Archive for working dog

The Quickest and Most Effective Way to Train a Working Dog

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , on August 7, 2013 by rattlerjen

I think most trainers these days started out using the “old way” of training dogs. Times have been changing for the better. I thought about researching and writing about this subject myself. I then came across this article and decided they did a fine job already.  Let the comments fly.

Dogs used in service to help and even save peoples lives are being trained faster and more effectively these days.  Here is what a  bird dog trainer found out:

Shotgun Life – Expert Dog Trainer Robert Milner  <— Click Me I am a link!


Fun and Useful Tricks To Teach Your Search Dog

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , on May 31, 2012 by rattlerjen

Here are a few new skills you can practice teaching your dog that you will find very useful out in the field.

Lifting up over a fence

Those fences are found in the middle of nowhere. Topped with horrible rusty barbed wire that must be just crawling with tetanus. Leave the worry out of how to get your dog safely over it. Teach your dog to tolerate being picked up and passed to another person. I have seen this used on several occasions on encountering nasty obstacles. All you need is a pocket full of treats to make it fun and a friend who wants to work on his biceps.


Sometimes it is just easier to go under a fence. Teach your dog to crawl under a broomstick you progressively lower each time he successfully ducks under. First try luring him with a treat, then wait until the dog does it by himself before giving the treat. No treats for jumping over, just raise the bar and try again. Yeah, I made a funny.

Jumping up on top of an object

Very useful if you need your dog to get up on top of something. I love using this trick when I need to pick ticks or prickly seeds of my dog without having to bend down. I just ask him to hop up on a nice stump or boulder.

Being carried by you

Search dogs can get hurt. Don’t find out your dog cannot stand being carried when you need to get him back to base.

Wearing a Muzzle

Even the sweetest dog will turn into Cujo if he is hurt and scared.  Get him used to a cage muzzle by wrapping foil around it and pour some nice broth in the end and freeze.  Remove the foil and hold the muzzle out while your dog tries out his new muzzle popsicle.  Move on to smearing peanut butter on the end and practice putting the muzzle on and adjusting while he happily eats his treat.

Ride a litter

Don’t just think about evacuating your dog on your shoulders, put your team and equipment to work and get him used to riding in a litter. Twelve hands are better than one!

Learning to Ignore BOOM!

Do you live out in the nice quiet country? Get him used to the loud noises that may occur during a search. Simply fill your pockets with the tastiest treats you can find (I like hotdogs diced to the size of peas) and go on a field trip. Go to a fire station, construction site, or near train tracks and with leash tightly in one hand, feed your dog tiny treats one at a time when sirens wail, trucks roar, or trains blast by. If your dog is too scared, start out far away and move in a bit closer on each field trip. Always make sure to end on a good happy note!

Where is your toy?

Practice a bit of search and rescue in the house from the comfort of your sofa. Teach your dog not only to find people, but to find his toys hidden around the house. Start easy and let him watch you hide his toy at first. Move on to more advanced stages by hiding the toy up high or in cabinets and other inaccessible places. This will teach your dog to look high and low for the source and to work out complex scent pictures.

Finding your Keys

Tie some fabric or leather to your keys for easy doggie retrieval and teach your dog to look for your keys. Now that is useful!


Zig and Zag around obstacles can be a great way to prevent your dog from going around one tree and you the other when on a leash.

Leave it

Yummie! Dead Skunk! Teach your dog to leave things alone that he should well, leave alone.


If your dog is a spaz like mine, he dashes around at full speed through brambles and quicksand alike. Teach your dog to navigate treacherous terrain by using the slow command.

Walk it

Much like the slow command, teach your dog to carefully walk up, on, and down obstacles slowly rather than leaping. I love using this trick when there is a nice thick downed tree providing a path across water.


Wouldn’t it be nice if your good dog stays in his crate after the door comes open, or patiently sits at the door before going outside? Here is a great trick that will keep both of you safe.


Danger ahead! Teach your dog to hit the brakes when you tell him to stop. My dog screeches to a halt and hits the deck when I yell Platz!

Show me your belly

Roll over halfway there buddy, I wanna see some tummy! I love using this trick to check my pup’s paws and legs for cuts. If it is really hot outside, pouring water on a pups inner thighs will give him a good cool down. It is also popular for tummy rubs.


