Archive for training a search 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.

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 …

Bouncing, Wobbling, and Sliding!

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

A little bit of agility fun at the playground

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

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

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

Grom’s Trip to New Mexico

Posted in dog, life with a working dog, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , on September 6, 2011 by rattlerjen

It’s very exciting

Grom took his first airplane ride.

And promptly fell asleep.  He did not even mind getting searched at the security check point.

Once he was on the ground he thought it was time to learn to drive.

But his mom told him he was not old enough.

He met some other awesome search dogs from another search and rescue team.

A baby.

and a camel

Teaching a dog to search for his toys

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

Hunt drive

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

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

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

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

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

How NOT to teach a dog to find a hidden person

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

Learn a Lesson from My Mistakes

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

search dog field

Mistake: Expecting a dog has learned to generalize

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

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

Mistake: Assuming the dog has learned something from past trainings

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

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

search dog climbs tree stand

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

Mistake:  Not knowing when to cue the dog

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

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

search dog tree stand target

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

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

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

search dog looking at handler

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

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

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

search dog leading the find

Mistake: Making the dog wait for play.

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

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

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

can i drive

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

Rocky Rocks the Agility

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

Let’s show them how it’s done!

Wait for it.


And out for the toy.

agility dog tunnel

Up the steep A-Frame

dog up a frame

I’m On top of the world!

dog agility top of a frame

Time to go down.

Mom says I have to slow down.

Search and Rescue dogs are careful.

 This is no race.

Look how good I am doing, Mom!

Balancing on the teeter-totter

dog teeter totter

Whoa!  This thing is moving.

agility teeter totter


agility border collie teeter totter

No problem.

How about that toy for rockin the course?

Oh Yeah!

teeter totter end

Operational Test 160: Part Two

Posted in dog training, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on July 14, 2011 by rattlerjen
(read Operational Test Part One)
The thunder is getting closer.

It’s 92 degrees in the shade and I’m begging for a nice cooling shower to cool things down. If you’re in the sun at all, you’re baking. Grom has been getting breaks about every 15 minutes so he’s not doing too badly. We’re all getting low on water and there’s no question we could all use a little break.

search dog drinking

As my subject goes back to base, she promises to send someone down the road with a big jug of water to replenish our supplies. I give her a big hug and thank her for suffering for my test. She’s been out here a long time. I remind myself again that this is about me and Grom becoming operational, but it takes a team to certify a dog.

We rest in the shade and wait for resupply.

I study the map and look at what I have left to cover in my sector. It is a big chunk of land. It’s got more terrain features and the possibility of moving water.  If there’s no water in the stream beds it’s going to be a long day because Grom is getting hot. He’s taking longer to recover after every break. That’s when I finally feel the first rain drops hitting my hat.

Silently, I make a wish to be really wet.

It’s not happening though. My promised rain storm turns out to be some thunder, a little breeze, and a light misting. I watch steam rise off the woods and wonder if this was really the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

My plan is to work 50 meters into the forest, while following the curve of the road. To accomplish this task, I ask one of my evaluators to walk the road so I can keep track of where I need to be without having to actually be on the road. In theory, Grom will work between me and my walker. Plus, he’ll work away from us, covering more area. The danger is that he will see the walker on the road and think he’s a missing person. Shaking off any doubt, I remind myself that I trust my dog. I’m pleased as he does it just perfectly.

We get to the beginning of a dry stream bed that comes very close to the road.

I’ve had more than enough straight line madness for the day.

My next line will take us down along the bed of this stream, covering the area by following contour lines.

I busy myself by hanging flags and checking my map. The next time I look down, I have to smile. Grom has found the stinkiest puddle of mud in the whole forest. He’s romping around up and down the stream as it turns from mud to water. He’s earned a little mud bath so I give him a couple minutes in the water. He comes back to me covered in muck and looking about as happy as I’ve ever seen a dog. Grom is going to smell awful all the way home, but he’s cooling down and I’m less worried about him overheating.

muddy search dog

Up ahead I think I see something that looks like a shelter so we start to hug the stream bank going down hill away from it. When we’re directly down hill from it, Grom turns his head and give a little start at the smell.

The next thing I know he’s running up the hill. He comes back to face me; his barks are strong and loud.

I let him get to six barks before I finally give in to him and let him lead me back to his new favorite person. This happens to be another of my subjects, but not one of the people I was told should be out here. No, this person was in the area “on a hike.” She happened to have seen my subjects in their fictional paraglider and got lost trying to follow them.

I pull out the radio to call into base with co-ordinates and a request for someone to walk her out to civilization. The problem is the further I get down into this drainage, the worse my radio reception gets. I’m spending more time fighting to be heard on the radio than I am talking to Grom’s new friend. I realize the mistake I’m making when one of my evaluators asks if she’s provided any new clues. Luckily, she’s still here.

I get her little piece of the puzzle.


My lost hiker has pointed me to the area we haven’t covered yet. Which is good, it means I haven’t missed anyone yet; one of my biggest fears right now.

