Last summer, Barry and I met a woman with a bloodhound puppy at the fair. While talking with her she mentioned that she had another bloodhound and that she was part of a Search & Rescue training group based out of Roanoke. She got our contact information and invited us out to the next training.
Since August 2014 we have been to five or so trainings, which typically take place on the weekend. Our training sites have included the ‘urban’ downtown Roanoke area, an industrial park setting, and various parks.
Hank and Scout have been thriving at these trainings, and continue to improve and learn new things each time. We work on man trailing (following the trail of a person until the person is found), identifying someone in a line up, and identifying human remains (cadaver work).
For the man trailing and line up work, the dogs are given the scent they need to find using a ‘scent article.’ In a real world setting, this could be any item (often clothing) with the subject’s scent on it, the subject being the person you’re looking for. For training, the scent article is typically a paper towel that the subject has rubbed on his or her face and neck. Each paper towel is put in it’s own bag, and we keep them on the vehicle for each person so that they’re available for use.
At the start of each trail, the dog is given then scent by allowing them to sniff the scent article. Our dogs will sniff it just by us opening the bag. Others choose to place the bag briefly on their dog’s face to give them the scent. Either way works. For lineup work, the dog is given the scent and then identifies the subject from a line up. Hank indicates by placing his front paws on the person, while Scout indicates by sitting down. Here’s a series of photos that shows another dog doing lineup work at a recent training.
Hank and Scout have both done well with lineup work, although they both seem to prefer actual tracking. Hank, especially, loves nothing more than a long trail. At a recent training, he followed a trail that started in a parking lot and went to the top of the ridgeline, both pictured below.
The trail started with giving Hank the scent of the subject he was going to be tracking.
Then it was time to get started! Hank is always wide open during these trainings, and he takes off right away. He’s very motivated, which is a good thing. That’s something they look for in a Search & Rescue dog.
This particular trail quickly transitioned off of the pavement and onto the grass before heading into the woods. The dogs do best with trails that are on grass and dirt, but they are getting better at pavement as well.
Once on the trail Hank really took off and I had a hard time keeping up with Barry and him. A little trail running got added to the mix.
Hank didn’t hesitate at all with any obstacles on the trail, and it wasn’t too long until we made it to the top of the mountain and found the subject Hank was tracking. He is always so proud of himself at the end of a trail!
When the dogs finish a trail, they give their indicator, and then we have a big over exaggerated celebration. We also carry treats for them, although they’re often not interested in them at the end of tracking for some reason.
Scout has a slightly more laid back approach to tracking than Hank. She’s still excellent at it, she just doesn’t do it at a sprint the way Hank does. That makes us a pretty good pair, since I’m able to both control and keep up with her.
This particular trail went down a paved path, across a road, and a little further down a paved path. You can see her subject in the distance in the second picture below. You can also see that Scout is tracking solely using her nose, and is not looking up and trying to look around (which is what you want).
Hank and Scout seem to really enjoy these trainings. However, Scout is usually pretty quick to lose interest, and typically only does three trails/lineup’s or so during training. That’s okay, though. We want to keep things fun for the dogs so that they don’t lose interest.
As you saw in the above pictures, the dogs each use a harness and a long, 30 foot leash, while tracking. We only attach the leash to their harness when it is time to work. When they are done on a trail, we switch the leash back to their collar so that they know they are done. When it is time to follow a trail we use the command “Go Find.” If they get distracted during a trail, we use the command “Back to Work.” We also give them a bit of encouragement along the way, by saying “Good Girl/Boy.”
Another type of work Search & Rescue dogs train for is cadaver work. This involves working with the dogs in identifying human remains. You don’t use the “Go Find” command, because the dog is not searching for a person. But you also don’t want to outright say what the dog is looking for either, in case there is family nearby at an actual search. So each handler has his/her own command to tell the dog they are looking for human remains. Ours is “leftovers,” while others in the group use “sticks and things” and “hueso” (which is Spanish for bone).
We have some actual human remains that are used as training aids. They are in containers in the metal box on the ground, just above Hank’s head in the middle picture above. He has done some work with HR, but does not seem to like this as much as finding a person. Scout, on the other hand, has shown much more aptitude for cadaver work. In the below series of pictures you can see her tracking, finding the box of remains, and giving her identification (by sitting).
At the end of each training, I record the details in Hank and Scout’s training log. The weather conditions can have a big effect on how well training goes, so I always include them in each entry. I also keep track of what type of location we were at, and what types of trails the dogs did.
I’m not sure if we will go all the way and officially become Search & Rescue certified. There is quite a lot involved with an official certification, including some obedience things that would be pretty tough for our dogs (like staying in a sit, stay for 10 minutes while the handler walks away). For now we really enjoy training with the group and letting the dogs do what they were born to do. They seem to really enjoy it, too.
In total, there are seven handlers and nine dogs that are currently part of the group. At our last training, we decided to get a group picture (with eight of the dogs). Some of the dogs don’t get along, especially the intact males (which includes Hank), so it was pretty interesting trying to figure out how we could all line up. Kind of like a puzzle.
It was quite a feat to get everyone lined up for the picture and to try and get all the dogs to hold still. This was the best we could get! Maybe we’ll give it another go on a different day.
Hank and Scout put a lot into each training, and are always so sleepy afterwards.
It takes them a few days to recover. But trust me, those are some happy pups.
If you have pets, have you ever done a specific type of training with them (obedience, agility, search & rescue, etc.)?