We are told to drink before we are thirsty. It’s a useful thing to teach your dog to drink when you ask him too. I will set an alarm and make sure to water my dog at timed intervals. That way he can stay nice and hydrated no matter what.


What better way to make friends than to teach your dog to meet new friends politely. A good ol shake of the paw will do the trick.


Have a dog nervous person around? Warm their hearts with an adorable wave.

Go to your place

What if you get stuck somewhere waiting around with no crate in sight? Teach your dog to lay next to or on top of an object like your camp towel anytime you tell him to go to his place. A nice down stay after that does the trick.

Paws up on back of truck

I learned this little gem from a border collie running team-mate. In order for her dog to get his search vest on, he had to put his paws up on the back bumper of the car and keep them there so she could easily put on and adjust his harness. No bending over, I am a fan!

Bobbing for toys or treats

You never know what clues might have been dropped in the water. Teach your dog to snorkel for goodies by dropping sinking toys or frozen broth ice cubes in a kiddie pool.

What cute tricks have you taught your dog that has turned out to be useful in the field? We want to hear from you!

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?

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.

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.

10 Dynamite Tips for your New Search Puppy

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

You have done the research, found the right puppy for Search and Rescue, and brought her home.

Now what? Follow these ten tips to ensure your search dog fulfills his whole potential.

1. Do a Health Check

It happens, search dogs can get hurt.  Hop in your car with you new partner and head to the vet. Familiarize your puppy and yourself on vet examination procedures.  Find out how to take your puppy’s pulse, test his capillary reflex, learn the normal color of his gums, and take his temperature. Learn how to field check your dog by inspecting his entire body starting with the paws, working along his body to his head, eyes, ears, and mouth. Be sure to ask your vet about possible breed specific issues you need to watch for.  Consider buying pet health insurance and getting your pup miro-chipped. Finally, ask your vet to demonstrate how to properly brush your dog’s teeth, clip his nails, and clean his ears.

How to brush a dog’s teeth

Now, take what you have learned and practice with your dog at home.  Make it a fun game.  Be sure to start with very small training sessions with fun treats and work your way up.  Never force your puppy.  Stop while he is having fun. Go slow and be patient. Nail trimming video
Finally, practice with strangers.  Take several trips to the vet and see if you can recruit a vet tech or vet to help you practice.  You feed the treats, they perform the mini-exams.  Can you imagine a dog that LOVES going to the vet?

2. Socialize socialize socialize

Take your puppy places to meet as many new people as possible.  Some great locations are pet stores, outdoor malls, cafes, or even in front of the WallMart.

Protect your puppy! Your dog’s mental health and safety is your responsibility.  Teach others to approach and pet your dog the right way.  No one may touch your dog unless they ask first. Give the person a treat then have the person crouch down facing sideways.  If your dog approaches them, they may give him a treat and scratch his chin or chest. If your dog does not approach someone, that’s ok, it is his choice, don’t force him to say hi. Do not let anyone pet your dog without asking first.  Do not hesitate to put yourself between your dog and another person and sternly say, “STOP!” Never let anyone lean over the top of your dog or pat him on the head. If someone is not following your instructions, get them to stop by telling them your dog will pee on them.  It works every time!

I have found a “service dog in training” vest causes people to ask first before petting and generally be more respectful of my instructions. Be VERY wary of children, they can go from petting to smacking a dog in the face in an instant!  Keep socializing your dog as he grows.

3. Crate Train

Crates are used as a safe refuge for your dog,  great for potty training, a safe way to secure your dog in the car, and important for keeping your high drive working dog’s energy ready for a real search. For me, it is the only barrier between my dog’s teeth and my brand new running shoes!

dog in crate

Training your new puppy to adore his crate is easier than you might think.  Feed him exclusively in his crate, put treats, chew toys, or a peanut butter filled kong in his crate. Start slow. Leave the door open to begin with.  Next close door for only seconds moments at a time.  Then increase the amount of time the door is closed. If he starts to whine or cry keep the door closed and ignore him. Even if she cries for an hour straight. I know, it’s hard!  The moment she is silent open the door.  I now have a dog that immediately goes into his crate on command and makes not a peep.

