Archive for dog training

Bouncing, Wobbling, and Sliding!

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on September 20, 2011 by rattlerjen

A little bit of agility fun at the playground

On our little trip to New Mexico, we ran across a very nice playground to practice a bit of agility on.  This little park had everything a search dog needs.

It had a suspension bridge, a wobbly set of disks, slides, ladders, and tunnels!

Watch the little fuzzball run through a few of the obstacles in this short video.

Teaching a dog to search for his toys

Posted in dog training, howto, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2011 by rattlerjen

Hunt drive

Search and rescue dogs have a skill known as hunt drive. This is the desire to search for something they have not seen run away.

It’s different from Prey or pursuit drive which is chasing or searching something a dog has seen run away.

To teach our search dog the rewards of finding something, we hid his toys.  Then, played with him using the toy he had found.  All you need to do is find a toy your dog really loves to play with.

  •  Start out easy and let him watch you hide it the first time.
  • After that, shut him out of the room and hide it in the same place. Immediately let him back in to find it.
  • Repeat this, but hide the toy near the last hiding place. Let a piece of the toy stick out from the hiding place to make it easy.
  • Gradually make the game harder, moving the toy from ground or nose level up high or in containers.

Remember, always make the game fun.  Play with him once he makes the find and throw a big party.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

Posted in dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , on August 30, 2011 by rattlerjen

We are one lucky family to live in the DC area.  There is so much to do here with the pooch.

Which makes it fairly easy to practice for things like air travel with the dog.  How, you ask, does one practice for a plane ride in the middle of the city?


Simple!  Just take him to a baseball game.

It is a place with thousands of people, loud noises, and bright lights.

Grom got to go through a narrow entrance and turnstile, climbed tons of stairs, waited in line for a hot dog, and even rode an elevator.  We brought a travel dog bed to make him comfortable and asked him to lay down for nearly the whole game.

Grom was a trooper.  Of course, how could he not being fed fries and watching humans fetch the ball for a change.

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

How NOT to teach a dog to find a hidden person

Posted in dog training, howto, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2011 by rattlerjen

Learn a Lesson from My Mistakes

The Goal: Find a person hidden in a tree stand after a 30 minute problem.

search dog field

Mistake: Expecting a dog has learned to generalize

I thought the dog would have no problem finding someone in a tree stand. He did it twice before.

Dogs don’t naturally generalize.  Grom would need to find several different people in different tree stands in different conditions in different locations on different days before I could say he “got it.”

Mistake: Assuming the dog has learned something from past trainings

Grom was on fire! He dashed down the trail with his nose in the air.  He saw the first tree stand and trotted over to it, obviously curious.  He even tried to climb up the thing!

The little furball did the same thing to the next two identical tree stands!  I was thrilled he was curious to check them all out. I assumed he must have learned that people can hide in tree stands from previous trainings and was checking them out just in case.  He might have just been curious of the strange structures and wanted a look at them close up.

search dog climbs tree stand

” This will be so easy when he gets to the tree stand with the person in it,” I thought.

Mistake:  Not knowing when to cue the dog

We reached the field 150 yards from the tree stand with the subject hidden in it.  Grom threw his nose in the air and caught scent and began criss-crossing the field in search of the scent’s source.  After a small distraction in the discovery of a nice turkey feather, the dog went over to check out this new tree stand.

He circled it a few times.  I got closer trying to determine if he was just checking this tree stand out like he had the others or was genuinely trying to find the source of the scent there.  I realized I made the mistake of getting too close after seeing the subject’s boot dangling out the entrance.

search dog tree stand target

Grom looked right at me, so I backed up thinking he would give me his tell-tale behavior of “I think I might have found something.”  I figured he would not indicate if he thought I saw the subject.  What was the need of indicating if mom was standing right next to the guy, right?  I expected Grom to trot towards me so I could give him the “Tell Me” command to bark.  Instead he trotted past me and began to investigate some grass on the side of the trail. “Greeeaat.”  Now what?

Mistake: Not asking the experience handler standing right next to us for feedback.

