Archive for Search and Rescue

Rovers on the Rubble

Posted in dog training, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , on May 13, 2013 by rattlerjen

Today, our team trained on the urban search and rescue’s rubble pile.  I got some wonderful pictures of some of our fantastic pups braving the wreckage.

grummanrubble1 IMG_1689 IMG_1696 IMG_1742 IMG_1793 IMG_1841 IMG_1867 IMG_1915


When to Deploy Search and Rescue Canines

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue with tags , on January 19, 2013 by rattlerjen

I would like to give a shout out to a fantastic website I found today about how to deploy search and rescue dogs.  The website gives a wonderful description on the different kinds of search dogs and how they are best used in a search.

Find the fantastic posting here:

Scents Ability Search Dogs


Search for a Missing Hiker in Augusta

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags on November 19, 2012 by rattlerjen

A large part of our team went out searching for a missing hiker this past week.  Here is Danne, one fantastic German Shepherd on our team and her handler interviewed on the news.

Missing Staunton Man


NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

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!

Rubble Rabble: My Introduction to Urban Search and Rescue

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue with tags on May 24, 2012 by rattlerjen

Urban Playground

I grew up as a fearless wild child of the South West Rocky Mountains.  I spent a lot of my childhood riding roller coasters, scrambling up tall trees, jumping from boulder to boulder, and quite a few other reckless activities I probably should not have attempted.

Last week, when I stood on top of the rubble pile, my head spun and my stomach dropped to my feet. I could not believe how frightening it was to stand on top of a mountain of broken concrete and enormous pipes. The entire scene looked like a huge plate of penne pasta tossed with potato chips.  The pile towered above a city bus as if it were carelessly discarded by a gigantic toddler on top of his scattered toys.

Yeah, it was scary. One slip and human or canine could disappear into a jagged concrete crevice to nowhere.

Urban Agility

Search and Rescue dogs are very agile, but they are not born with the skills to carefully navigate rubble.  The agility course at the urban training center in Maryland is like a competition agility course on steroids.

It includes several of the recognizable elements including an A-Frame, teeter totter, and tunnel with some changes.  The tunnel has corners and dead ends, the teeter-totter is huge, and the high plank is HIGH!

There are several elements not regularly included in our wilderness agility course.  Added elements include a ladder on its side, a slippery surface plank with pvc pipes laid side by side, a ladder leaned up the side of a very high platform, a mini pile of rubble, and a section of chain link fence connecting two platforms (Grom really hated that one)

On the rubble, many wilderness dogs who are quite comfortable trotting across a downed tree high above a deep creek stopped dead in front of a small gap in the rubble he could easily hop over. To the dogs, this was a frightening canyon. Very few dogs are aware they have back feet, they just follow whatever the front feet are doing. Elements on the urban agility course were there to help them think about the placement of each of their legs.

Wilderness VS Urban

Hidden Subjects

Our wilderness search dog, Grom, really likes to reach out and touch his hidden volunteers. That isn’t so difficult out in the woods.  Put someone inside a rubble pile and the game completely changes.  Urban rescue dogs look for people trapped in collapsed structures.  Often, they cannot see or touch those they are looking for. This task is far more difficult for the dogs for many reasons.

Scent Conditions

How the scent travels throughout a fallen structure can provide many challenges for the rescue dog team. Scent can do some very strange things swirling around and inside a man made structure.  Not only to urban dogs have to figure this out, but they must be very accurate. A human team will follow a dog who has indicated to dig out and rescue the trapped person, a very challenging task when time may be everything.

Clausterphobic spaces

Dogs can be scared of the dark and small spaces just like we can.  Imagine crawling around on the insides of strange buildings and squeezing through a labyrinth all alone in the dark.  This is what urban dogs bravely do.

Rewarding the Dog

Grom lives for his reward at the end of the search.  He loves to get petted, pulled, and pushed around by the found person who is rewarding him with a game of tug.  Out on the rubble pile, it is too dangerous for a rolling fun game of tug or fetch. Advanced urban dogs do not even get much human interaction from the person they found since they need to simulate they are trapped under impossibly heavy cement.

Play reward is limited basically to tug since they can be shoved out of a crack or small hole as the reward. Urban dogs are satisfied with grabbing their magically appearing toy and giving it a few nice tugs before winning it. Wow!


In wilderness search and rescue, we like to use something called a recall-refind so as not to scare the person and to keep the dog and person safe.  This means the dog finds the person, returns to the handler and indicates with a bark or jump or something, then leads the handler back to the found person.

Urban rescue dogs are typically trained with a stay and bark indication.  It is far too dangerous for the dog to cross back over the rubble pile with all of his excitement and go to the handler. I cannot imagine trying to follow a leaping dog back to the found person either, we humans are just too slow, heavy, and clumsy. It may also be a concern for the dog to refind the person, expecially if the scent conditions change.

Not only do the dogs stay and bark at a hole, but they do so for a very long time. They must stay and be loud so they can wait for slow human to work their way up the pile and mark the spot where the dog is indicating. Imagine if the dog has actually found a way into the structure and indicates there!  A good long series of barks allows their human team mates to better pinpoint the location of the find.


Handlers can’t always be up on the pile with the dog. We can use our brain to figure out how to properly cover the rubble pile using the wind and other factors from on the ground. Directing the dog as if he had a remote control is a great way to direct him to success. It is a must to be able to do that from afar.  Check out how this is taught on my former Directionals Blog Post.