4. Positive Puppy Obedience Classes

This is my secret to a well behaved dog around the ultimate distraction, other dogs!  The purpose of this class is not obedience, however.  You are simply using this class to teach your dog to pay attention to you when other dogs are around. Chose an APDT (positive or clicker training) certified training facility only for this.  Corrective training and equipment should be avoided.  Do not let your dog play with other puppies in this class, it will only teach your puppy that it is rewarding to ignore you and fun to play with other puppies.  YOU need to be the most fun in your working dog’s life, you cannot compete with a dog’s own kind.  Dog parks are no, no’s for a working dog.
I was lucky with my dogs. To teach my puppy proper doggie language and manners, I let him play with my geriatric German Shepherd.  She taught him how to have a soft mouth and how to act politely around other dogs.  Because of her age, she would tire out after only a few minutes of play helping me to trick him into thinking people are far more fun than dogs.  What a great excuse to adopt a well adjusted dog friendly dog from the animal shelter.
Find a good dog trainer here

5. You Are What You Eat

Your Search and Rescue dog is an athlete. Good nutrition is even more important for him than the average pet.  Big pet stores, grocery stores, and big box stores are a great place to buy pet gear, but rarely sells quality food. Learn to read and understand pet food labels, and chose a high quality fuel for your canine’s body.
Information about dog food

6. Unusual Spaces Unusual Places

Rescue dogs are able to climb open stairs, cross ravines along a fallen tree, scramble up shifting piles of rubble, and crawl through brambles and tunnels.  Teach your dog to be brave early.  Use treats to encourage him to experience as many different surfaces including slippery floors, fencing laid on the ground, tires, a big wobbly board, gravel, mud, ice, and metal sheeting. Let him explore open stairs, catwalks, swinging bridges, tunnels, ramps, places with loud noises, confined spaces, near farm animals,  and strange equipment.

Always let your dog to go at his own pace, never put him on something or force him near, into or across anything.  If your pup looks like he is ready to jump off of a piece of equipment, lift him off and put him on the ground yourself.  Do not let him make the decision to bail on his own.  Always have a spotter with you if your puppy is up on something off of the ground.  Treat, treat, treat your dog and he will thing strange things = treat = happy.

7. Start a Routine and stick to it

Schedule feeding time, potty time, exercise, training, and socialization for your puppy.  This will train his body, his mind, and your mindto the schedule and saving you lots of frustration in the future.  Once grown, your dog will eat and go potty like clockwork.  Predictability,  It’s a life saver!

8. Network with other SAR people with your dog breed

The world is full of a wealth of knowledge.  Use it to your advantage. Not everyone has the same answer to a problem. Dog breeds are all very different from one another. A border collie handler will have a different solution for the same problem than a lab person.  Other SAR groups will have different ideas as well.  Find a mentor with more experience than you to help guide your success, ideally one who has trained with the same breed of dog as yours and can meet with you and watch you train on a regular basis.  Have them help you sift through solutions others have given you.

9. Give Me That Toy!

My dog Grom loves to search.  It is his favorite thing the whole world.  He loves running through the woods, jumping in the mud, and sailing over fallen trees, but he works for his toy. Dogs work for a reward THIS is what SAR dogs are bred for, use it or lose it.  A high drive dog can become a floor mat and useless to SAR without it.  Can increase drive with aggitation up to 18 months.  Earlier the better. Favorite toy ONLY for sar. Never ever ever ever gets to even SEE it unless for SAR.  Use in drive work.  Learn to increase drive with someone who does Schutzhund or SAR with your particular dog breed.

10. Hide and Seek

Search and Rescue is simply a really long game of hide and seek.  Teach puppies to use their nose early. Hide their food so they have to use nose to find it.  Tease your puppy with a fun toy then hide it somewhere. Sneak away when your dog is not looking and find a nice hiding spot for yourself.  Then call your puppy’s name and throw a party when he finds you.

What Dog is Right for Search and Rescue

Posted in howto, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on May 5, 2011 by rattlerjen

Search and Rescue can be a wonderful and rewarding job for a dog.  It is a challenge for both his physical body and his mind.  Most of all, it is lots of fun.

How come most of the search dogs I see are of certain breeds?

Breeds found to work well for search and rescue typically come from sporting and herding groups.

