Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

Tuesday Night Training

Posted by douggoodman on January 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of the things that came out of the HRD seminar I attended in November was the desire to spend more time focusing on handler skills.  So with the other senior HRD member on my team, we started adding Tuesday night handler trainings.  I have really liked how these training sessions have progressed because of the impact on the dogs and the handler.

 

The kinds of skills are things like detailing, which is getting the dog's nose to follow the hand.  This is very useful in vehicle and building searches, but can also be used for small evidence searches when there is not a huge area to cover.  Believe it or not, something as simple as where you stand can affect a dog's behavior.  For example, if you are standing in one spot while the dog is working an area, and you gradually move to your right, your dog will start to move in that direction, too.  So on Tuesday nights we develop some of these skills (and many others).

 

Another advantage to the Tuesday night trainings has been the opportunity to work in different conditions. See, team trainings are usually weekend training sessions, usually staggered between mornings and afternoons to create the most opportunities for people to come out.  I really like the system, but you can't train in the dark when the sun is out!  Usuall when we did night trainnig, it was a special once- or twice-a-year event, usually held in the summer when it was just too stinking hot to train during the day.  But now the team is training lights out (you are welcome for the bad pun) on a weekly basis.  This has also allowed us to train in more inclemental weathers like rain, fog, and gusting winds, and sometimes like this past Tuesday, we get to train in all of them at once!  That's Texas for you.

 

A key element to the Tuesday night trainings has been that they are purely voluntary.  These sessions are for handlers who want to work their dogs a little more.  (And who doesn't?  Cadaver dogs are cool!) 

 

Note:  Create bumper sticker saying "Cadaver dogs are cool!"

 

There is nothing against anyone who doesn't want to attend.  Whether or not the team did Tuesay night trainings, I recognized the need to work my dog a little more each week, so I was getting everything out of the trainings that I wanted.  I have had to leave early before, other times some people couldn't make it out, but we always have enough people in attendance to train a least four to five dog teams. 

 

In January, the HRD teams tweaked the Tuesday night training, and we have really reaped the benefits from it.  What we did was make handler trainings complement weekend team trainings by doing the same kind of problems.  On Tuesdays, the problems are not blind, and on the weekends we do the same problem, but blind.  So for example we did a couple weeks of elevated training, where the source is placed up high.  We started at a lower height that our dogs were more comfortabe with (I think 4 feet).  All handlers knew exactly where the scent item was hanging (i.e., not blind).  Then on the weekend, we mimicked the same problem (hanging, 4 feet, always in a new location), but the handlers couldn't know the location of the hanging scent item (i.e., blind).  This has been great for learning the different behaviors provided by a dog in different situations.  It also builds team confidence, which is vital to any working dog team.  The handler has to trust that the dog is doing the job as trained.

 

Unlike team trainings, there are no flankers and no additional work, so the trainings are always quick and finished.  They usually take one and a half to two hours max from wheels stop to exiting the park.  If your team meets once a week but has several team members who want to pursue Tuesday night trainings, I highly recommend it.

If You Can Train A Chicken, You Can Train A Dog

Posted by douggoodman on June 18, 2011 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Some friends who attended the NASAR conference told me about chicken training, which they learned about at the conference.  (I don't know if this is the video they saw.)  The idea is to learn to train a dog by first learning to train a chicken.  I am not fond enough of chickens to ever want to teach them to do anything except jump into my KFC.  Speaking of which, pay attention 2:45 into the video.  I think there is additional motivation being used...

