Saturday, November 17, 2018

2: Planning Dog Tracking and Training Courses

Part 2
Planning Training Courses
2 of 2 parts
(Go to part 1)

Assessing the Scene

Before you set up a training course, first check the location and make a note of each person or thing (cars running, spilled chemical, garbage) that might contaminated the area.

In an actual response this is called doing an assessment of the scene and should be done visually as you approach the location. Findings should be noted on paper for later planning.

Doing a visual assessment helps you to know your dangers before placing your dog and self in a bad situation. Make a mental note of any dangers you might encounter such as a busy roadway or a train track your dog might lead you across.

After checking the area to determine it is safe and noting the containments then check the wind direction and weather conditions (more on these factors in another lesson). In training novice dogs always start the dog into the wind so the scent is blowing towards the dog to give the dog the best chance in picking up the scent.


Pay attention to the location and use what may be available for hiding spots and turns, such as buildings, picnic tables in a park or a large tree across the cleared field.

Mapping the Training Course

Group these three factors together on paper when you are planning a training course. Make a hand drawn map of the location and mark on the map the wind direction, buildings or landmarks, size of the search area and time of day you plan to train. Make a note of weather conditions.

If you are training indoors you will modify these factors into the scene, for instance is there a fan or air conditioning system running? What chemical cleaners or odors do you smell or see in the area? What obstacles might be encountered or be in the way, closed doors, furniture or escape routes such as a window?

Make a note of the subject you will be looking for, the person who will help you by hiding from your dog. Their weight, height, age, clothing and any health issues that might come into play during the course.

Once your map is drawn of the location with the contributing factors that will affect the search you are ready to draw the trail you will work.

I’ll tell you how I draw up my training courses so you have a better idea. I use a small dash line to mark where the person who we will be looking for will walk as they hide to draw the route I plan for them to take. I use X to mark the beginning and the end of the route. I draw the turns I plan to work the dog on with the training objectives in mind.

Novice dog’s might only be working on one turn into the wind while an experienced dog can have 3 or 4 turns in different wind directions in the route. Make sure to have the turns flagged with a tissue paper piece. Tissue paper biodegrades so no worries about having to retrieve the flag after the training.

I then decide where the trail layer or person will put the training flags or tissue paper along the route which will help me know my dog is working well. I use tissue or flags even on advanced dogs for my own benefit because these markers build my confidence in reading my dog. I put a small dot on my map for flags.

A map would look something like this.                                                    <<wind
                                                     . _ _ _ _ _ _ _.bench 
   X _ _ ._. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _. /

These flags are important because I learn how my dog reacts when they reach a turn or building, and as the wind changes I can see how my dog changes the way they work. Does the dog slow down or speed up? Do they circle and smell the spot more? Is the tail high and nose low? Are they stopped and looking at me for direction? (The last question is not a good sign, we missed something and have to go back and look again. :) 

Once I have the training course planned on paper I am ready to have the person help me make the course. I show my helper, the trail layer, the map and we use the map when we are making the trail or course. As they hide, they walk off from the starting point following the map while you wait knowing from the map where they are going. You dog will not see the map because they are usually asleep in the car.

What time I wake my dog up to work the course will depend on the level of training my dog is at and how old the trail has aged. Levels are discussed in the next lesson Standards for Search Dogs.

Aging the Trail

Aging the route is the next important step in training a family disaster dog in order for the dog to find people who have been lost for longer then a few hours. This lesson will be posted next.

Go to part 1 of Planning Dog Tracking Course

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lesson 1 of 2: Planning Dog Training and Mapping Tracking Courses

Planning Training Courses
1 of 2 parts
The Purpose of a Training Course or Route
This lesson is being posted in 2 parts
(Go to part 2

When you are training your dog there are often times when we have to set a course up that will be similar to what we encounter in real life. Obedience courses and agility courses are two that come to mind most people have heard of.

In training the family disaster dog we want to set up courses and lost person scenarios that we might encounter during an actual emergency. These courses help us and our dogs to know what to expect, consequently, we learn what to do in an actual event.

To set up a training course, we have to think of what we might encounter along the way and put the ideas into the training course. This is prepared ahead of time. After the course is set up then the course has to be aged. Aging the trail or course will be covered in advanced lessons.

How the training course is set up depends upon what level you are training.

Once you and your dog have the general idea down of how to find a person and what evidence to look for, it is time to further your training by using well planned and prepared courses that include tracks, trails, and scenarios.

It’s time to advance to life like training!

In doing these courses we are playing and pretending this is a real life rescue and the most important thing to remember is your dog will always find its man! (Or woman, child or object)

This most confusing aspect of search dog training is also the down fall of many handlers who fail to follow the golden rule. The dog is always right not the trainer or handler.

When a police dog fails to find a person it is never the dog’s fault but it is the handler’s fault for reading the dog wrong.