An air scenting wilderness search and rescue dog is an elite athlete. He will need a body adapted to running in both the heat and cold for very long periods of time. He must also be able to expertly climb up, under, and across obstacles fearlessly. The canine must also respond to commands as well as have high intelligence and problem solving skills.

Dog breeds that most commonly fit these specifications include, but are not limited to:

German shepherds, American Labrador Retrievers, golden retrievers, bloodhounds, border collies, and Belgian Malinois. I have seen mixed breeds, huskies, poodles, Australian shepherds, cattle dogs, and springer spaniels successfully certify as well.

The breed isn’t everything.

While rescuing a dog from the animal shelter is a good and noble thing.  It is also a commitment for the life of that dog.  If the rescued dog does not work out for Search and Rescue, will you be willing to keep that dog?

Often the true personality of the dog may not reveal itself until many months after he has lived with you.  Hidden medical conditions or behavioral problems caused by its breeding or past circumstances might arise that could end his working career, leaving you with a dog that needs a job and training.

Despite the risk, Shelters can often be a great place to find a good search dog. Dogs with too much energy tend to develop behavior problems such as barking, destruction, chewing, and digging if they are not kept busy. Most of the dogs surrendered are due to behavioral problems. If you are willing to brave the risks and can bring an expert along to help evaluate the dogs, go for it!

Say NO to pet stores.

Sadly, this is where many puppy mill dogs are sold. Puppy mills also have been caught selling their dogs by having people sell them out of their homes, posing as the original breeder and advertising in the newspaper.  If you buy a dog that may have come from a puppy mill, you are not saving a dog, you are contributing to their bad business. If you do visit a breeder, ask for references, veterinary records, hip X-rays (for breeds prone to hip displaysia), and to meet the dam and sire if possible.

A note on papers from the AKC and other show dog organizations: While it is nice the paperwork proves the genetic line of a dog, it cannot prove the health, temperament, intelligence, working ability, or living conditions of the dog.  Show dogs are bred for looks, not working ability. So, a dog from champion show lines does not in any way mean it will be a good working dog, too often the opposite tends to be true. The traits desirable in a working dog may be unintentionally bred out of the dog for looks instead.

Ok, so what am I supposed to look for?

Your best bet is to find a breeder who breeds dogs from working lines.

Look for a puppy with one or both of the parents is used for search and rescue, herding, bird dog, bomb or narcotics detection, schutzhund, agility, police, or military work. Your best bet is to meet with and talk to search and rescue groups in your area about the origins of their dogs.  Meet with many breeders and dog handlers to get a feel for the different dogs out there.  Training and living with a collie is a different experience than that of a lab and again different from a german shepherd.

The personality of the dog is also important.

Individual dogs have their own personality within a litter.  A good search dog is very curious, independent, playful with human strangers, confident, sociable, able to maintain concentration, and obedient.  A few puppy tests can be performed when observing the litter.  A good search dog candidate will want to greet you when you approach, not shy in the corner.  When separated from his litter mates, you will want a puppy curious with his surroundings.  He should also love to play with humans.  You can roll a ball past the puppy to see if he chases it or wave a rag around to see if he will chase it or play tug with you. Ask a search and rescue dog handler with experience in your breed of choice to help you pick out a puppy from a litter.

No matter what breed you decide to get or where it is from You will need a knowledgeable working dog handler to help you pick a dog with high drive.

Drive is the instincts that make dogs act the way they do. Prey drive is the eagerness to chase and catch and object or play tug of war. Food drive is the willingness to offer behavior in exchange for food.

A good working dog needs a drive high enough to work for hours without reward and the focus to ignore tempting distractions while working. The genetics of the dog determines the potential amount of drive the dog can manifest. Drive must be built with careful training before the dog matures. It’s a use it or lose it deal when they are young.

I already have a dog I want to train for SAR

The age of the dog is important

Consider, it takes two to three years to train and certify a dog for search and rescue.  Most dogs retire at the age of ten years.

Your dog’s daily life affects his ability to do SAR

If your dog frequently gets to play with other dogs at home or at the dog park he will likely not be interested in working for you.  Dogs consider other dogs more fun to play with than humans.  Also, if your dog gets to play with your kids or other folks when ever he wants, he will unlikely be interested in working. He is already getting everything he wants for free.