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If you can train a chicken, you can train a dog.  Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Dodgeball:

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SAR Mis-Step

Posted by douggoodman on June 4, 2011 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)

It is never too hot for SAR work, but it is starting to feel too hot to want to do SAR training.  With the team at the national SAR conference in Reno, there is not much going on here.  We have had three possible callouts in the past few weeks.  For one of those callouts, we were very close to leaving when we received the stand-down.  That was a hard one to let go of because the work starts to look like a reality and you get wrapped up in the preparations and excited about being able to use your dog and help some people, then you receive word that you are not working, so you have to bring yourself back down to Earth, sort to speak, and put things away and move on with your regular routines.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had a mis-step in my SAR practice.  I was working Mojo in some thorn bush (and almost nothing sucks as much as working in thorns), and I could tell Mojo was getting frustrated.  I was afraid his brain may be going dead and need some rest.  The pup is standing there, staring at me.  Then he gives a sharp bark, high-pitched.  (In retrospect, could this be any more Lassie-like?)  I told him to keep looking.  He barked again.  Once more, I told him to keep looking.  This time, he went into the down position and alerted on my foot.  My Foot's Not Dead!!!  (I hope.)

 

I lifted my foot.  I was standing on the scent item.  It had been covered by brush and grass.  So literally a mis-step.

SAR Dog Update

Posted by douggoodman on December 13, 2010 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (0)

There is a challenge to working two dogs of very different ability levels.  I am just glad that so far the team has worked the beginner HRDs, breaked for trailing dogs, then worked the more experienced HRDs. 

 

Rider is at a very basic level.  She has two goals for her training:  1.  Making her use her nose (meaning, hiding objects so she is not sighting on them, which is a common tactic of young pups doing HRD work) and make her think about where the scent lies, and 2.  Forcing her into new situations.  As a pup, she is cautious about new footings, new areas, new people, etc.  Outside of SAR, her focus has been socialization.  I take her to PetSmart, on walks, and I am building her towards dog parks.  As an HRD, she will need the confidence to take hold of any situation, ignore the bad (for example, a random dog or stranger entering a work zone), and focus on the task.  Right now, she wants to perk her ears up and watch anybody or any dog that may enter the site.

 

On the other hand, Mojo continues to show the kind of confidence a working HRD needs.  On Saturday, he was leaping into a precarious footing.  (By precarious, I mean narrow ledge about 4 to 5 feet off the ground.)  He did this willingly and without command because he was following a scent trail.  It was good for me, though, because as a handler I have to recognize that the dog is so focused, he would ignore common sense.  At that point, I should have put Mojo in a "sit" until I figured out the best way for him to get off the ledge.  He has always been a fearless dog.  I need to remember this when working him.  The key is that I trained the dog to work; it is my responsibility that he has a safe working environment. 

Houston, We Have Scent Detection!!!! (Neck Angles)

Posted by douggoodman on October 15, 2010 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Mark it down in your calendars.  Yesterday was the day Rider showed herself to be a true scenting dog!  I worked her in the backyard with three hidden scent items.  I gave her the command to search, and the nose went out and stayed out.  It was very awesome to see.  What I mean by "the nose went out and stayed out" is a difference in her posture, specifically the position of the head in relation to the shoulders.  If you watch a dog, most dogs have a 90-120 degree angle in their neck when in a non-working position.  In this posture, they are not focusing their nose on any one thing.  When a working dog is given the command to search, the head moves forward as the dog puts its nose to work.  The angle of the neck will be anywhere from 130 - 180 degrees (lowered straight with the body.)  The overall appearance is of a dog that is following its nose, which it should be!  Especially at Rider's experience level, the posture is very exaggerated.  It is a very clear indicator that the pup knows the game.   

 

This is Princess laying down.  The angle of her neck is maybe 100-110 degrees.  Even though she is paying attention to something (the camera), she is using eyesight and not so much her sense of smell.

In this picture, Rider is sniffing treats in the ball.  The head is extended, the nose is forward, and the angle of the neck is more like 130 degrees.  When a dog is moving around like this, she is following her nose, and when Rider did her search in this posture, it showed she was scenting for human remains.

