Archive for outdoors

Playing in the Snow

Posted in Dog diary, life with a working dog, pets with tags , , , , on February 13, 2014 by rattlerjen

Snow brings out my inner child

It snowed about 14 inches here at home in Northern Virginia.  I have two dogs and a hill in my back yard.  This of course calls for the implementation of a bad idea. Deja vu!

My dogs needed exercise

Molniya has a special pulling harness she has been taught to pull on and a bungee leash. She had tons of fun running down the hill. I had so much fun, this will likely be repeated again tomorrow morning!


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.

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.

New Mexico Trip – Sandia Search Dogs on the Lake

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

The three of us got up bright and early to train with another search and rescue group: Sandia Search Dogs

What a beautiful morning sunrise on the way to training.

New Mexico sunrise espanola

All three of us were pretty wrecked from the day before.  We spend most of the day packing for the trip, then hopped on a plane in the afternoon.  Not one of us got to sleep until well past midnight.

grom at albuquerque airport

My wonderful In-laws made us plenty of coffee and breakfast burritos for the trip up to the lake. Nothing wakes me up in the morning better than New Mexico Chile. YUM!

The lake in question is that of Lake Abiquiu. (pronounced Ab-ee-que)

A gorgeous little lake in the middle of the desert mountains. The deep blue water matches the color of the desert sky. Perfect for fishing, water skiing, and dog training.

lake abiquiu

We arrive early and enjoy the view.  Very few people were on the lake despite the amazing weather and holiday weekend.  Only a few minutes pass before the search team shows up to great us.

Diego the search dog is ready to go.  Just look at that smile.

I went down to the boat to learn about what this team uses for water training.  They had some pretty nifty equipment to put the scent source in.  Check out the rope going through this minnow trap.  Cool!  The team found that black equipment was much harder to see in the water.  A good thing to have in order to prevent the dogs from cheating by alerting when they saw the equipment.

The team set up one volunteer on the shore to work a pulley system that raises and dunks the float and attached scent cage.

While we waited for the team to set up everything in the water,  Diego did some shoreline work.

Here he is looking for a boot with a scent source tucked inside.  Can you tell where it is? What!  You don’t have smell-o-vision?

You will just have to see where Diego finds it.

search dog searches bush in abiquiu

Diego normally works off lead, but had a chance to practice with it on at the lake.

Sniff Sniff Sniff

Diego search dog barks

Woof! Woof!  Woof!

It’s in that bush right there!

Diego makes quick work in finding the smell.  What a good dog.

I get ready to hop into the boat with Diego to see him work from a boat.  Aaron and Grom decided to check out the boot in the bush while I was gone.  Grom the search dog is not trained in finding scent sources like that one.  So, Aaron just let him sniff around and gave him treats whenever he got close to it.  It’s all play and treats for that little fuzzball.

Lucky dog.

Diego is ready with his life preserver on, just like the rest of us.  It was not long before he was at the bow of the boat sniffing away for a scent.

diego port on the water

I think I might be picking something up on this side of the boat.  Sniff sniff sniff.

We gridded back and forth in the boat attempting to bring it across the scent.  Diego diligently sniffed on one side of the boat, then the other.

diego search dog lick nose

The gorgeous search dog started to become excited, licking his nose and wagging his tail, telling us we were on the right track.  Then, he started barking.

It’s right around here!

Told ya so!

Boing!  The float raised above the surface confirming the location of the scent source.  Diego was rewarded with a nice game of tug.  We headed back to the dock with the sound of a big dog happily squishing a ball in his jaws.

Aaron went out on the boat with the next group while I visited with the members of the search team over a bag of dill flavored sunflower seeds. I had so many questions and happily talked everyone’s poor ears off.  We watched as the lake began to fill with hundreds of people and boats. The silence of the morning shifted into a very busy and noisy boat loading area.  Much of the state had been on fire due to dry lightning storms and drought.  Abiquiu was one of the few natural areas open for the holiday weekend and more than a few folks had the same idea. Yikes!

abiquiu rain

Training was cut short by the impending doom of a dangerous desert thunderstorm.  A metal boat on the water did not seem like the right place to be with the lightning flashing across the sky. So, we decided it was a good time to pack up and grab some of that good New Mexican grub.

Chile rellenos, here I come.

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.