Will you have the ability to arrange a quiet place for your dog to rest during the day without interruption? Will you be able to train your dog every day? Are you ready for something that will likely replace all of your other hobbies? If the answers are yes, then welcome to the search and rescue world! Join a search and rescue team to get started in rewarding world of k9 search and rescue.

A search dog does his job because he gets rewarded.  

Searching is the best game your search and rescue dog will know.  Oh, and its fun for humans too.

Contact your local Search and Rescue group to help you get started.

American Rescue Dog Association

UK-  National Search and Rescue Dog Association

National SAR Organizations -(not maintained or represented by me, use at your own risk)

Open Field Test with Aaron and Grom

Posted in dog, Dog diary, dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2011 by rattlerjen
-Aaron P.

Grom has begun his testing, and his first obstacle is a big open field.

The test criteria is pretty easy for this one. He has to work for an hour minimum, has to listen to the handler, and he has to find the subject by air scenting.  The biggest obstacle for most dogs at this point is getting them to stay focused for at least an hour. The test for the me is a little more involved, but not much. We have to pretend that it’s a real search where we receive a briefing from the responsible authority (the evaluator in this case.) We have to look at the map and create our search strategy taking things like weather, wind, terrain, and the subject’s behavior and condition into consideration.

Since we’re pretending this is an actual search, I have to look at my evaluator/escort and say fun things like “Base this is Team Grom.” He gets to say fun things like “Team Grom, this is base, go ahead”. This is followed by looking him strait in the eye and saying, ” Base this is a radio check” even though he’s not base, and there is no radio.

So the morning starts out at Great Meadows at 8.30am when I get there and meet my evaluator/escort.

Grom gets to come out of the truck and take care of his personal business before he goes back into the crate where he stands by while I receive his orders. We are to cover the 60 acres of three fields at Great Meadows in a search for the owner of a truck that the staff found on the grounds after an event.  I ask (Hopefully) pertinent questions about all thing things I am going to need to know to construct a search strategy, I look at the map, I draws some lines that may or may not be helpful in the future and I try to talk too much so the evaluator actually has something to do other than sit there and watch me sweat.

After we have a strategy worked out, I go to the truck, get my gear together and strap on my pack.

This is where I realize that 1) the dog is still in the crate and 2) that it’s next to impossible to climb in there with a giant pack strapped on.  This is where the my evalutator starts to wish he had a camera out and that he could cue the 3 stooges music. But it doesn’t take long before Grom is out and ready to work. I am geared up and ready to work.

We’re Off-

Since the wind is coming out of the southwest, we take go through the north east gate and begin our grid pattern into the wind. It’s a beautiful day and we have a nice strong 5mph wind right in our faces. Since this is actually a closely cut equestrian grounds we don’t really need to cut short grids through the field to cover everything, but in the interest of showing off how good my navigation skills are we’re cutting grids about every 35 meters, and we’re making sure they’re STRAIGHT!

This is the boring part, we walk back and forth across this field, watching as Grom does the one thing he loves to do more than anything else in the whole world. That would be running as fast as he can in giant circles around us as we walk our straight lines in the morning sun. He sprints from tree to fence, stopping and sniffing. Then he’s off to an obstacle with his head high in the air sniffing for who ever is out there to give him his play reward. This is a dog doing what a dog lives to do. (As a handler, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching him working really hard and loving every single second of it.)

In the map you can see the area and how we covered it.

The black lines are the borders around our area of responsibility and the red line, starting in the top right side, is the path we took. The first part of that line with the three narrow grids is pretty boring, but we soon cut south into the area with the creek running through it. Grom has a great time checking out the sides of the creek as I and my escort/evaluator pretend to talk on the radio, discuss what would actually happen in a real search with the large trailers full of chairs and tables stacked next to the creek, and check the wind to see if the wind still favors the search strategy.

Now the one thing about testing is that they try to make similar to actual searches, but some things you just can’t plan.

Like the fact that right in the middle of this test, were I and my evaluator are watching the wind move and judging distance covered vs time, and if we have a good….. OH MY GOD! WHERE DID THIS EXTRA PUPPY COME FROM!?!

