Archive for search and rescue training

5 Rad Reasons to Attend a Mock Search

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags , on July 3, 2012 by rattlerjen

You do search and rescue because you love it. How often do you get a chance to actually play while on a search? Exactly! You don’t, unless you go on a Mock Search.

1. It’s Not an Emergency

Practice everything you need to in a search situation without all of the pressure. Only in a mock search can you have all the trappings of a real one without a person being in real danger.

It feels real

A mock search will have all of the trappings of a real search.  You will have a briefing, debriefing, communications, evacuation, confusion, tasks, and a plethora of different search people of all skill levels involved.  Even though everyone is role playing, the scene will be good enough to put your brain into adrenaline spiked search mode focus.  Take note of how your mind and body reacts to the situation, keep this in mind for when you go on a real search. Observe the search scene closely. Are you noticing things you would easily miss on a real search?  Slow down and take the time to let it all soak in.

It’s ok to make mistakes

The purpose of a mock search is to test how well we all do our jobs and find ways to improve.  Now is the time for you to make mistakes and learn from them.  Be bold, try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them.

It’s ok to work slower

When you arrive on the search scene, be deliberate in everything you do. Slow down and practice doing everything as best as it can be done. Think if it can be done a different way and try that too. When you are at base, take extra time asking questions and setting up for your task. Throughout the day you can repack your bag, fiddle with options on your gps, take extensive notes, draw a detailed map of your task, practice natural navigation, try your hand at sign cutting, and really take a good detailed look at your topo map. Take the time to evaluate what really works and what doesn’t.

2. Expand Your World

A mock search is a perfect place to network.  Take the opportunity to talk to other search people.  You can meet other search team members, law enforcement, logistics personnel, support people, local folks, and more. Find out what these people do on a search.  What are their roles and responsibilities? Use the information you learn to make both your job easier and their job easier.

The way someone else does something might just be solution you were looking for. Compare notes with other search members to learn how they do things.

This is also a great opportunity to play with different kinds of gear and gadgets. Thinking about getting a new pack or gps?  Ask others what they use and try them out!

Be sure to bring lots of homemade or professional business cards with your SAR email address so you may get in touch with your new friends once you get home.

3. Be a Teacher

The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.  Search out a new recruit or even a member of the public and show them how to use a map and compass or look for clues. Grab a member of a non k9 search team and show them how your dog works or even better find someone from base who writes your tasks and share how to best write a task that will best best for you.

Does your family wonder what it is like for you to go on a search? Find out from the mock search coordinators if it is okay to bring them along. Make a game of it for your family and do everything as you would for a real search.  You can even go so far as to set your alarm for the middle of the night and pretend you are getting a real call out.  Have others help you take notes and find the location of the base on the map, gather your gear, pack the car, and navigate your way to the search.

A mock search is an ideal place to show the public how to be safe in the woods and to interest them in search and rescue. Set up a table with your brochures, pictures, and information for the public to peruse.  You may also take turns giving demonstrations and outdoor safety talks. It might just save a life!

4. Test the Weird

A mock search allows you to make mistakes without the consequences.  You can use the opportunity to work slow. Consciously think about each and every action you do. Is it the best way to do something?  Can you improve on how you pack your bag, how you make notes, what you bring with you?  Use this opportunity try different ways to do things and take notes.

Often, mock searches are used to train for unusual situations such as crime scenes, difficult evacuations, misinformation, communication problems, crazy family members, unusual medical situations, and more. Have a little fun with this and get some fake blood, set up an elaborate fake crime scene, or even hire an actor to play an intoxicated or unusual missing person. Be sure to take good notes on what your reactions were, what you did, what others did, and how it can be done better to share with those who did not attend the mock search.

5. Wear Someone Else’s Shoes

Ok, not literally, EW!  A mock search has lots of fun roles for you to play.  You can pretend to be a pushy reporter, a crazy criminal, a hysterical family member, or an injured lost person. If search members are exposed to the nightmares on a practice search they will be far more prepared when the real things occurs.

Have you ever wondered what the incident commander, communications, law enforcement, technical rescue, civil air patrol, base, or public information officer does at a search?  Ask them to show you the ropes for a few hours. The more you know, the better SAR member you will be.

