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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lesson 13: Building Search

Building and Area Search with your Dog
A Fun and Useful Lesson
Lesson 14

This lesson for the Family Disaster Dog is where the fun begins.

Every dog can easily learn this lesson in finding a person indoors. This lesson becomes useful in the event of a building collapse or if a person is hiding from fear which can happen when people get lost or disoriented from lack of food,water or being rescued. When people are afraid or injured they often hide, children who become lost often hide waiting for parents to find them so this lesson can come in handy if a person becomes lost or if a building collapses.

In the event of an earthquake,flood or natural disaster do take caution when working on unstable surfaces. Always allow your dog to choose their own way through rubble or debris because they know what they are capable of more then we do and we might lead the dog into a dangerous area because they are following orders.

If a dog refuses to go on a surface after they are trained then back off of that surface and find another way into the area, ask the dog to lead you to the safest way and follow the dog. Dogs are much more sure footed then us and they use instincts we know nothing about but in an emergency we can use these instincts to our advantage by following the dog.

This indoor lesson can be practiced anytime in your home by playing with your dog and another family member or friend. You can use more then one person in this lesson unlike in the tracking lessons. This lesson can be done with all the children in the house at once because all you will be doing is playing hide and seek with your dog.

To Begin

First choose a word to use to tell your dog to do an Area Search, such as "seek" or "search" or "find". Use a different word for a command then what you used to do the tracking or trailing lessons with your dog.

Once you know your word then always use this word with your dog's name to tell them to search.

You can sit or stand where you are comfortable in your house, even while watching TV on the sofa and call your dog to you then have one of your children go and hide from the dog while your dog watches them leave.

Once the person is hidden then release the dog and follow them to search for the person.

At first make sure your dog sees the person leave to make the dog interested in following them by having the child call the dog or wave to the dog and run to hide. Just like hide and seek , count to so many counts (10,20) thus giving the person time to hide then release your dog asking the dog to "Seek" or "Find".

After a week or two of playing this game and lots of praise, treats are fine from the person hiding then the dog will find or seek out people hiding whenever you ask them to look in the room or space.

Once the dog is finding the person who the dog can see leave then you can put the dog in another room where they do not see the people leave then bring your dog in and ask them to seek or find. You can have people hide while the dog sleeps or is outside then ask your dog to find them and give praise when the dog shows any interest to encourage the dog to do this for you. Praise when they make the find.


At first, you should follow your dog to the hiding person so you can praise the dog and in later lessons you can sit still and let your dog bring the person back to you which will help to teach your dog to come back to you if the person is found away from you and trapped.

Always praise the dog as they go in the right direction and make a find of the person or evidence from a person, coat,hat,tissue paper.

The dog can learn to find the person and then return to you to get you to show you where the person is trapped by having the person tell the dog to go get you and then you calling the dog back to you. This recall lesson will be discussed in length in future lessons.

You can also follow your dog and move room to room waving your hand to teach your dog a hand signal to search different areas or rooms on command.

You can use a wave hand signal when you start the dog on the seek or find command so later on if you can not speak yourself because you are trapped in debris with your dog standing by, if you are injured then a wave of the hand will send the dog to find somebody to help you!

Using the person's name over and over will teach the dog to find that one family member.

If more then one person or child hides then ask the dog to find the next person once they find the first. Keep asking until all people are found.

Any people can hide and any number of people but at first your dog may become bored if more then 3 hide.

This exercise can be done in the home, garage,work place,public buildings,parks and wherever you get a chance to play hide and seek with your pet.

You can give the dog a scent article as outlined in the scent article lesson if you want them to find one of many people.

You do not have to use scent articles in this lesson.

Good hiding places are under a blanket or table with a cloth on it, under dirty clothes piles :) inside closets, behind cars and inside cars with a door left open at first and later lessons with the door closed with window open and then later lessons shut the window. Your dog will adjust to the amount of scent left each time and each lesson and learn as they do what the scent trail means as they follow it so next time the dog comes across this car situation they know how to work the puzzle out.

Under stairs and up the stairs, and any places above your head are areas that some dogs do not notice unless they are taught to look up there.