That’s right, out of nowhere a 7 month old black lab/dachund mix came screaming up to me and laid a vicious Puppy Kiss Attack on me! Luckily my evaluator/escort was on top of his game and tried to grab and control Mystery Puppy. Unfortunately by this time Grom had returned from scouting the creek and bushes only to discover that his skills as Puppy negotiator were needed. So he inserted himself and sternly asked some serious questions. Loosely translated from Puppy Body language they were “Who are you?” and  “What do you think you’re doing with my people?”. Followed by the most important question, delivered after a piercing stare and some sniffing “…… Do you want to PLAY?”

As handler, at this point, I figure the test is wrecked.

We have to get Grom back on task and his head back into the game. After we corral Mystery Puppy and give him back to the woman who was chasing him, Grom goes back on the lead, and walked to the other side of the creek where we take a moment to call out for the subject, and restart the search. I silently hope that Grom doesn’t just go back to the puppy and play . Luckily Grom has his game face on and gets back to work. We finish up the big field in about 10 minutes, doing another cross before heading to the south gate where we can cross some marshy banks and get over to the east field.

Unfortunately the east field has a pond that we have to pass which is filled with geese and nests.

Now Grom has to check the banks of the pond which mean that he’s got a chance to chase geese, and if there are any, goslings. It’s time for another silent plea for Grom to resist temptation. After a couple of calls to leave it, I and my evaluator start  heading north east up the creek so we can move south down this field into the wind. Grom, like a champ, follows along checking stands of trees and bushes. As we reach the north end of the little field Grom is diligently working bushes and shrub, checking where other dogs have been, and we pass the “abandoned” vehicle.
At the north east end of the field I see his ears go straight up in the air and his nose goes into the wind.
He has the look. I look at my evaluator and say “He’s got something. “

Grom has the 1000 yard stare, looking up a hill he can’t see what he can smell, but he knows it’s out there.

So he takes two steps backwards, lifts his leg to pee on something and then lights out up and over the hill. My evaluator is smiling big and says softly, “watch the magic happen now.”

As I reach the top of the hill I can see Grom working the scent in a cone pattern that could have come out of a book as he closes the 60 meter gap to find his reward. When he gets to her, he sticks his nose into the subjects arm pit and comes screaming back to me to deliver a three bark indication like he’s just found the coolest thing ever. I give him the go ahead to lead me to her. Only problem is that he’s four times faster than me and I’m only 30 meters closer when he gets to her, so he runs back to me and delivers another loud and proud indication and makes me swell with pride. With my permission he continues to lead me to the subject.

Once I’m finally there, and only when I’m finally there, does the tug come out of my pocket so he can get his well earned  reward from the subject.

“That”, says Grom, as he tries to tug the arms out of the subject, “is how you pass an Open Field test!”


Posted in Dog diary, dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on December 9, 2010 by rattlerjen

It’s dog and it’s on the menu for today

Something delicious, I mean, disturbing happened at last training.  Grom became a snack.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Training brought out nearly everyone on our team along with a few relatives and new folks interested in checking K9 Search and Rescue out.  We were in a secluded area of the national park; a camp area closed for the winter season.  It was a gorgeous crisp morning with just enough nip in the air to encourage a hat and light jacket over a sweater.  Grom, my little black Malinois, was happily snuggled up in the corner of his crate surrounded by piles of search gear and boxes of our newly printed team calendar.

Our team training began with several dozen donuts brought by, you guessed it, the cop on our team.  Boxes of our team calendars were being offloaded from our truck and ripped open to disgorge freshly printed eye candy goodness.  As the calendars disappeared into the vehicles, I began trying on our team’s super reflective luxuriantly warm yellow search coats.  My SAR coat is an 8 year old Cahart canvas coat I bought for working outside at the zoo.  I look like a farmer that somehow got covered in zebra blood and green paint then dragged by an ostrich. (The zebra needed help giving birth and the ostrich was attempting to steal my dropped watch.)

I began to dream of what I was going to spend my holiday money on when I was urged by my husband to get my fanny back to the truck.  He rightly believed I was going to write a check for the coat right then and there.

Turns out my husband was shrugging on his pack to take his land navigation evaluation and would be gone for most of the morning.  I was left with the dog to train all by my lonesome.  Boy, was it a great training day for Grom.  He jumped directly into sniffing and peeing on nearly every rock, tree, bush, and blade of grass for the first 3 minutes.