To avoid failing in training, never let your dog fail to find what they have been told to find otherwise your dog will not look because this type of training is actually for you to learn to read your dog and follow your dog. The dog knows how to find anybody or anything on their own but the dog does not know how to find somebody with you tagging along telling him what to do.

How these factors come into play when your dog is searching for a lost person and how to use these factors in preparing a training course to work your dog on will help you and your dog to figure out the puzzles you come across on an actual search.

Planning a Training Puzzle

When considering how to set up a training course three factors come into play, the wind including weather, contamination and location.

Wind and weather conditions always affect how you will read your dog working the scent. The wind blows the scent as the wind moves therefore knowing the direction of the wind is vital. Weather such as rain or freezing conditions affect the scent as well therefore these factors should be considered as you follow and read your dog.

Contamination is anything that has been in the area of the training course. I mean everything including car exhaust, chemicals such as spilled gasoline after an accident; other people who have walked in the area contaminate the scene.

Animals who have crossed the location up to 24 hours earlier can lead your dog off course if your dog is inclined to follow the deer or rabbit instead of the person’s scent you are looking for. A known dog walking path is not the best place to train a tracking dog.

Indoors cleaning solutions, tobacco smoke and odors we do not smell can contaminate the scents the dog is following and a novice dog has not learn how to work these odor puzzles out yet.

Location plays a role because different terrain creates different scent action. Such as wooded areas hold the scent closer to the ground while a cleared field allows the scent particles to move and disperse over a larger area. Drainage channels and clear cut areas where power lines run through make wind tunnels that can carry the scent in a different direction then where your dog goes.

During all of these experiences your dog will continue to work the trail by working out the scent puzzle if you allow the dog to do so. The dog may follow the scent as it is blown down a wind tunnel to the point where the scent is so thin the dog turns back and backtracks to a stronger scent point where they began the tunnel.

Then the dog continues on the right trail. The important part of this training and in actual search events is to remember to trust your dog and follow them through the puzzle. If you stop the dog thinking oh the person never went down that steep hill then the dog can not finish the puzzle and chances are you will fail.

The same holds true when your dog is following a animal scent or the wrong scent which puts them off the trail you intended.

Never underestimate your dog or where a person who is afraid might hide or go.

Three groom dogs I once knew and these kids could find their owner in a heart beat!

Never underestimate your dog!

Learn to Read your Dog!

Your dog is always right!

Click Continue to Part 2

Read all the lessons in the Family Disaster Dog book below

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How to Train a Tracking Dog Lesson

How to Train a Tracking Dog

Most of the lessons at Family Disaster Dogs, so far, have focused on teaching your dog on how to find a missing person by air scenting or trailing not “tracking.”  This lesson will explain to you how to teach your dog to be a tracking dog that follows each step of a person or the exact path the person traveled.

This lesson can be used to start any dog on tracking for any reason, including AKC tracking titles and other dog club tracking events, law enforcement and SAR.

This lesson is fun for Family Disaster Dogs and other service dogs to do with their family members at the park or playground, and then in the event of a lost family member your dog will be able to track them down without any other training.

First, let’s go over the differences between a tracking and trailing or air scenting detection dog.

A tracking dog follows the exact footprint scent on the ground that is left behind as a person walks while a trailing or air scenting dog follows the scent as it drifts on the wind.

You can tell the difference when you watch your dog work by noticing if your dog is air scenting by lifting its head above the ground, smelling high for a scent or carrying their head over 6 inches off the ground. They will seek the scent on the wind and in the air while a tracking dog keeps its nose to the ground and concentrates their focus within about 6 inches of the ground.

 You can hear a tracking dog huffing on the ground; a bloodhound will blow the dust away when they are getting into the scent but when they are air scenting they hold their heads high, nose up seeking. When the scent is found, they are off, nose and head about body height with tail wagging.

When they put that nose into the ground and snort, seek and run with the nose as close to the ground as it seems they can they have switched to tracking for air scenting.

In dog club events, the difference can cost your dog points towards a title. In search dog work, it only matters that you learn to read your dog and find the person in the swiftest safest manner.

Many people find training a dog to do air scenting or trailing easier then training a tracking dog. For this reason, I covered air scenting and trailing dog training first to give you a better understanding of the fundamentals of detection dogs in order for this lesson to be easier for you and your dog or the novice tracking dog trainer.

I’ve been training tracking dogs since the 70’s and worked at K9 of Hawaii in 1978 to further my education of security dog work. This method is well proven to work with any breed of dog.

Equipment needed:

A person to hide from the dog, known as the “Trail or Track Layer”

20 ft Tracking Leash and Harness

Several pieces of tissue papers or 12 small plastic flags that are used at building sites and available at hardware stores

Small bite size dog treats

A large outdoor mowed grassy area; for instance, a quite corner of a city park away from distractions, a school ground or open grassy mowed field.