Dense Brush Test

Posted in life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2011 by demigorge

For some reason I have decided that this is the first test I need to be nervous about

though I’m not certain why. It’s really the same test as all the others with thicker bushes in the way. Only this time, we are in the Land with No Magnetic North. I’m not terribly worried because I typically only rely on compasses when I’m forced. I learned long ago how to orient myself against the sun, and failing that I’m pretty handy reading a map. So when we show up, we have our game faces on and we are ready to rock and roll.

I’m working on getting the briefing time down so I can spend more time in the field working with the dog. We fire through the briefing and we’re going to work the sector directly off the road behind the parking lot. This means all we have to do is get over to the other side of the road and lock the bearing line of my lensatic compass over the north arrow and that will determine how I work my grid lines. As soon as we march over to the start point we can dive right in.

Radio check, Starting task and We’re Off!

The first line isn’t bad, it’s my undefined where I’m marking my sector against the arbitrary line drawn on my map. It’s pretty wide and open here so I can shoot long bearings and manage a pretty straight line. I’m telling my evaluator/shadowman where I’m hanging imaginary flags and what kind of flag I’m hanging to mark different portions of my undefined. I begin to wonder what all the fuss is about as the going isn’t so tough. When we get to the stream bed I take my turn and follow it down away from my boundary. As I put the bearing line on the south needle of my compass I check the sun to see where it is in relation to the bill of my hat. That’s when I notice that a thunder storm has started to roll in and the sun is moving in and out from behind the clouds.

It’s not a make or break thing and I have a decent idea of where the sun is supposed to be, even if I can’t always see it I got at least one good look at it. My first bearing is long and we start marching, making sure little Grom is excited to be here. Not surprisingly, he’s ramped up and running like he would rather be here than anywhere else. Half way through the sector I look down to check my bearing and see my compass pointing due north, which is roughly 90 degrees from where it should be pointing. I check the sun and it’s where it’s supposed to be and I say to myself, “No, not only no. But hell no.

It can’t be THIS bad…..”

dense search

I march through the rest of my grid, I notice the compass never really gives a consistent bearing, right or wrong. The sun is where it’s supposed to be when it’s anywhere at all, but the needle doesn’t do anything even remotely predictable.  When I pop out on the road I’m relieved to see that I’m about the right distance down the road if not just a tad further than I’d hoped. I see a large branch that’s fallen out of the canopy and broken into three pieces in the middle of the road and make a mental note of it as a decent land mark.  Again we turn away from my undefined and march down the road so we can turn back into the brush.

Grom is happiest in the brush, he knows his reward is in there.

On the road he’s just killing time smelling things and occasionally stopping to leave a message for any one else that happens to come by. So by the time I have my next grid lined up he’s more than happy to dive in after us and we make our way through to the middle of the sector. Something that’s becoming harder to do because the sun is no longer playing peekaboo. I’m becoming less amused with it and my evaluator is developing a permanent smirk. The kind you get when you know the punch line to the joke someone else is telling– and you still think it’s funny.

dense brush

Half way through this grid line the dog goes into three point mode with his tail high and his ear listening for something only he can hear. I watch him carefully as we cross a fairly open area and he dives into a bush south of us, in the area we haven’t gotten to yet. He’s in full uniform, so I can hear the bear bells jingling away as he crashes through things Briar Rabbit would think twice about. After a few seconds they start to come back and I watch his behavior looking to see if he’s wearing his “GOT IT” face or if he’s got the “I thought I had it…..” expression. By the time he reaches us he’s got the canine equivilent of a head scratch going on and I take another look toward where the sun is supposed to be and march back into the bush, making a note to pay special attention to this area on the next pass.

Unfortunately the bush I’ve marched into is thick scrub oak, but it’s just tall enough I think I see a clearing not 15 meters away. The clearing never comes but after 15 meters I think I see another. The going is getting thicker as we get closer to the water and I start to say things out loud like

“stupid Handler, marching us into a never ending thicket…..”

To his credit, my evaluator never makes a peep about it and just follows in the path I’ve bulled my way through. By the time I’ve started to reconsider my decision it’s as far back as it was in, so I push to the water.

Guilt feels like wet socks….