Later, we got great advice on how to set up the problem so the dog could learn from success. I honestly should have asked this person for advice even before starting the search.

search dog looking at handler

Old standby, put the dog in a down and give him some water while we figure out the next step.

Let’s just start again only 50 meters from the tree stand and restart the dog.

Up the hill we go.  Grom checks out the sides of the trail as we get closer to the tree stand.  Again, the pup heads right up to the structure and puts a paw up on the supports and looks up.  I cue Grom to indicate and he does so beautifully.  When I tell him to show me where the person is, he leads me right back to the tree stand.  Success!

search dog leading the find

Mistake: Making the dog wait for play.

Always reward the dog immediately.  We were told this over and over again.  I told Grom what a great dog he was as the subject came down to play with the dog.  Grom got great play, but it did not happen instantly at the source of the find.

So, what should we have done from the beginning to set the dog up for success?

I guess you will have to wait for Thursday’s post.

can i drive

Ok, you work the steering wheel.  I got the pedals.

Rocky Rocks the Agility

Posted in dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2011 by rattlerjen

Let’s show them how it’s done!

Wait for it.


And out for the toy.

agility dog tunnel

Up the steep A-Frame

dog up a frame

I’m On top of the world!

dog agility top of a frame

Time to go down.

Mom says I have to slow down.

Search and Rescue dogs are careful.

 This is no race.

Look how good I am doing, Mom!

Balancing on the teeter-totter

dog teeter totter

Whoa!  This thing is moving.

agility teeter totter


agility border collie teeter totter

No problem.

How about that toy for rockin the course?

Oh Yeah!

teeter totter end

Dog planks the high ground

Posted in dog, dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , on August 3, 2011 by rattlerjen

Wow! Look how high up that dog is.

 That is one brave border collie up there.

You want me to go up there?

If you insist.

How about I do it for treats?

Not looking down.

What do you mean slow down?

That wasn’t so hard.

 Now let me grab this one last treat.

Look mom, I can do this all by myself!

No treats needed this time.

Woo Hoo! Check out this view.

Operational 160 – Part One

Posted in pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on June 28, 2011 by rattlerjen

Real World Search vs Testing Search:

It’s 06:30 in the morning. The missing cadet we’ve been looking for has made her way to one of the flashing cruisers parked on the road that surrounds the search area. After spending a night lost in the woods, she’s on her way home to some clean clothes and happy parents. This is why we do everything we do, to send people home to their loved ones. We love a happy ending.

My only disappointment is that our real search has canceled Grom’s 160 acre Operational Evaluation.

in training search harness

Grom is at home in the air conditioned living room, plotting.

You see, he watched us pack this morning, knowing that when the muddy boots and heavy packs go into the truck, it means serious play time for him. We have been called out on a real search and so we made the choice to leave him at home. We didn’t want to leave him in the hot truck all day for nothing. I would probably be lying if I said he was anything less than angry with us when he heard the door lock and he was still in his crate.

But a happy end to a search is a happy end, and we’re all in a good mood when the man who would be my evaluator pulls into the parking lot. With congratulations all the way around, he checks his watch and you can see the decision bouncing around in his head. Is there’s still enough time to get the Grom and go down to the training site where we were going to run the 160….

“Let’s go. We can still get your test in today, we’re done with the search early enough.”

As I add up the time to go back to the house, pack up the rest of the gear, and make it down to the site I realize we’re looking at an 11:00 AM start time. “Are you sure? It’s supposed to be warm today.” He’s adamant that everything will be fine. Since he’s going to be one of the people out there suffering with me.  I agree. On the way back to the house I check the weather forecast again only to realize I’ve just talked myself into a 90 degree search, with 85% humidity.

We make record time down to the training site.

It’s 10:30 when we roll into base, I see a few cars around but fewer people. It’s a training day and people are out in the field working their dogs. My second evaluator is sitting by his truck shuffling papers.  I resolve to make this a fast briefing so we can get out into the field as fast as possible. This is as close to a real briefing as you get in the training process.

task assignment form

For the first time, I’m given a state radio that lets me talk to people very far away and a Task Assignment Form.