Remember the world to your dog is closer to the floor and if people hide high a dog might run under them without noticing or catching the scent and this is where you do stop your dog to show your dog the person is up above, have the person talk to the dog so the dog learns people can be in trees or ladders,or windows ledges and roofs above us.

Hiding courses can be set up in garages or buildings by using tents, cardboard boxes, tarps, ladders, chairs, tables, blankets and whatever your imagination comes up with because after an earthquake or flood everything we own is thrown everywhere. Just take caution as far as common sense and safety, don't have a young child who has never climb a ladder do so but do have them hide under their bed sheets so your dog can find them.

Include your friends and family with all the dogs!

My Willie boy is an excellent area search dog, he can check a building or fenced yard in minutes looking for any hidden living being, including a mouse, rat or person. If it breaths, Willie finds it and he loves to hunt.

Have fun!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Understanding and Reading a Scent Dog

How to Read a Dog

Keep in mind that this training is for in the event of a disaster or emergency situation in your own home which could never happen, therefore there is no pressure on you to or your dog to perform these lessons to high expectations.

In other words, take it easy, relax and let your dog do the work as you follow your dog and have fun. Maintaining a causal attitude and tone will work much better with this type of training then does a firm or obedience type of military.

As your dog works to find a lost person during a disaster you’ll be reading your dog for clues that indicate what your dog finds along the route, such as; tail held high and wagging means the dog is getting close to the person. 

Or, if your dog has their nose to the ground while working slowly this may mean the trail is many hours old requiring the dog to pay more attention then the free spirited tail wagging of a nearby find.   

Each dog is different in how they show their findings or clues which is why each dog and handler team must undergo certification. If a handler changes dogs they must learn how to read the new dog and certification will prove they do understand the dog.

Every handler must watch each dog they work with to be able to read the dog and as you watch your dog, look for any sign your dog gives you to what the find along the way.

The dog working an air scent will not go on the same path as the person does so never scold your dog if they do not go on the person’s exact path to find the person.

Only in tracking competitions do dogs have to stay directly on the person’s foot prints or path of travel and we are not competing we are saving lives there is a big difference.

The dog is always right and when a dog fails to find what they are looking for 99% of the time the handler has not read the dog and mistaken that the dog failed so the handler stops the dog. 

If you dog stops on a trail and looks at you for direction or in question then look around because they are trying to tell you something, they are not quitting. Usual the handler mistakes this sign as the dog losing the trail or scent path of the person they seek when that is not what the dog is indicating. 

For instance, one time Incredible Sue and I were looking for a lost elderly man with about 500 other search members. About 5 of us were searching a barn yard that had a blackberry patch next to the corral. Sue took me to the blackberry patch and she went to one of the bushes then used her nose to bump a bunch of the berries that were hanging on the bush. I had never seen her to this before.

At first I thought she was hungry or thirsty but she did not try to eat the berries. I paid attention to her to see what she was trying to tell me. I asked her what it was and to “show me”, she sat down which is her indication she found something. Then she bumped the berries again. I told her okay, now what. She got up and went to another bush and did the same thing and did this over again at another bush.

I watched her in amazement as it dawned on me the elderly man who had been missing 3 days must have been in this berry patch eating berries. He would defiantly have been hungry by then.

The other rescuers and I discussed what Sue was doing and agreed it sure looked like she was telling us this then we radioed the base camp to ask them to ask a family member if the man knew of this berry patch and he did. He was found a few days later not far from this berry patch after Sue and I did a midnight search on day 5 of his disappearance.

Always watch the dog and ask the dog to show you then let the dog show you. You do not show the dog where to go, they show you and this a complete opposite of what we teach our dogs in obedience and manners. (click to see our courses)

In search and rescue work we have to trust our dogs unconditionally and is one of the hardest things to learn. I always remind myself that my dog knows his nose better then I do therefore I do not interfere.

Another example of reading a dog would be when Sue and I were searching along a highway and she picked up a nice clean hanky that was in our route of travel, she carried this by her little front teeth like it was delicate then she dropped it. 