Bonus Reason

I could not let this article end without adding the most important reason of all, it’s Fun!

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?

Ten Terrific Reasons to Attend A Search Conference

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags on May 3, 2012 by rattlerjen

You see them every year, notices inviting you to participate in a search and rescue conference.  You put them aside to think about later and never seem to get around to going to one of them.

Learn what goes on at a conference and why you should really go.

1. Networking Nirvana

Don’t hide in your room.  Making connections can be one of the most valuable things to obtain from a convention. Who better to make friends with than others who get out of bed at 3am to tromp around in the woods in the rain?  A convention is the big chance to get to know some of those bleary eyed strangers you pass by on a search. I have found search and rescue folks to have some of the best stories and sense of humor, a side you would never see at a search.

SAR people come from all walks of life and all teams train a bit differently. Now is the time to get a different perspective on that training problem you have been trying to tackle the past few months. Share information and even consider setting up a joint training date for your teams in the future.

Grab a frosty beverage or a steaming cup of cocoa and cozy up around the fire for some good stories and lasting friendships.

2. Rub Elbows with those Other Guys

You see them only briefly at base with their strange equipment before you head out on your own task.  Who are those other guys?

Search and rescue is not just about paws and boots on the ground. Have you ever wondered what in the world those other guys do out there in the field?  Now is your chance to find out. Get the inside look at how trackers (signcutters), horseback, technical rescue, base operations, communications, medical, civil air patrol, ground pounders, tracking/trailing dogs, air scent dogs, water searchers, and others do their jobs out in the field.  I have yet to meet someone who did not have an interesting role to play during a search.

Don’t forget this is your chance to teach others about what you do during a search.  The more we know about each other’s roles, the more effective we are on a search.

3. Shake the Hand of a Lawyer Even a Bloodhound Will Like

“Why on earth would I want to make friends with a lawyer at a SAR convention?” you ask.  You never know when you might end up in court to testify on a case. You might be surprised how many lawyers participate in search and rescue. Perhaps you might even have the luck of attending a class taught by a lawyer.  Having a friend ease your courtroom jitters if ever you end up on the stand is invaluable.  Trust me on this one.

Lawyers aren’t the only folks you will want to meet at a convention.  Remember, there are a lot of people involved in a search. Forensic scientists, law enforcement, government officials, researchers, politicians, radio operators, logistics personnel, military, media, and supervisors are all excellent people to get to know.  There is nothing better than showing up to a search and already knowing the folks running it.

4. Gear Up

Admit it, part of why you got in to search and rescue was the cool gear.  A conference is the place to check out the latest and greatest gear available. Where else can you try it out, try it on, and ask others in search and rescue about it?

Did I mention you can also get amazing deals?

5. Tackle Unique Courses

Explore the list of presentations for unusual or seemingly unrelated topics.  You can gain great knowledge from lectures that sound completely off the wall. Add more zing to your search and rescue life.

6. Pick the Brains of the Experts

“I own the book, why would I take the class?” I asked this of myself as I signed up for a two day class given by the author of a book we use often in SAR. Yes, you read that right; TWO DAYS!

First, get all of your burning questions from the guy or girl who literally wrote the book.  Books are unfortunately a one sided conversation.  Get all of your misunderstandings and fuzzy ideas cleared up by the expert. You do have a few questions, don’t you?

Classroom settings allow presenters to bring topics alive by sharing pictures, video, slides, and sound recordings. Those pesky difficult concepts really become clear when presented with a bit of visual or ear candy.

Courses may also include table top exercises or even hands on experience out in the field. Nothing beats a professional literally guiding your hand.

You also don’t want to miss out on all of the real world examples that are typically included in these classes. I even had people sitting next to me who were involved in the searches discussed in the class. Talk about really getting the inside scoop!

7. Get your Hands Dirty


Get out there and do some hands on stuff in a relaxed setting. What better way to try your hand at new skill than a situation where messing up has no consequences. This last conference I could experience what it was like to be a lost person with dementia, explore local wildlife in the nearby woods, crawl around on the ground following tracks, get windblown by a helicopter, investigate a crime scene, design emergency medical devices Mac Gyver style, zip through the trees, try my hand at land navigation, and much more. At the end of the day, I had access to a nice hot shower in the bath house.  What’s not to like?