The topographical map that’s attached to my form has a sector outlined on it that looks to be about the size of a small airport.  I swallow hard, knowing there’s no chance I can cover it all in 6 hours, especially in this heat. There’s at least two people out there, even though they aren’t moving around, I’m sure they’re baking just like we are.

So I suck it up and suit up the dog– it’s game time.

The undefined boundary of my sector is 500 meters up a trail to the north of the road that splits my sector in two. Once we’re at the trail head I give Grom his marching orders and set him loose, making sure that he’s working the east side of the road. Every 50 meters or so I walk into the woods on that side. I’m fighting with my pace beads that have become hopelessly tangled in my strap trying to count out 500 meters. By the time I get to 5 beads, I look around for a tree branch to hang a corner flag from. We stop to rest for a couple minutes while I make sure all is as it should be.

Hanging Search Flags

The compass needle says something to me I don’t like. Looking at the map and comparing the bearing of the road to the line on my map I know I’ve over shot my boundary, but I don’t know by how much. Once I pass this test, I am allowed to reach into my pack and ask the GPS how many meters I’m off, but right now I’m living in a pre-GPS world and I have no idea how far off the line I am. (No GPS usage on the tests!)  I chew on it for a minute and one of my evaluators asks me how I know I’m not where I should be. So I give him the whole sorry story, and when I get to the end, I’m left in the same predicament I started with. How far off am I?

When in doubt, do it anyway.

I make the decision to go from where I am, one extra grid line won’t kill me. I’ll just sweat more. We turn east and I start hanging flags.  This place is going to get the full treatment.

There’s a rhythm to getting it all done right.

Check your bearing, count your paces, have a flag ready when you get to the your point, and hang a flag. It takes a few tries. By the time I get to the ditch I think should be my far boundary, I realize I can’t tell if is the ditch I’m looking for or if I’m pulling the same trick I pulled on the road. I think there should be another ditch 30 paces away if I did my math right and that’s where I’ll need to hang my second corner flag.

Fortunately, there is a second ditch, it’s 40 paces away but it’s close enough that I’m content with it. Grom is looking a little hot, so we stop for a few minutes to get a drink and rest in the shade. I’m really hoping there’s some running water in this bit of woods so he can splash around and cool off, we haven’t found it yet. After a few minutes I turn our little band south and we move down to start the second cross grid.

hot search dog

I’m getting better at the bearing/flag/pace/hang game

I occasionally start to check the wind to see if there’s any movement. My travel sized bottle of baby powder has 8 holes in the top.  I let the powder drift down to the ground I swear I see it form 8 little piles. There is no wind at all in the woods today, except where a sunny spot breaks through the canopy. There the sunlight heats the air and makes it’s own wind, directly up.

“that will be funny after I pass this test, if I pass this test.”

We make a couple passes through the brush, resting at the boundaries or when ever Groms tongue gets wide enough I’m afraid he’ll step on it. The thermometer on my evaluators pack says 90 and I hear thunder in the distance. It cant get much more humid.

It’s on the fourth grid that we come across a line of trees that have fallen like dominos. Going east to west, they line up like a fence and I’m tired of going over trees so I shoot my bearing try to walk along them, keeping my bearing as straight as possible. I think it’s not going so bad, until I pop out onto the road and stare at a flag I hung at the beginning of the last trip in the other direction. I swear the dog is laughing at me since he knows he already sniffed this bush. This is a recoverable error and I move everyone south down the road more than normal to make up for the drift. We start our trip back toward the far boundary.

I’m beginning to wonder how bad the storm was that knocked all these trees down. We’re back in another bunch of downed oaks when I find the dog standing under a big branch staring up at something. I go over to investigate what he’s found. My heart starts to beat a little faster because I know it could be a clue.

“whatcha got bud…..dy….?”

There, right in front of me, is a piece of my flagging tape hanging from a tree. I did it again; I’m back in area I’ve already covered.

My internal debate rages. If I turn south and pick up where I Should be, I can just keep moving and leave the hole in my grid for later. If I go back to the road to correct my grid that’s at least 20 minutes of rewalking the same line. The day is only getting hotter. My debate becomes external to give my evaluators a clue about what I’m thinking. They both nod patiently as I yammer.