Another consultation with my map tells me that if I work the contours of the stream on the south side, I should come up to the stream head I started at. I’ll be able to work a big flat area to the south. My sector is getting smaller as we work along the hill side.

I’m watching Grom very carefully.

Probably a little too carefully. When we come across an opening in the woods with several trees laying down in a circle, I send him into it twice. I’m just sure that this would be a great place to hide a subject. But after two passes through the pile of downed trees I decide that Grom isn’t picking anyone up because no one is there.

We press on along the side of the hill. I check my watch.

We’re coming up on four hours in this heat and it’s starting to take a toll on everyone.

I reach the drainage that should take me to roughly where I started my last line and turn to follow it. I should see something that I’ve seen before. What I find instead is a little wooden bridge that I’ve never seen before. I’m confused. I turn around to look at my evaluators to see if I can read anything on their faces. The only thing I see on either face is sweat and dust. At this point the most important thing I can think of is figuring out where I am.  I don’t want to miss someone in the hole I’ve created in this sector.

I point my compass at where the road should be, and start walking.

I get to the top of the next hill and find a trail that leads over the bridge I had stumbled onto. More importantly, I can see down into the next drainage where I spot my line of flagging tape. I take a deep breath.

I know where I am now.

As I turn to tell my evaluators that I am now properly oriented, I spot a big piece of fabric that looks suspiciously like a clue. I’m quiet as everyone catches up and I survey the area around me. I’m looking for a likely place to hide a subject.

When I look down at Grom, he’s smiling.

“That’s cute” I think to myself, “he knows we’re close to the end.” But then he looks at the ground, and quickly looks back up at my face. Almost to as if to say, “Hey Dad, Look what I found!” As he looks back at the ground, I follow his eyes to a large pile of scat laying not more than ten feet from our clue.

I can feel the words forming on my lips as he takes a half step back, rears up on his hind legs, twists, and power dives into the pile of poop!

“NO! OFF! LEAVE IT! OFF! NO! ……. Oh for the love of….. GET OUT OF THAT!”

Its too late. He’s rolling in it. I reach down to pull him off the pile he’s so lovingly smeared all over his body. If I thought he was going to smell bad before….

I pull him away from his little pile of joy and take him to the other side of the trail where I can use some of my water to wash him off. While I’m washing him I can hear my evaluators snickering, loudly.

Finally, he’s as clean as he’s going to get. One of my evaluators leans over me and says “I want to see him do a long recall so if you see the subject, steer wide.” I nod a little. I’m still thinking about the two hour drive home with my fragrant dog in the back seat.

I just want this test to be over. Everyone around me looks like they’re thinking the same thing.

I have to work my clue, which means walking a big circle. My subject has to be around here somewhere. We head into the drainage and I see Grom’s ears go straight up in the air.

“Fine,” I think “you want to see him do a long recall, I’ll make sure he has to find her on his own.”

I watch Grom make bigger circles around me working the scent. I start to talk and unstrap my waist belt. My pack hits the ground and I can finally adjust my belt. It’s been creeping down for the last two hours and I see my evaluators both give me a slightly confused look. As if to say,


What I don’t say out loud is I have to be doing something or Grom stops working. When I see him crest the hill to my left I know he’s got something. I Lift my pack back onto my shoulders and make a couple of adjustments to my shoulder straps. Grom charges back to me and looks up at my face.


His barks are just music to me. He’s not faking it, he’s not unsure, he’s not even a little hesitant. If I hadn’t been so hot and tired, I would have done a little dance.

We all had to settle for the “take me there” command and a run up the hill instead. As I cross over the little hill top, I see her. The last and final subject, in the longest, hardest test I’ve done with Grom.

This one is special. You see, this is Grom’s find. He had to find her and lead me back to her all by himself, because I never saw her. For all Grom knows, I am just messing with my gear and getting ready to head off in the opposite direction. He has to convince me otherwise.

Grom the search and rescue dog

Grom is there to save her.

That’s what a Search Dog does, and Grom is now officially a Search Dog.

Obedience and Agility Test

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

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

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

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

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


And Yes, he passed both tests.

Night evaluation

Posted in life with a working dog, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on June 7, 2011 by demigorge

I’m tired, sweaty, and frustrated.

I’m also actually in danger of timing out. You see, I’ve been out here for almost three hours and my search plan has not worked out the way I intended. I have a four hour time limit and I still have no idea where my subject is. My pack is laying on the ground with the map on top as I plot what will be my last hope at putting Grom in a good place to make a find. I am making plans and rejecting them just as quickly. I look down at him as he rests with his head on my bag, silently asking for  “just a 5 minute nap”.

sleepy search dog

I need him awake so we can consult about the plan, and as I look up, my headlamp catches the reflective tape on my evaluators pack from the stump he’s seated on 10 meters away. He’s just as tired and hot as me and the dog.

How did I get here?

This is my night test. Even though my briefing was actually fairly casual and I got to ask lots of questions as we went through all of the requirements and criteria, it’s still a test that I can fail. My spirits are high as we joked and laughed about how all the young rangers in the park were crushing on one of my evaluators. I packed up my gear, while we waited for the darkness to set in.