I told the officer with me that the hanky must of belong to the person we were looking for because otherwise she would not of noticed the cloth laying on the roadside. He left to confirm the hanky with the family as belonging to the lost person. Sue was right again. 

Never underestimate your dog.

The weather can make a dog work entirely different then we expect so always follow your dog and let them go to the person on their own without any interference from you.

No coaching the dog unless the dog just does understand what it is you are looking for and that is only when you first start training. 

If your dog has found a person who has hidden a few times and then the dog refuses to look for you the dog is either bored which can lead to burn out. Or, the dog knows where the person is and you are missing the clue.

If your dog goes in a completely different direction ignoring the person or what you ask them to do then do the lesson again being sure not to leave out a step which can confuse the dog.

If the dog fails again to respond by searching for the person then I would make sure the person was honest in how they hid and where they hid. Then start at the beginning lesson again until you learn to read what your dog is telling you.

You and your dog will learn to work as a team with practice and after many lessons once or twice a week. A bond will develop where communication is very clear between you and your dog. 

You will learn from your dog by reading them how they communicate with you through the tracking leash, body language and clues.

A wagging tail means what? Usually they are hot on the trail.

A tail that suddenly goes down means they came to a spot they have to work out or figure out like a puzzle. This spot is where a scent pool may have been left when the person sat down.

This could also be a spot where another dog happened to pee. Only after a few training sessions will you be able to tell the difference by learning to read your dog.

If this spot is where another dog peed, most likely your dog will only smell it and then relieve themselves at the spot too and then go back to looking for the person or on the trail.  

However, if this is a scent pool of the person you are looking for the dog may smell more deeply and show more interest or different interest in this spot and work a one or two ft area that is heavy with the scent of the person.

Let your dog do the puzzle because you will never be able to use your nose to do this scent puzzle. Once the dog figured out which way the person exited the pool of scent they will lead you on the next leg of the route.

Here's my wolf and I looking for my daughter in sand dunes for the first time.

Dogs that are hot, tired and thirsty from working a long trail may go off the route if they smell water. Sue often did this in the summer heat. I would let her go for a swim in a creek if she wanted to because I knew as soon as she was cooled off she would hop back onto her trail. Even if the creek was down the road the opposite direction she would go back to where she cut off to find water and resume the search.

Trust your dog and learn to read him like a book.

Here's my book !

How-to train a tracking dog click here

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lesson 11:Scent Behavior

Scent Behavior

The most amazing feat of a detection dog is how they understand scent behavior and how the dog is able to use scent to find what they are looking for. Olfaction, the sense of smell, is the least understood of the five senses.

Therefore, the more you know about how scent behaves the better you will understand or read your dog when you both are looking for clues to where a person went or where they are buried in rubble.

Scent is defined in the Encarta Dictionary as a pleasant smell or a smell used as trail, or a perfume. The word is also defined as a smelling sense and as a hint or indication that something is likely to happen.

The scent a search dog follows is actually skin and chemical particles along with oils that are so small in size we cannot see the dander unless they accumulate to the point of dandruff or oily skin complaints.

The chemicals that are mixed in with our natural odor come from the soaps and man made items we come into contact with. Everything we come into contact with contaminates our own personal body aroma.

These particles are shed ever minute of our lives and constantly changing but remain somewhat the same to distinguish each of us by our very own scent print similar to a fingerprint.

Whenever we stand, sit or lay a “scent pool” of particles falls, so invisible to our naked eye yet enticing to our 4 legged friends, these particles settle until a wind or movement swirls them to mix with other scents.

As we walk we leave behind a scent trail no matter how hard we try not to do so, we will leave particles behind.

When a person attempts to cover or clock their scent all they are really doing is adding to the unique mixture of ingredients which make up the scent. The overall scent may change but the ingredients remains and a dog taught to discriminate scents can detect even the smallest percentage of the scent they are looking for in the ingredients.

The wind and motion around the scent or person plays a role by moving the scent around and when two people come together their scents mix but a dog who is asked in the correct way can show you which person is the one they first set out to find.