Finally, calm returns and I choose choice d) none of the above.

I’ll go back half way since I’m not too far into my sector and correct from there. When we get back to the correct flag, I turn south and start to move into an area with less deadfall and more shade. There’s a spider web in the bush I’m pushing my way through and as I clear it from my glasses I see something hanging from a tree.

A big piece of fabric that could be from the “ultralight” I’m out here to find dangles from a branch.

The evaluator twins come up behind me. I go into clue mode hanging a long flag from a near by tree.  I’m looking around for my dog so we can start our 360 degree circle around our clue. My Plan is pouring out of my mouth when I spot Grom standing ten meters from a tree staring at what could be the edge of a tarp.

“Why isn’t he indicating?”

I’m about ready to call the whole thing off when I realize that there’s still no air moving.

If Grom can’t smell a person, even if something that looks like a person, it’s all just furniture to him. He gets one more chance here. I make a clicking noise that he knows means something interesting is happening where I am so he comes running back to me. I give him a look and line him up in a direction away from where he was standing so I can give him the search command again. As I release him, he goes directly back to that tree and returns at a full run. I’ve started to walk away from him so he has to come all the way around to find my face. The barks come out loud and strong, and I smile to myself before I let him lead me back to my first subject.

search dog indication

By the time I get to her, Grom is harassing her for his toy. I have to hold him while I make sure this is who I’m looking for and that she’s alright. I break out my map and start to get the radio going. The evaluators give their blessing to giving Grom some play,

“but not too much, he still has work to do.”

We all decide it’s a good time to rest. I decide that it’s a good time to start breathing again.

One subject down, an unknown number left to go.

Obedience and Agility Test

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on June 21, 2011 by rattlerjen

Last Saturday Grom the search and rescue dog completed his Agility and Obedience Test at the Urban Disaster Dog Search and Rescue training facility in Maryland known as Search Assist.  This is where they train those awesome disaster dogs you see on TV.

This is the very first time he has been on a big boy teeter totter.  This thing was huge!

It appears it did not phase the boy much.  All of that climbing and trouble making around the house finally paid off!

One of the more difficult elements in the Obedience is the emergency down or platz. Grom must hit the deck when we tell him, a very useful command to learn, especially if he is about ready to cross a road with a car coming or some other danger.  I was strolling along waiting for the dog to wander far enough away from me.  Grom was quite impressed with all of the fun training rubble piles and buses he saw.


And Yes, he passed both tests.

Berry Farm Search Training Plethora

Posted in dog, dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2011 by rattlerjen

Water Training, Human Remains Detection, and Wilderness Training

We got it all done today.

The Westmoreland Berry Farm is a wonderful place we use for training.  Behind all of the delicious strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peach trees, and goats a full search and rescue team with their dogs are out playing.

The Berry Farm is one of the few places we are able to use our boat for water training.

Here Leah is standing at the bow of the boat getting ready to search the water and its banks.

Search dog on boat

That is one nice smile on that dog’s face.

Even our beginning dogs get to join in the fun.

Our biggest puppy goes on a nice cruise.

So, Jonah, how do you feel about riding on a boat?

You don’t say.

(Must have eaten a bug)

Yes folks.  Our search team president works hard at training.

So very hard.

It was a scorcher of a day out there.  Hot temperatures and very little wind made working conditions difficult for the dogs out there.

This field would have been exhausting for the pups.  Air and thus scent becomes trapped in the tall grass.  A dog will leap above the stalks in attempts to catch a whiff of something above the field.

Rocky the border collie is going to get tuckered out with all that bounding!

search dog in field

Let’s work on something a bit easier in the heat.

How about doing some human remain’s detection?

Oh! Here is something up in this tree.

search dog up tree

Boy, mom sure finds some hard places to hide things.

After all of that hard work, the dogs deserved some splashing around.  Even Grom doggie paddled in the water for a bit.  It took me in my sexiest outfit to get him in there, but he finally took the plunge.

There he is with all four paws off the ground.

My little guy finally learned to swim!

search dog swims

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