Disaster dogs are out there searching due to Hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, land slides, and other catastrophes. Their workplace is dangerous littered with broken glass, jagged metal, wobbly surfaces, chemicals and fumes.

Dehydration is another concern. The water sitting around at an urban disaster can be contanamated with gas, oil, sewage and other chemicals.  Heat reflects off the rubble, and there may be little shade. Handlers must constantly monitor their dog for hydration and overheating.

Anyone want to invent doggie helmets?

Set up a rubble pile problem

Since we are a wilderness team out to experience the urban course, many of our dogs were started out with the lost person just sitting on the rubble.  They can encourage the dog to climb up the pile to them and interact and play with the dog. Some of our more advanced dogs tried to find a completely hidden subject.

Bark Barrels are often used to train dogs to look for a concealed subject.  A custom lid is designed to let out various amounts of scent and a special door may even be included to push the reward toy  through. Cool Beans!

Urban Disaster Search and Rescue dogs play a vital role in successful healing and recovery after a disaster. Our paws are raised to them.

How to Keep Track of your Dogs Progress

Posted in Dog diary, dog training with tags , , , on April 12, 2012 by rattlerjen

It’s very important to log your dog’s training

Keeping track of how your dog is progressing is an invaluable tool for both yourself and your mentors.  Often a problem is the cumulative effect of several trainings and may only come to light if it is written down.  There are many ways a handler may track training.  Here are the many I have used.

Paper Logs

They are portable and easy to use. All you need is the log and a pen.


The simplest is an inexpensive lined journal.  Simply write all that happened during each training session.


  • Easy to use
  • portable
  • unformatted – freedom to write anything


  • subject to weather
  • unformatted – hard to track progress and find what is important in the text
  • difficult to remember what is important to write down
  • difficult to share with others
  • bad handwriting
  • cannot be backed up easily

Formatted Log Forms

You can use any word processor to create a training form.  Simply print them out, punch holes in them, and put in a binder.  Concentrate on making the important information easy to see at a glance using check boxes and the like.


  • Easy to scan for important information
  • Standardized – use one form for the whole team
  • limits amount of room for long notes

Drive Log

These are most useful with younger dogs, although I still work on drive with my operational dog. Notice how you have the ability to see the important information.

Search Logs

Everything you need to keep track of is easy to see with a form like this.  Remember to KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid!) Make things easy on the eye and simple to scan for information quickly.  The idea here is to see patterns and catch problems.

On the reverse side, I write down information to help me remember exactly what happened so I may easily recall that day’s particulars.  These logs were written nearly two years ago, but my unique comments bring back the memory in full.

Categories to include are:

  • Details of the search exercise.  Explain how the problem was set up and exactly what the dog did.
  • Comments from your mentor or team mates – they will see things you do not.  Dog problems are typically caused by things the handler does.  Many times you do things without realizing it!
  • Comments from the handler – What did you see?
  • Things to work on – What advice did others give you? How are you going to set up the training next time?

Now, just remember to bring your logs to EVERY training.

Computer Logs

Smart phones and ipads and tablets have enabled us to bring documents with us everywhere.  They also allow us to share that information to our home computer and others with a press of a button.


  • infinitely changeable
  • can be backed up
  • shareable
  • ability to link videos and images
  • searchable
  • date stamped
  • don’t have to worry about bad handwriting


  • not as easy to use in the field
  • needs a full battery
  • not as easy to standardize – everyone has a different device to use
  • cannot be used by all devices – cross platform concerns (iphones use different software from androids and pcs)
  • privacy concerns
  • must REMEMBER to back up to multiple devices

Since I have my phone with me everywhere and have found videos from that days training may be shot to accompany my day’s log, I have switched to computer logs. I have seen trainers use everything from word processors to excel.

An excellent program available on most all platforms is Evernote.  It is accessible anywhere and can have anything from forms, documents, videos, web links, photos, and more embedded in each note.  I have moved nearly everything to this.

Evernote backs everything up from my phone to the “cloud.”  It is password protected, I may access it with any device, and may share each individual note with anyone through a variety of ways.

evernote for k9 search and rescue logs

My only complaint is I must learn to create a template to use for training logs, otherwise they become as difficult to read as a personal diary. I simply made a template copying the paper training logs above.  Instead of circling each option, I highlight the word and set the computer to underline it.


  • infinitely sharable
  • works on all platforms
  • can embed videos, documents, web links, videos, diagrams, drawings, and nearly anything else within each note
  • automatically backs up
  • easily organized with keywords, tags, and notebooks (folders)
  • searchable
  • date stamped – can be searched this way too
  • password protected


  • unformatted – must either learn to create a template for easy scanning of information
  • small learning curve
  • not as fast as writing with a pen and paper
  • careful what you share


Sure, why not use a blog to track your training!  I use the blog along with other apps to track my progress.  THIS blog to be exact.  If you visit the early days of this blog, you will see how.  Since my blog is public, it forces me to really consider what I am writing.  Of course, I link each blog posting to each corresponding personal log in evernote so I may write freely there.

I would write my training in a paper journal each day, then would use that to write each blog post.  This would force me to read and think about what I wrote each day.  It unfortunately caused me to edit out information that needed to be kept out of public eye. (such as choice words used when he ate my new sneakers)

Remember, you are a first responder and your public postings could be used in court.  Think about what information you are sharing before putting it in electronic form!

No matter what you use

to keep track of your training.  Be sure it is easy for you to use.


Remember to use it


What do YOU use to track your dogs progress?

K9 Search and Rescue Calendars – The Perfect Gift

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

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

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

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

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