In Praise of Rider

Posted by douggoodman on October 10, 2010 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Everybody who works needs compensation, and the same is true for dogs.  The trick is figuring out what compensation works best for the dog because every dog is unique.  My Mojo will jump through fire for a Milk Bone.  One time I brought regular dog food to training, and he barked angrily at me for a minute and refused to work any more the rest of the exercise.  I guess everybody has to have their standards.  (We have since worked out his grievances without the need for a lawyer.)

 

Another dog I know is even more unique.  His name is Rocket, and what he loves most in the world is the chance to run.  So after he has completed his search, his owners run with him.  It may sound odd, but the concept is still the same.  Once you find what the dog wants, you make that the reward.

 

Rider, too, is not a foodie.  I used to give her bits of food when I was introducing her to scent.  However, as she has gotten older (she is 10 months now), she has shown a distaste for the food reward.  When I worked her through a recent scent line-up, she spit out the food I gave her, or she ignored it completely.  So I tried a different approach:  praise.  So far it has worked.  She comes alive when she is praised; there is a new bounce to her walk.  Only after the exercise is finished do I give her food, and she eats it willingly. 

 

I have learned this, too:  there is reward for finding, and there is a second reward after the exercise.  Again, for Mojo this can simply mean emptying the food bag and letting him chow down, or it can be running with the pup, or it can be anything, so long as the pup craves it. 

Cussed Out By My Dog

Posted by douggoodman on May 9, 2010 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The hardest part of search and rescue is the paperwork.  I know, this is the same for most professions.  But me, I shoot myself in the foot  because I am probably too detailed.  Take this last training I did with Mojo.  We were working an urban search training assignment, and one of the scent items had been stuck in a fountain filter.  I could have written this section of the report in three sentences or less, something like:  Dog sniffed fountain, dog entered fountain, dog alerted on scent in filter.  Not me.  I gotta be detailed.  I think I spent most of a written page detailing how Mojo interacted with the fountain.  (That's probably the writer in me.  Down, Writer!  Down!)

 

Granted, I thought it was really cool seeing what Mojo did in the fountain.  My mud-dog is a water dog.  In particular here, low-level water.  You get him near a pond or a ditch, and he is ready to bolt.  He jumps in with the same kind of crazed exhuberance my 2-year old shows for going out for ice cream.  When it is low enough for him to walk into, Mojo will "straife" or "dive-bomb" the water source, running back and forth at top speed.  He got his nickname "mud dog" because one day he got out.  He came back eight hours later covered head to toe in mud and filth.  To look at the grin on his face, you'd think he had just spent a week in Disney World.  To him, I'm sure he did.  God, did he stink.  I was just glad he was back, but make no mistake:  this dog loves water.  So when Mojo wanted to enter the fountain, alarms went off in the back of my mind.  If I lost his interest, the training session would be for nothing.

 

I shouldn't have worried, though.  He got in there, and he wasn't running around.  He walked deliberately.  He would turn from side to side, and he would bite the water.  A couple of people watching at first thought he was trying to drink, but he wasn't drinking.  He wasn't staying in one place - his mouth chopped at the water here and there.  It is really cool what he was doing.  See, scent carries on water, so the scent was all over the fountain water.  Mojo was tasting the scent on the water.  The way dogs work, they can take the scent off their tongues and push it up into their olfactory receptors.  I think he does this when he really wants to get a bead on something close by and figure out where it has disappeared to.  (I noticed about a year ago he showed the same beahviors to one of the first buried scents I worked him on.  He set up a perimeter, and then he started "tasting" the grass.

 

Once he had sufficiently tasted the water, he went straight to the filter and his head disappeared in it.  He looked up at me and barked.  He waited a second, and I could see him thinking "Oh, hell.  You're going to make me lie down, aren't you?"  Yep.  He lowered himself ever so slowly into a kind of half-down, belly-not-touching-the-water maneuver.  He was cussing me, too.  I don't know what kind of cuss-words they have in doggie language, but he was hurling every one of them at me.  I rewarded him and we moved on to the next area.

 

See?  Even rehashing the report, I still take three paragraphs to describe one scent item...