The water is not really water though. It’s marshy muck. There is no way I’m going back through the briar and scrub I’ve fought so hard to get here, so I thank my pack check list for making me bring extra socks and sink ankle deep into the muck. As I turn around I see my evaluator has a scratch on his cheek and I feel really bad because I made the man bleed. We hop from one “dry” spot to another when he sinks his walking stick into the mire and says

“heh, it’s only 18 inches deep…”

Finally, there’s a clearing on the bank we can scramble up and fight our way through a measly 10 meters of brush and briar.  Grom is happy as can be, smelling like a swamp and happy to finally be back on running ground. I take a look at my compass and check the sun. Neither is telling me anything useful  when I catch a glimpse

of my now naked dog.

Some where in the brush, or the muck, he’s managed to strip himself of his search vest and he’s now running naked as a city dog in a park. I’m a little panic stricken. I’m wondering if the dog will search with no vest on. I’m wondering if I should go back and get it. I’m wondering if my wife will kill me for losing his vest in the woods. All good questions, but I have someone in the woods waiting for me to find them and I have to get to them before my time runs out.

I decide to chance it and we continue, letting him work au natural.

When we break back out on the road I think it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, until I see the same branch broken into three pieces laying in the middle of the road. I thank many days of my misspent youth for teaching me so many of the “important words” in other languages; there are kids in these woods.

Counting up the number of cool points I’m loosing, we turn back down the road and go to where I should have come out and then a little more to correct for the drift that came out before we march back into the forest.

Half way through the next grid line Grom takes off again. This time I can’t hear him, so I have to follow. He’s going north now, toward the area we’ve already been through and I’m thinking this is a sign. He’s shown interest here twice. Letting him work and following slowly he makes a few passes through a clearing and returns to me.

He looks unsure, frustrated, and tired. Then,  he barks.

But it’s not his normal “OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO SEE WHAT I FOUND” bark. It’s his “…. ARGH! I know it’s ….SOMEWHERE!” bark.

My evaluator says coolly, “you don’t look like you believe him….” and I reply, “that’s because I don’t. he’s venting.”

So we rest for a minute. Grom goes into a down stay and I consult my map, trying to read the terrain and do my report to base. The dog needs to cool off and get some water in him. When I restart him he gets up and wanders away from the area where he was most interested.

My broken compass not withstanding, I correct as best as I can for Grom’s little rally and we continue to grid this part of the sector.

When we get back to the same tree stump that I saw before, I let out a sigh and roll my eyes harder than I ever did as a teenager. I’m flustered, for only the second time inside the sector, I know exactly where I am. This place I have been to as well.

Turning to my evaluator, I adopt my best professional manners.

“Permission to skip this… crap….”

He says everything I’m thinking in my head, only out loud,

“…Hell Yeah.”

We turn back away from my undefined and again try to correct for my wander. When I think we’ve got it I turn to my bearing, look for the sun and check my compass. To my great surprise, it’s as bad as it was in the upper portion of my sector and there’s still no sun. So I take my best guess and we charge through what will ultimately be my last grid, but not the end of my search.

The Terrain has changed.

Where it had been slight hills and drainages to the north, this is more dramatic and I know from my map approximately where I am. I have only a slight clue about what direction I’m going but there’s some water down here and I watch the dog happily scamper through it, cooling off from what has become a truly hot and sticky morning.

We come out on to the road we’re on a section that I’m not expecting to see.

I’ve managed to skip down the road at least 300 meters past where I wanted to be. This leaves a huge gaping hole in my search pattern and it is very far from the area where Grom was telling me he was on to something. To complicate things, the terrain is very different with bigger hills and deeper valleys.  It calls for a different search pattern.

I’m a little tired, and a lot frustrated

My search strategy didn’t call for leaving vast tracts of land unsearched.  Try to grid it again will get me more of what I already have, wandering off bearing and ending up in places I’ve already been. My plans have served me well in the past; I’m reluctant to completely abandon it regardless of how badly it’s gone. I’m a little tired, very hot, taking a lot longer than I wanted, and very frustrated at all the things that have gone wrong so far– making a good decision gets harder with each of those things.

All of them together makes me start to think about how I’m going to time out and have to retest.

Looking at my map I have a clue about where I am, but I’m not positive. Finally, I make a decision. I’m going to leave my evaluator on the road and march into the woods… to take care of some personal business…… While we’re out there the dog and I have a little heart to heart and discuss our options.

By the time we come out of the woods we’ve reached consensus; Team Grom has a plan.

I see a particular bend in the road where the elevation changes more than any other place in our sector so I now know exactly where I am.  We’re going to go back toward the undefined boundary and cover the ground we’ve missed. We’re going to do it by following contour lines instead of gridding. As I communicate the New plan to my dirty, tired, and sweaty evaluator, he only nods when I mention that I wanted to do something else.

