Doug Goodman

Texas Horror Writer. Cadaver Dog Handler.

Doug's Blog

Gorilla Man and the Flying Mojo

Posted by douggoodman on September 3, 2009 at 8:55 PM

Four Shallow Graves

I have started Mojo on buried work.  Everything I have read or heard indicates that this is the most difficult part of the training for a human remains dog.  It should only be conducted once the pup has shown him/herself very capable at ground, hanging, and hidden searches, which Mojo has done.  Just as a refresher, back in early summer I set up some hidden challenges, which he did very well at.  In fact, the only time he showed any issues was when the time got close to noon and the heat ratcheted up.  At this point, you have a small little cylinder rising into the atmosphere that is very difficult to find. 


The next natural step is buried search.  I buried a collection of baby teeth from various friends' children in a small hole not 6 inches deep.  I then dug three "false graves" in the immediate area, all of this in a square not 10 yards by 10 yards.  If I made this sound too easy, I apologize.  This was killer work.  For starters, the entire area was covered with two inches of stone, which meant I was digging through stone first, clay second.  I forgot how much I hated digging holes, but at least it allowed me to joke about feeling like you dig holes and then fill them back up again.  (It is sad what I will do for a good bad joke.) 


The teeth needed to remain buried for 24 hours to allow the scent to rise up through Houston's black gumbo clay.  It is the thickest dirt I have ever dug in, and I say that as somebody who has dug 20+ holes to rebuild his fence. 


Dog, What Are You Thinking?

The next morning the SAR team got to watch Mojo run around in circles around the search area and eat grass, and from time to time sniff in the grass.  It seemed like he wasn't doing ANYTHING.  Then suddenly Kerplop! the dog fell chest to ground not 6 inches from the buried scent source.  "You gonna reward him?" one of the SAR trainers asked me.  I honestly didn't want to cause I didn't know if he was actually finding the source or if he was just giving up right there.  (I should have known better, btw.)


A little ticked, I packed Mojo up and we continued with other exercises.  Meanwhile, I went back over the procedure of burying the scent, convinced I had dug the grave too deep or not put enough scent material or didn't give it enough time to age.  I did everything as specified, but I forgot about the expected behaviors.  From the Cadaver Dog Handbook:  "The dog may work the pool and set the perimeter...."  Mojo knew what he was doing - I didn't.  Eating the grass?  More like tasting the scent.  Mojo did everything right, especially considering it was his first time working buried.  I am still learning, I guess...


Flying Mojo

I left the buried scent where it was.  Like hell was I going to dig it up every time I trained him.  Besides, this gave him an opportunity to work more aged items, and for all intents and purposes, was more realistic of what to expect from a search.


The last few days, Mojo has been eager to move around the house.  What I mean is, he has acted like a teenager with a new Mustang, who lets a light turn green, then waits so he can floorboard his pony to forty.  Mojo was jumping over ottomans instead of walking around them, and rushing into rooms rather than sauntering in. 


Today I took him back out to the buried teeth and worked him again.  The source had been buried for a month, and the grass had been cut in that time.  I was concerned about the time of day.  It was clear skies and hot, 92 degrees.  Over 90, and the bacteria that makes scent starts to burn up.  So there were definite challenges. 


I took him out there and let him loose.  Over twenty minutes he set up a loose perimeter, and a few times he showed me there was a trail, but there were a lot of distractions, like a neighborhood dog and a group of people hanging outside of their house.  He kept alerting on them.  After twenty minutes I decided to break him.  Frying his brains wouldn't teach him or me anything.  As we came back to the van, he perked up.  He was practically flying the way his heels clicked and the way he held his head so high.  You'd think he had won a dog show or something.  (I didn't tell him he was just a mutt, and not capable of winning a pedigreed dog show.)   He makes this behavior when we finish searches.  He is generally please with himself, and I always egg him on to let him know what a great dog he is.  This time, though, I didn't say anything.  I wasn't derogatory, but I didn't want to praise him.  I didn't want him to think that he could just walk out there, do a few turns, and everyone would be happy.  He had to find the scent. 


Gorilla Man Lets Loose

I waited patiently for Mojo to stand in the back of the van and chill out with the door open.  We had his bowl of water, so I made sure he got some water.  While we waited, I noticed that clouds were moving in over the area.  A cool breeze blew, too.  Mojo started to climb out, so I grabbed the leash and water and set off back to the search area. 


This time, I was much more animated.  I was really trying to keep him revved up and eager.  I was stooping down and rolling the grass with my hands.  I'm sure the guys hanging out at their homes were wondering "why is that strange man acting like a gorilla?"  But I did it to keep Mojo from thinking about the people, the cars, the dogs, or anything else.  Mojo circled around a bit, worked a scent cone, then sniffed right on the source.  I kept encouraging him cause he wanted to back out and verify the scent item.  If it was more gorilla man the pup needed, it was more gorilla man he got!  Then all of a sudden he turned and started digging on the buried source.  I told him "good" in the tone I use when he has found something.  I saw the lightbulb go off above his head, and he dropped on the buried pile.  I rewarded him and praised him and gave him the "good dog" rub.  The good dog rub isn't a pat or a pet.  You start at the shoulders and rub back to the hips.  Mojo loves it, and as for me, Gorilla Man, I was happy to see Mojo take that step forward.


Lessons Learned

Between the breaks, the temperature dropped almost five degrees, and what a difference that made.  The scent item was obviously stronger and made the dog more confident of its location.  The nice breeze helped provide a cone.  For buried searches, I recommend either VERY early in the morning or doing a night search, if you are training the dog in the summer in Houston. 


Encouragement.  New dog trainers fail to emphasize the good job victory dance side of training.  I did it, too.  You are a little embarassed because the people with more experienced dogs aren't doing it as much.  Sure, they will tell you to encourage the animal, but I know I was a little shy to start jumping up and down and acting like an idiot (no comments from the peanut gallery, please).  These self-deprecatign tactics work, though, and the owner who is eager to effulgently praise the dog will have a much better working dog.

Categories: Search and Rescue, Dogs (General), Cadaver Dog Training

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