8. Dive into Unique Experiences

Get out of your comfort zone and try some new things. If you are lucky enough to have your conference on a well equipped confidence course, hang  out like a monkey in the trees. If you do not like heights, considere going for a boat ride or a swim with your k9 friend. If you live on the east coast like we do, being dropped off by a helicopter is a rare occurence, but it does happen. Be prepared by getting familiarized with the aircraft and giving your dog a great experience with fun and treats while it takes off and lands.

We had the luck of having a technical rescue team set up a zip line and litter for our dogs to ride on. Fun and a very useful skill to have if ever needed. Weeeeee!  Get out there and play.

9. Delete the Distractions

Every search is an emergency where you may have to learn something new on the fly and under pressure.  Take advantage of the stress-free environment of a conference to learn new things; really learn.  You will be free from distractions and will be able to focus on what you are learning much better.  Don’t forget, you will also be surrounded by new friends that can help you along. Most likely, they have been there before.

10. Frolic in Fun

Finally, what do we truly go to a conference for? It’s fun!

Return to your fond childhood memories of summer camp. Claim the top bunk, or  hang a hammock for your bed. You can play fun games and enter raffles for cool stuff.  Relax away from work and family stress in the quiet of nature.

Go to a conference and simply get away from it all.

Ash in the wind

Posted in Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , on March 14, 2012 by rattlerjen

An Effective way to test the wind

Instead of a long post this week, I thought I would share with you a little trick we found while grilling on a gorgeous spring afternoon. In order to use our fine smoker, we needed to clear out the old ash. I bet you can guess what we found.  A fine powder to test the wind with!

We have a fairly steep south facing wooded hill in our backyard.  This video was taken in the late afternoon.  Temperature was in the mid 60’s with wind less than 5mph.  See what happens when ash is fling parallel to the ground from about 4 feet in the air

See what happens when the ash is flung closer to the ground only a few minutes later.  You can see the turbulence in the air from the disturbance of the shovel moving through the air.

I don’t have plans to replace my baby powder bottles while going on a search, but this would be great to bring on training days to see what the scent does in different conditions.

How cool!

How to Use the Wind

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

Last week we learned about how air currents carry scent. How Scent and Airflow Works

This week we are going to learn how to put that information to good use. In training, we always want to set up our dogs for success.  In searches we need to be able to tell when our dog is in scent, figure out the possible air scent conditions may be present, and use that to help the dog find the person.

Equipment used to see the wind

My product of choice is a simple travel sized bottle of baby powder.  I keep several small bottles in my pack and a large jumbo bottle back in my car to refill the smaller ones. A good search dog handler will use a large amount of powder on a search. I create the effect I need by quickly squeezing the bottle to produce little clouds of powder.

When and Where should you check the air?

You simply cannot check too often.  The more you know about the scent picture, the better. One of the very first things I do before heading out is test the wind with my puff bottle. I make sure to test the wind:

  • beginning of my task
  • in the middle of roads and trails
  • at least 30 feet into the woods on both sides of roads and trails
  • on either side of a ridge
  • in drainages
  • near water
  • before I make notes on my map
  • when my dog shows interest (his nose and tails goes up)
  • when my dog starts running around like a mini clown car in a parade
  • whenever my dog does something strange
  • before and after I take a break
  • when I feel the direction of wind change
  • in sunny spots
  • in shady spots
  • near a possible clue
  • when I feel like it

If someone invents a really inexpensive portable cool-smoke producing device that runs for 6 hours let me know!

 Oh, and make sure to get a little on your dog for good luck.

Wind Speed

<1 mph – calm – smoke rises vertically
1-4 mph – light air –  smoke drifts and leaves rustle
5-7 mph – light breeze – wind felt on face
8-11 mph – gentle breeze – flags extended and leaves move
12-18 mph – moderate breeze – small branches move
19-24 mph – fresh breeze – small trees sway
25-31 mph – strong breeze – Large branches move
32-28 mph – near gale – whole trees move, inconvenience in walking
39-46 mph – gale – twigs and branches blown off trees, difficult to walk
47-54 mph – strong gale – minor structural damage may occur, shingles blown off roofs
55-63 mph – storm – trees uprooted, structural damage likely
64-73 mph – violent storm – widespread damage to structures
74+ mph – hurricane – severe structural damage and widespread devastation

Types of “Wind”

Prevailing Wind

Wind can change from one minute to the next, but there will always be a prevailing wind across an area during an extended period of time.  It is good to find out what the prevailing wind is in the area for the time of year.  A constant breeze could potentially blow all day, carrying scent from a lost person into an area you are searching hours later during a time of no wind. High clouds usually move with the prevailing wind.