The dog insisted this was the best plan.

After about 5 minutes of rest we’re back in the woods working our way along a single elevation that goes around a couple of drainages before we’re back in the middle of the sector. Into dense scrub oak our line north has met with another hill and we turn south to follow the contour further into the sector.

The dog puts on his Super Grom Face.

I only catch glimpses of pointy ears and tail when he dives in.  I see him working back and forth, tearing through a stand of scrub oak looking for an opening.  I tell my evaluator that the dog’s definitely into something. Grom is going vaguely in the direction of my line so I adjust and follow him in when he suddenly flashes past me from right to left and disappears in to another stand of bushes and then… nothing.

I can’t hear anything from him. I quietly curse his lost vest with bear bells, now sinking further into the swamp. And then just as quickly he’s back in front of me, barking his little head off.

I haven’t seen anyone else out here. I couldn’t see him when he went in. I have no idea if he’s actually made the find or not, I do the one thing I know will make or break us– a false indication that I can’t read is a huge problem. I believe him.

I give him the command to take me where ever he wants.

Grom has a new friend.

I think I see a tarp. Then I see her dressed in camo, laying as still as can be with my dog excitedly trying to be her new best friend. “Hi,” I  say, playing the part of searcher #1

” Are you lost? I’m here to help…”

Silently, in my head, I’m thinking that I haven’t been this happy to see anyone in a very long time. Even with a naked dog, broken faith in magnetic north, and soaking socks; I am indeed, a very happy man.

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

Are You Ready for K9 Search and Rescue?

Posted in howto, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , on May 12, 2011 by rattlerjen

The Fun and Games isn’t just for the dogs.

There is a lot that goes into doing search and rescue with your canine partner.


Search and Rescue can and will take over your life. I really had no idea how much my life would change after becoming involved in SAR. Before you dive in to SAR head first, you should first take a hard look at your priorities and schedule.  There will likely be sacrifices and difficult decisions needed to be made if you are serious about pursuing SAR.  If your family already notes you spend far too much time away from home, SAR will get you into some big trouble with them.

Training typically takes up a full weekend day every week.  My group requires all members to participate in a minimum of 50% of all training sessions.  The fewer sessions you attend, the longer it will take for you to become certified. Several training sessions during the week will also be needed with members of your team after work.  Additional time each week will be needed to properly socialize your dog.  Dogs must also be trained in obedience and rescue agility outside of team training.

Human training will also include First Aid and CPR, navigation, scent theory, lost person behavior, survival skills, certification in first responder skills, and more.  Several of these courses are only offered once or twice a year spanning entire weekends.

A Typical Training Week for me the first year. (Including drive time)

Sunday: 6am-5pm Official training day with Group

Monday: 6pm-9pm Dog obedience class

Tuesday: 6pm-7pm Dog training and socialization at a new place (usually having to drive to a place with people like an outdoor mall or pet store)

Wednesday: 5pm-9:30pm unofficial training with team members

Thursday: Same as Wednesday or stay home and socialize dog or other training

Friday: Perhaps a day off from training dog. Perhaps study other skills needed for SAR

Saturday:  Dog gets a short obedience training session.  Dog spends a relatively boring day to be prepared for Sunday. Get gear together.

Don’t you have a full time job?

Yes, I have a full time job, I am married as well.  I simply don’t have a life outside of SAR 🙂

Flexibility at work

Calls will come in at any time, even in the middle of the night.  Will you be able to leave a message on your boss’s voicemail and leave immediately?

Our team is called out on an average of 30 times a year, often several in one month. Each member on our team is required to be available to go on at minimum of 50% of searches they are called for.

Many companies are wonderful at supporting your volunteer rescue involvement.  Be sure to talk with your management and human resources about your involvement in Search and Rescue.

You are going to get dirty

Wilderness SAR is spending a lot of time out in the woods.  You will get dirty, wet, scratched, bruised, and bitten or stung by ticks and other nasties.  I honestly do not remember the last time I came back from training without being filthy.  There will be no facilities if you know what I mean.

If you have never camped without amenities, I highly suggest experiencing a backpacking trip led by a few friends who frequently enjoy it. You might just love it and it will prepare you for some aspects of SAR.

