(Go to part 1)
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 contaminants 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.