Small Air Currents

If you missed it, air currents are explained in detail in:  How Scent and Airflow Works

These can flow in different directions depending on a number of factors including:

Knowing how air currents flow will affect how you and your dog need to search an area.

Warm Air Rises

Remember that your body is a nice hot 98.6 F on average.  Air and scent travels up off your body at about 2 miles per hour.  This can carry scent straight up, hit the ceiling, travel across a room, and fall to the floor on the other side of a room.  Where is your dog going to smell the person?

This is a good thing to remember when working your dog out in the wilderness as well.

How to Work in Relation to the Wind

Generally, you want to work your dog perpendicular to and towards the direction of where the wind is coming from. Dogs find the direction to where scent is coming from by moving in and out of the scent cloud or plume. This is called working a scent cone.

To set your dog up for success, start at the most downwind portion of your sector and walk grids across the wind. Depending on topography, vegetation, wind strength, weather, and other factors distance between each grid ranges from 25 meters to 100 meters.

If the wind keeps changing direction do not keep changing your direction. We call this “chasing the wind” and will leave you walking in circles.  Use your judgment and experience to determine if changing your search strategy due to the change in wind.

What have you learned from the wind when searching?  Feel free to share in comments.

What I Learned from My Operational Evaluation

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

I passed!

Holy Cow! I am now an Operational Dog Handler after passing my search and rescue Operational 160 Acre Evaluation.

This is the 4-6 hour final test mock search to see if my dog and I have what it takes.

Rather than write a novella on all the things that happened.  (I don’t want to give away all the mysteries to those handlers not yet operational) I will give you a short synapsis and then a list of all the things I learned.

Search Senario

A small plane crashes in a forest with four passengers.  The pilot is found dead on the scene, but the three other passengers are missing. Evidence shows they walked away from the crash site.

Here’s What Happened.

  • Watched Grom the search dog jump into a stream and find it was too deep to his liking. Then, try to exit via a steep bank unsuccessfully.
  • Successfully found the “trail” that no longer exists and walked down it
  • Watched my dog stick his nose against the wind on several occasions rather than alerting into the wind. (To follow him or no?)
  • Cursed the 10mph wind for changing directions several times.
  • Powdered dog in the face while doping the wind
  • Successfully covered all the blank areas of the 160 acres first.  Then watch the clock tick down without a find.
  • Ran into several muggles enjoying the forest in the middle of my sector
  • Watched Grom indicate on a muggle speed walking a hiking trail and try to chase after him while keeping me in sight.  “Why do you keep running away?” – Grom
  • Walked too darn fast
  • Followed Grom into the woods in a large circle because he kept following the scent of someone out there instead of going directly to a point I intended first.  (Trust your dog, don’t just follow him around.)
  • Watch Grom ask one of my found subjects “Annie Annie, are you ok?” repeatedly at the top of his voice.
  • Practically walked over a subject while trying not to break my ankle on fallen logs. (Hey Jen, Walk slower!)
  • Watch the forest try to kill one of my evaluators
  • Wake up my last subject from a very nice long nap.
  • Catch up with a favorite former dog handler of the team.

Thanks to everyone involved in Testapalooza!

And a special congratulations to Chris and Daisy for also passing their Operational on the same day!

Here is what I have learned

  1. When something goes wrong, and it will, pick yourself back up and keep on going.
  2. Be confident in your skills.
  3. This is a learning opportunity.
  4. Your dog will mess up and that’s ok.
  5. Watch your pace.  It is not a stroll, but it is also not a double time death march.
  6. Take breaks. They are essential for your body and your brain and your dog.
  7. You and your dog are a team, be clue aware and set yourself and your dog up for success.
  8. In the real world, letting your dog trample the injured lost person in anticipation for play is probably a bad idea.
  9. Try not to kill your evaluator.
  10. Don’t treat it like a test, treat it like the real thing.

