on top of an object like your camp towel anytime you tell him to go to his place. A nice down stay after that does the trick.

Paws up on back of truck

I learned this little gem from a border collie running team-mate. In order for her dog to get his search vest on, he had to put his paws up on the back bumper of the car and keep them there so she could easily put on and adjust his harness. No bending over, I am a fan!

Bobbing for toys or treats

You never know what clues might have been dropped in the water. Teach your dog to snorkel for goodies by dropping sinking toys or frozen broth ice cubes in a kiddie pool.

What cute tricks have you taught your dog that has turned out to be useful in the field? We want to hear from you!

K9 Search and Rescue Calendars – The Perfect Gift

Posted in pets with tags , on December 6, 2011 by rattlerjen

Do you have a few folks on your holiday shopping list that are hard to shop for?

Well then, I have the answer for you.  Search and Rescue K9 Calendars make a perfect gift!  Give one to your friends, family, Coworkers, and yourself.

Simply go to the Virginia Search and Rescue Webpage below and hit the Donate button. For a 12$ donation you get the calendar sent to whomever you wish.  Help our 100% Volunteer Dogs and Humans continue their important work!

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