As the motion of our body plays a part in how our scent is laid or settled so do a large number of variables that we come into contact with everyday. As we move through our homes or work places scent constantly trails behind us like our shadow.

We are never really alone and on every leaf or grain of sand we pass outdoors our scent settles, sometimes on branches several feet away where a particle of us may linger for days, weeks and indefinitely depending on the weather or inside climate conditions.

As our scent drifts to sit upon a surface the wind or motion moves it but eventually like all things, the scent will fall to the lowest surface we cross. As we step up a curb from the street our scent falls to the cracks and crevasses of the street and sidewalk. Everywhere we go, a piece of us is left behind.

The slower a person walks the heavier the scent trail remains because the particles have more time to settle in place.

This is true with less windy conditions too. The faster a person walks the less the scent will be contained in a trail or path because the motion dispenses more scent over a large pathway making concentration of scent but a larger area.

This is why a Bloodhound will track 3 or 4 feet off to one side of a person’s actually path of travel. This is always why we do not ask search dogs to stay exactly on a person’s foot print which can slow us down in finding the person.

Scent trails can be affected by drafts that are created from buildings or clear cut areas, roads, ditches and tunnels all can make a draft. A scent trail that comes out of the wooded area to cross a narrow road to another wooded area will hit a draft at the road.

The road will be like a tunnel the wind and air has more space to move the scent around and the scent will drift more regardless of the speed of the wind or even if there is a wind. In a city or urban setting the buildings, alley ways and all of a sudden open spaces create a draft to move scents.

In these areas, the handler often misreads the dog by thinking how the person crossed the road or traveled up the alley instead of thinking about how the dog smells the scent movement in these drafts.

Watch a novice dog at these crosses to learn how your dog will work a drafted area and follow your dog through the puzzle.

Never try to trick a tracking dog or trailing dog because you will only make the dog not trust you to give them the correct scent. A dog will refuse or ignore your wishes if they cannot trust you to know what you want.

A dog smells all the ingredients of a scent and it is up to us to tell them which scent particle we wish to find.

Caution: A dog’s nose can be damaged or desensitized by chemicals and common household cleaning agents or smells depending how close the nose comes to the produce. Never hold any scent to close to your dog’s nose.

Allow your dog to reach over to the scent at their own speed and distance because the dog knows how close they can get to the scent. They have actually smelt the scent long before you called them over to have a smell.

The average dog has a sense of smell much greater then man’s, some say as much as 1 million times greater then ours. Plus they can smell each ingredient which we cannot unless we practice or know beforehand what to notice.

Learning how scent behaves will help you to read your dog for clues that can help you find a missing person or evidence of the person’s whereabouts faster and help you to understand what your dog is telling you.

This lesson gives you the basic idea of how scent plays a role in your dog finding a person.

There are many good books on the subject of scent which can be very complex but interesting reading that will help you to learn how to read your dog better.

Every effort should be made to prevent contamination at the LKL (see glossary page) by other scents, including people at the location or on the scent article you collect.

Once contamination overpowers the person's scent on a scent article or location the dog has a much harder puzzle to figure out and often will become confused which is where the importance of " preventing the contamination the scene or article" comes into play.

I will cover how to secure a search dog location to work in later lessons, be sure to subscribe at the easy link at the left or below so you do not miss a lesson.

The next lesson will explain how handlers read their dogs for clues that help the dog communicate what they find along the trail route.

Author Amber Higgins

Author Amber Higgins
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Welcome UK and worldwide visitors and friends to Family Disaster Dogs online! Although I'm an American author and dog professional the worldwide web has given me the opportunity to connect with some wonderful folks who have contributed pictures for my books. The "Start Mantrailing" book features RRI K9 North Scotland trained Search and Rescue Dog "Amber" on the cover and her teammates training in the book, plus American dogs using my training methods. A portion of sales of the Start Mantrailing book or copies were donated to RRI North Scotland. The children's picture book "My Puppy Can Find Me" has my daughter and bloodhound as illustrations by UK cartoonist Scotty King. You can find the books on Amazon UK or use the contact page to order from me. When you click the links will take you to your own county pages of this site.

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