The little furball followed this up with circling a giraffe legged couple out for a long run in the park and promptly forgot about them as he raced past me. My team mate suggested I do not worry that Grom ignored the joggers this early in the dog’s training.  Many dogs will likely ignore people who are not laying in the woods or sitting against a tree in the beginning since that is how we train them.  Later on, after the dogs really understand what they are supposed to do we will have the “lost person” walk around and do other things.

I filed the information in the back of my mind and watched Grom as he raced across the field in front of me and back into the woods.  The black and orange blur zig zagged the field a few more times before finding the hiding human on the edge of the field.  Success in just under ten minutes!

Later on, I had someone hide in the woods just off the trail on the way back to the field again.  I wanted to see if Grom would race past him to go back to where he found the last person in the field.  I wanted to make sure that he starts searching immediately.  The little Mal uses his nose, to pee on things in the beginning.  Does he use his nose to start searching right away?  Grom raced off into the woods and disappeared, crashing through the underbrush.  I ignored him and just started walking down the trail.  Just about the time I was beginning to worry, he blazed past me down the trail.  Grom quickly found our man and raced back to me to bark his head off, another success!

I spent several hours watching other dogs work and hiding for a few of them.  A couple dogs searched inside and under a cabin looking for someone hidden there.  Scent moves much differently in and around buildings proving quite a challenge to wilderness dogs.  While inside, one of the dogs greeted a mannequin with a nose to the crotch.  The statues had no people smell, deduct what you wish from the dog’s decision to try and find the scent there!

My husband wandered back into camp with a silly smile on his face and a head full of leaves.  He had passed his test and spent some time napping in the woods while hiding for a few dogs.  Now my husband can go on searches with me!

At the end of training, we decided a group picture was in order.  The last time we took a picture of the group was nearly eight months ago when G-man was still a little puppy.  Everyone took their pups out of the car and began to line up against a nice forested backdrop.  I trotted Grom in a space between two happy german shepherds.  One of them looked like he could be Grom’s older brother.   We were all getting ready, but Grom just would not sit down for more than ten seconds.  “What is the deal here?” I thought.  He can sit and stay for several minutes near other dogs in obedience class.  Maybe he is just excited because he was just running free through the woods looking for a person.  I began planning to practice obedience work more often in different places in the future when Grom shot in the air like a jack rabbit.  That is when I heard the growling bark and turned around in surprise to see Grom’s back leg in the mouth of another dog.  My dog looked just as a dog does when someone is trying to clip the nails on his back foot and the dog wants nothing of it.  In a blur, the other dog had somehow let go or Grom pulled free and shot forward.

I got up to run Grom away from all of the other dogs.  As I was jogging, I pulled Grom’s tug toy out of my pocket and began making happy play noises, attempting to divert his attention to the toy.  I did not want him to think I am upset and continued to make happy noises and gestures while quickly examining his leg.   The owner of the other dog was horrified.  None of us saw it coming.  Especially since the dog that snacked on Grom is known for tolerating nearly anything and has taken several pictures with other dogs.

Grom turned out to be just fine.  The other dog bit down only hard enough to hold Grom’s foot up so he could not get away.  He turned out to only have a few superficial cuts which I easily cleaned with plain water in a full bathtub. Grom was running and playing with his best doggie friend the next morning.

Just goes to show that people have no idea what dogs are saying to one another, especially when no one is focusing on it.  Looking back on it, I should taken the hint when Grom refused to sit.  Something was going on and I was so focused on posing for a picture that I failed to look at the body language of the dogs around me. All of the dogs were having conversations behind us, and it took some loud noises before any of us stupid humans took notice. None of the dogs are bad dogs, they are dogs just trying to communicate while on a leash and forced to sit down.  I wonder if our dogs feel like I had as a kid when you were trying to get the attention of our parents with important information and promptly ignored so the adults could continue on with their boring conversation.  One of these days, I am going to find Grom pulling on my pant leg while I am in a deep conversation about the newest phone app with a team member.

I take it as a learning experience. No one gets good at anything when everything goes right.  Things have to go wrong in order to really learn anything.

Grom offered to take the other dog out for a Brewowski later on.  It’s all good.

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