Read these lessons

What to do First

Discuss with the Trail Layer how they will make the footprint track for your dog to learn on. Tell them they will be starting at the spot you choose in the grass and they will be placing one tissue paper or flag with a dog treat at this spot, then they will scruff and slide their feet on the ground to shuffle as they walk the first 3 or 4 steps of the trail. 

They will drop a few dog treats exactly where they scruff their feet as they walk away from you.

Your dog can watch this part of the lesson either sitting next to you or tied close by.

This scuffing the ground will help to disperse more scent at the starting point and the trail layer will do this shuffle scuff walk on each corner for the first few lessons until your dog understands they are looking for human scent. Once your dog starts tracking without hesitation you can have the trail layer walk normally when they make a course for your dog to follow.

After the starting point, the trail layer will walk in a straight line into the direction of the wind blowing, if there is a breeze you can feel. The person will bend over to place a piece of tissue with a dog treat or a flag and treat every 10 steps or so for the length of the course. The person should keep a treat to give the dog when they welcome them at the end of the course.

 After 50 ft (steps) or so, the person will either sit behind a tree or the corner of a building, or lay down flat on the grass. We don’t want the dog to have sight of the person but we do want the person in an easy to find spot where they can step out and welcome the dog.

Do not add a corner to the course until your dog is tracking the person successfully on a straight line course. When you add a corner, only add one turn at a time per lesson per day to avoid confusing the dog. Tracking is a gradual training process that should not be rushed.

Once the person has laid the course and trail your dog will follow you get your dog and point to the starting flag. Tap the ground at the dog treat, foot print spot to show your dog the exact scent you want them to follow. Ask your dog to “Smell” or “Take Scent”.

Give your dog all the time they need to smell and when their head raises up from the ground be ready to command “Track” or “Find them” and step off with your dog on the path the person took.

As your dog moves ahead in the direction of the person repeat the “find” command and allow your dog time to do what you ask. If they do not move ahead on the course then prompt them with praise and encouragement as you slowly walk and point down on the path. You may have to point and tap the ground a few times to keep your dog on the scent until they realize what you are doing.

As you follow the person’s trail your dog will find the dog treats covered in the person’s sent along with the flags and scuff marks or pool scent areas. This will encourage your dog to seek the scent and person. 

When you reach the person, praise your dog and have the person welcome them with petting and give them a dog treat.

Repeat the same exact course again. Do not change anything.

Amber working Sam

As you repeat this the dog learns to follow the scent of the foot prints. As your dog learns you will use less treats and more praise until eventually and gradually you replace the food treats with praise only. from then on your dog only gets a food treat when they find the person otherwise you will be teaching your dog to find food. Which we do not want.

Do this same exact lesson and course 3 or 4 times each day for 3 days then give your dog a day or 2 off to think about this new game they have learned. Read the lesson about Burning out your dog to familiarize yourself with this aspect of training a working dog.

Repeat this lesson for a couple of weeks then add a corner and be sure the trail layer scruffs their feet, drops a dog treat and flags the corner.  

The flags are placed on the course for you to see the corners and lay of the trail before your dog reaches them in order for you to know your dog is on the right course.

These flags or tissue paper will also give you confidence to trust your dog because as you work with your dog on tracking you will see how amazing the nose can be.

After a couple of weeks with one corner then add another turn so there are 2 corners or turns on the course. Keep the course about 100 ft long until your dog has the hang of tracking. 

Train on nice, mild not breezy days when the weather is not to hot. If the weather is hot, train in the early morning or evening when the day cools down for better performance.

There will be more discussion about weather and performance in the coming lessons about variables of a search scene.

In a few weeks and once your dog is tracking the person’s trail as outlined successfully, and only then, you can use a different person and change people every couple of days. 

You do not want to change people the same day or use more then one person a day while training a novice tracking dog until the dog totally understands what you want them to do. 

You will know by watching your dog when this happens. You will feel a great deal of accomplishment when you realize your dog is doing this! 

You will be like, “oh wow, look what my dog can do!”.

At this point, which can take a month or so, and only after this point is when you can add other people, and you can start aging the trail too.

When you age the trail the dog learns to find a person who has been missing longer lengths of time, such as somebody who is missing 8 hours. 

The dog first has to learn what the scent smells like 15 minutes later then when the person walked there, then 30 minutes, then 1 hour and up to 48 hours later.

Therefore, when you are training dogs that will be looking for people and not doing tracking events for titles, the dog has to learn how to tell the time and age of the trail in order to work a scene where the person has been missing for several hours or a day. 

Dogs do tell time very well when we pay attention.

Whereas, if your dog is not going to be looking for lost people then you can skip the part about aging a trail or adding extra people. You can use an object, like a toy for your dog to find and you can use yourself as the trail layer.

Go to the Lessons page to learn how to train your dog to track you and much more !  Including how to get a reluctant tracker to work.

Have fun and happy trails with your dog!

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