Imprinting My Son On Cadaver Work

Posted by douggoodman on April 19, 2010 at 5:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I took some time on Saturday to work on imprinting Rider.  I brought my case into the living room and pulled out the rib and held it out for her.  She immediately shoved her nose in, on, over, and around it - just soaking up the scent.  It was exactly the reaction I was hoping for.  I brought out more scents - cremation, blood, teeth -- one after another and in as many formats as I could think of.  She never hesitated, but followed each one around.  It was a great imprinting session for my dog...and perhaps my son.

 

My 2-year old son saw me working with the puppy and came over to see what was going on.  I tried to down-play it.  "Oh, I'm just working with the dog."  My goal was to present this as something boring so he would go away and I could concentrate on imprinting Rider.  The next thing I hear is the sound of one of our chairs being dragged out of the breakfast nook, through the kitchen, into the living room, and right next to me so that HE could also participate.  So I started off trying to imprint Rider, but I may have imprinted (or at least influenced) my son, too!  He wanted to hold all the pieces and hand them to Rider, which of course he could not.  He also wanted to talk and yell and jump around, which were great distractions for Rider.  She would look his way to make sure he was okay, but she was too interested in the new smell, which she was all over.  I can't wait to try it again...I just hope I'm imprinting one youth and not two...

Scent Travel

Posted by douggoodman on February 1, 2010 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

A few months ago I read Scent and the Scenting Dog, by William Syrotuck.  From what I can tell, it is kind of the granddaddy of scent books (though not of trailing dog training books).  I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to work with a scent-trailing dog.  I was reminded of the book this weekend when I was working with Mojo on a narrow strip of trail.

 

The trail cut through a slope, with an embankment on one side and trees on the other.  A creek, which was full of water due to recent rains, ran through culverts under the trail.  The scent items were placed early in the morning, but Mojo and I did not work them until a few hours later.  Several interesting things happened.

 

1.  The water pulled the scent away from one scent item.  The scent was pulled down the slope, across the deck, and onto the water.  Both dogs searched the dock thoroughly, and Mojo kept air scenting on the creek.  He also at one point went into the woods next to the dock, where the scent was likely pooling due to the creek. 

 

2.  The creek had more of an effect than the air currents.  It was a windy day, but back on the trail, the air currents were almost dead.  This meant that the scent would have floated up, which it seemed to do with the exception of the scent item near the water. 

 

3.  Last (and this is where I think it gets really interesting), Mojo, who worked the area later in the day, kept returning to the embankment above the scent item.  This was due to the temperature rising.  Although we started in the morning around 34, the temperature had risen to a balmy 37 by the time I started Mojo.  The scent was rising along the slope and getting caught in the clover and weeds there. 

 

To Mojo, this was another game of find.  For the human involved, it was a great chance to see scent theory in work, and a good reminder that if you know the right conditions, it will help you to interpret the dog's reaction to the scent.

Where the Bear Dog Grows

Posted by douggoodman on December 28, 2009 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This was just a thought I had, and it is something I would like to try.  I was watching a Dogs 101 episode last week on Animal Planet, and they were showcasing Karelian Bear Dogs.  These dogs are bred to hunt bears, and in the US they are used to help in bear relocation efforts.  They are a very tenacious breed from what I have seen.

 

What caught my eye in this episode was the way people trained the Karelian Bear Dog.  It reminded me of the tactics used by the young boy in Where the Red Fern Grows, where he is teaching his dogs to hunt raccoons.  The boy ties a raccoon hide to a stick or belt and drags it around the forest, then sends his dogs after the hide.  Similarly, bear scent is dragged through the forest and left for the dogs to find.  It got me thinking about using the same technique with HRDs.  I might try this with Mojo, since he is my Guinnea Pig on everything.  I would drag a big scent item through the woods, then unleash him to see how he reacts.  I suspect he will follow the trail as opposed to alerting on the trail, but it would be fun to see how he handles the scenario.