Physical Fitness

Yeah, I know we could all use some more time at the gym or in our running shoes.  Safety first!  Make sure your fitness level or a medical condition does not make you a liability.

Search team members must be able to carry a pack over rugged terrain at a decent pace eight hours at a time or more.  It does not stop there. Searches may last several days. Will you be able to go again after some rest? If any team finds the lost person, you must be able to then help carry the person out on a litter over rugged terrain while potentially still carrying your pack.  Evacuation of a patient may take several hours or even days (think cave,  canyon, or cliffside rescue.)

I try to keep myself in shape by hiking, cycling, backpacking, running, walking, and lifting weights.  I recently sprained my ankle and am considering taking Pilates at my gym to help with balance and stability.

A note on exceptions.  You can still be involved in search and rescue even if you are unable to hike around in the woods.  The whole search operation also includes base management, communications, and other support staff.

Mental Fitness

You find yourself on a search at 4am following a long drive to the scene and an even longer day at work.  It is dark, raining, adrenaline is rushing through your body as you think about the lost 3 year old in the woods, your dog disappeared over the next rise, base is squawking something over the radio you cannot quite make out, you just dropped your pencil,  and your map of the search area isn’t quite matching up to the changed landscape in front of you.  Will you lose your cool;  your concentration.  Will you just give up?

Know how you react under pressure.

How will you react at seeing a bad injury or even possibly discovering a body?  Luckily, most of us have not had to experience such a thing. A search is called because something has gone wrong.  It could be due to an injury, or even a crime scene.  Consider your ability to possibly cope with seeing such scenes before signing up.


Search and Rescue is primarily volunteer.  No, we do not get paid.  You have to pay for all of your own gas, gear, training, and do not forget your time away from work. The first year is the most expensive as you need to gear up.

As I heard from a Search and Rescue Veteran…

If I could make money doing search and rescue, it’s all I would do.  Even though I have to pay to do it, it’s still all I want to do.

Lines and Boundaries

Posted in howto, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by demigorge

More lessons for the handler than the dog.

Assuming you’re not going to dump me in the middle of the desert with nothing but dunes and mirages for as far as the eye can see, I’m pretty comfortable getting around with a topo map and a compass. Even more so if it’s a recent topo map and a compass bigger than a button.  So when someone sets up a griding  sector we’ve never been to before I think literally nothing of it. It’s just another day at training where we wander through the woods trying not to fall all over ourselves and put Grom in the best possible place to make his little discovery.

Because he and I are in the middle of our testing process we use every opportunity to practice the skills we’re going to need, not only on a test, but in a real search. So the problem was set up like a light brush test, and everything about it was a dress rehearsal for the actual test we’d be running soon. Most importantly was getting an area topo map, defining our sector, and developing our strategy.  Rarely do we get to respond to a search in an area we know well, so making sense of our surroundings quickly becomes a real asset. This is the map of the area, with the redzone being the new sector. The blue line indicating my plan, and incidentally what I thought I did at the time.

So we set out along the road on the south side of the sector, which I have determined in 200 meters to the west end where my unmarked boundary should run along a drainage. This is the boundary I have chosen to work first since it’s an easy shot almost due north to the stream, which is my north most boundary. It should be a simple task of counting 120 steps and then turning north.

Looking for a drainage

When I get to 119 steps I look around and realize I don’t see a drainage to my right. In fact what I see to my right is flat, wide, and open. But if I walk another 30 paces, there’s a nice drainage right beside it. Simply put, I think it’s a good thing my counting ability is not being tested because I would have failed that part.

But if you look at the GPS track that recorded my path, as well as the path of two other people who worked the same sector, you’ll notice we all overshot the boundary. One of those tracks was actually recorded by the person who was looking at the GPS as he was walking the line, and even he missed the boundary.

what actually happened.

It did not turn out to be a huge issue in this case. Even though we were out of our sector, and technically didn’t know where we were at the time, all the dogs were able to put their noses on the subject. So it didn’t affect the outcome of the problem, but it did point out a couple of things for me.  Not least of which is that this is how you get holes in your grid pattern.

More importantly though,  I need to put a little more trust in my pace count. Even having a GPS will not always put you exactly where you want to be.  Also, If you go looking for a terrain feature, you will find it. But it, and consequently you, may not be where you think you need to be.

Sit! Staaaaaaaaayyyy.  Wait for it.  Good Boy!

(The second half of this post will be posted later)

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