The drawing of Maps

Posted in howto, Search and Rescue with tags , on November 8, 2011 by rattlerjen

An essential skill

What to draw your map on.

  • write in the rain notebook
  • oversized blank shipping label slapped on your map case (only good in fair weather)
  • easily accesisble notebook
I do not like to draw on the back of my topo map as I need to compare it to my hand drawn map frequently.  Keep your hand drawn map in an easily accessible location.  You will be needing to access it frequently.

The map is a wonderful tool before going on a task.

search map

A map can be used to plan out how you will walk your sector.

First, Draw your sector including major landmarks:

  • roads
  • trails
  • drainages
  • water features
  • man made objects
Next, measure the length of the boundaries of your sector
Record the coordinates of your boundary corners
Then, while keeping in mind how you plan to work your sector, measure the distance to each major landmark.
Finally, take the bearings of your sector boundaries and major landmarks.
Write all of these on your map and you will have everything you need at a glance.
I like to use my hand drawn map to record not only map related things, but also for task notes.

Be sure to put on your map:

  • Date
  • Search ID #
  • Team ID #
  • Full Name
  • Task #
  • Task Start time
  • The direction of North
  • Map scale
  • Task end time

While you are walking on your task here is what you should record:

  • Direction of travel (draw your exact path on the map)
  • clues (record with coordinates)
  • Dog alerts or signs of interest and the direction he was facing at the time (coordinates)
  • wind direction along your route
  • differences between what the map says and what is actually there
  • anything else you would like to tell base when you get back
You will have everything you need right in front of you as you are doing your task.  When you return to base, copy your hand drawn map on a large sheet of paper to hand in with your task.  Simply record everything you believe base will need directly from your hand drawn map.  Clean it up so everyone can understand and you will have provided an invaluable piece of information to the search.

Working on that Backslide

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

You saw it last week folks.

Grom started having problems during our trip to New Mexico.

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

How far back did we decide to go?

How about an entire year!

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

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

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

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

Grom had a ball doing this fun little exercise


Did this little exercise solve our little problem?

Find out on Thursday.

Grom’s New Mexico Brain Freeze

Posted in dog, Dog diary, dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on October 10, 2011 by rattlerjen

The trip to the desert state had been going quite well.  Grom had a great trip on the plane, sniffed at some really interesting boots hidden near a lake, and even got to play on some nice playground equipment.

The trouble started with an easy little problem on the farm.

We went out to visit some family out in the country.  Everything was cruising along smoothly, until we did a short field search problem on the farm.  We hid someone under a tractor and started Grom on the other side of the house.  The whole family was watching from the window of the house.  I gave Grom the search command and he bolted away from me into the field.  His nose diligently working the air while his legs carried him bounding across desert sand and over dried grasses.  He was having fun!  My brother in law followed me holding the video camera while his fiance hid under a big hunk of metal.

Grom sped back and forth across the field searching the edges of the scent cloud blowing across the field. He got closer and closer to the house, near the window everyone was watching from. Then he put his nose to the ground.

What in the world is he doing there?

A potty break?

I know the girl hiding did not walk across that patch of ground.  Plus, Grom is not one to try and track on the ground.  He was in scent for goodness sakes!

Grom then began to paw around at objects on the ground.  Oh great, he is messing around over there.  As I got closer, I knew what it was he must have got into.  Egg shells littered the ground at his feet.  Grom had found the compost pile.  Sigh.

I called the little goof off and sent him back to work.  The little monster defied me with a nice long pee on a crushed egg shell then trotted around before going back into a run.

Ok, he is back to work.  Whew!

He made a few turns then zeroed in on the hidden subject.  I was too far away to see clearly, but I knew he had found her.  Why in the world is he hanging out with her?  I counted… one….two….three. I had no idea what was going on and did not care. I sure hope he wasn’t trying to play with her before coming back to tell me!

Time to call the boy back. Reluctantly he left the hidden subject and loped back to me.  Knowing that something bizarre had erased his little noggin, I gave him the bark command.  He is well past needing hints. What a trouble maker!  I let him give me a few barks before sending him in to play.

Let’s hope this was just a one time occurrance.  Perhaps a new place threw him off?    There is the rest of the vacation to find out …

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.

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