Here’s the thing though,  I have heard horror stories from everyone about how they got lost on their night evaluation and panicked. I’m desperate to not be that guy,  so I really took my time with my undefined boundary. Even though I opened the glow sticks and cracked them at the trail head, I didn’t realize that they didn’t have hangers on them until I started hanging them. Plus, I didn’t open enough of them. One hour of my test gone and only my undefined boundary is marked.

light sticks

By the time I’ve done my second grid line I realize that if I’m going to grid the whole sector, I will be here until the sun comes up.  I’ll be there alone because my evaluators will have given me a fail and gone home. The pressure to abandon search strategy plan “A” is mounting both internally and from my evaluators.

I’m all up for changing my plan, except there’s no good plan to be had. The hot and sticky day has turned into a hot and sticky night with no breeze to cool me or Grom, much less carry a scent to his sensitive nose. All I know for sure is that if I keep going this way, I’ll time out before I hit the road on the other side of my sector.

A little detour to get here.

“We’ll walk contour lines of the drainages,” I guess.

night search test

There’s nothing moving in the woods tonight except me, my puppy, and my two evaluators. I’m starting to get frustrated because there is no good plan B, so I’m going with what I know. It’s half way through the second dive down into the sector that I see Grom start to perk up.  I tell one of my evaluators to stand right here while I see what the dog is into.  I start to slide up and over fallen trees and under big branches following the dog a good 30 meters from where I left my mobile land mark.

When I turn around to check my path, I see both my evaluators standing not 5 meters from me.  My dog is crossing the hill top in the opposite direction. I make a mental note; I can’t really leave one of them standing there, not evaluating. Mentally I put a flag on my map that says “Stand right here” where we were and hang a little flag I’ll never see again on a tree.  Grom is speeding off higher onto the hill and I follow him the next hundred meters before the scent peters out and he’s left standing in a clearing with that same pained, frustrated look that says

“but my toy was right…um… somewhere!”

I’ve burned off a good two and a half hours at this point

A find right now would be excellent. The wind and my plan are not cooperating and so we cruise down the other side of the hill, hoping to catch something.  I see my undefined boundary marked by glow sticks off in the distance.

Time is not my friend tonight.

I start to work a different plan out in my head.

If I break the sector into parts, I can cover the rest of the center area I’m in then move northwest to a different section. My plan was to work up the second drainage in the sector until I get to the flat portion and then work the hill that’s left in the middle.  But now that I’m in the middle section on top of the hill, my plan starts to seem foolish. Even Grom is beginning to give me the eye.  I get really frustrated and call for a break to rest my dog and drop my pack.

Here I am again…

With Grom’s head resting on my pack, I start to really analyze my plan. I know I’m going to have to write off one portion of the sector to make time and I hope my subject isn’t there. Looking at the map I start to take inventory of what we’ve done and where we are on the map. The more I roll it around in my head, the better my plan seems. I can feel the weight of indecision being lifted off my shoulders. I’m feeling better about this, even if it’s not a winning plan it’s a plan I can justify.

As my spirits start to pick up, I rally my evaluators. Grom starts to get excited. He’s rolling around on the ground trying to wrestle my pack into submission so I know he’s ready for the next hour be it a pass or a fail. Once I’ve explained my plan to my evaluators, it’s time to restart my partner. Grom is so excited, he starts to bite at the moths gathering at my head lamp, not three inches from my nose.

I think he’s ready to work some more.

I send him off in the direction I want to cover . We’re not on the move for more than a couple minutes before he’s leading me off my line with an excited gleam in his eye; his ears and tail pointing straight up. When he comes back to me it’s not to bark, but to give me a look that says “Follow Me.”

light on dog

So I follow the dog.

As he leads me into a clearing I turn to check on my party, turning just enough that I loose sight of Grom at the edge of bush.  The next time I see him it’s the bright green glow of his eyes looking straight into my light as he looks for my face to give his indication. The first bark is real, the second is powerful, and the rest are just lots of exclamation points. He’s not faking it so I tell him to take it away and he bounds off into the bush… to the wrong tree.

Once he’s back on to the subject I can finally see her. As we run toward her I look down and see the second drainage we’d walked 45 minutes before. It is not more than 30 meters from her. If I hadn’t been so busy running I’m sure I would have let a couple choice words out. We’re on top of the subject before I can let any go.

My subject turns out to be a belligerent drunk who is neither happy to see me nor thrilled at the prospect of going back to the real world. I’m trying hard not to bust out laughing as she says she’d happily walk out for a bottle of rum. My report back to base is to give co-ordinates, and request someone with more “people skills” to come talk to her. My evaluator  takes my report, checks my location against his GPS and says

“Roger, we’ll send someone out…. Okay, someone play with that dog.”

I look down at my watch and breath deeply for the first time all night long. Finished with 20 minutes left.

Now, I have to go thank Grom for being so awesome.

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