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May 18, 2014: Dog Training: Search and Rescue Trail Dog In Training

Ryder, as evidenced by today’s exemplary search and rescue behavior, is right where she ought to be in her training. The question that I’d been considering is should I train her to do air scent or trailing? Air scent finds are done off-lead – the dog searches for the subject, finds the subject, goes back to the handler, alerts the handler that he or she has a find, then takes the handler to the subject. And trailing is done on lead. The dog, who is connected to the handler, works in a more linear fashion. The dog’s alert is given with the handler present.

No one gave me any input as to whether Ryder should do air scent or trailing. I did consider air scent training because it would be nice not to have to deal with the lead. But I decided to do trailing because I would not be comfortable with having Ryder roving about. There would be too much for her to get into. Plus, we might someday have to do searches in

Aaron and Duke at Moose Creek

high traffic areas. I also like the fact that trailing takes time, and keeps the handler on the move. So trailing it is going to be.

Today’s session began with two sessions with two problems each. Aaron was Ryder’s subject and Patty was our support person. She directed Aaron to go a short ways down a path and dive into the woods. Ryder crittered some on the first go-around, but then became focused and found him. We are now using treats as a primary reinforcer and her come along strap as a secondary reinforcer.

The second time around, Ryder knew that Aaron had the treat (she probably smelled it on him) and so she stayed focused on finding him. This time, Ryder took off at a brisk pace, with me on the far end of the line. She did charge up a berm at the halfway point. Patty later told me that she heard Jim’s dog Yukon and went to check this out. However, she immediately raced back down the hill and within minutes found Aaron.

Patty said that because Ryder had done so well that it was best to call the session good. But she then suggested that we later do another session, which really surprised me because the dogs usually get just one session.

Between sessions I had time to ponder an all-important question, which was, how might I optimize success? I decided to do this by having Jim Maddry be the subject. This is because he puts his heart and soul into being a subject. He keeps the dog’s attention by remaining upbeat the entire time. I also had Stacey Re be my support person. In my estimation, Stacey is the best support/trainer around. Her comments before, during, and after, are always very astute, and she is adept at communicating these thoughts to dog owners.

Jim, Stacey, Kathy, and I went down to the creek area. Jim then took off, leaping and in a falsetto voice yelling “Ryder, Ryder, Ryder!” We soon realized that he’d forgotten to bring a scent article, so Kathy went back to his vehicle and got one. We had about a five-minute wait, which turned out to be a good thing, for the trail was allowed to age a bit. (Up until now we’ve worked Ryder on fresh trails.) I held Ryder, who remained alert. Kathy arrived with the scent article (which was in a Ziploc bag) and I allowed Ryder to sniff it. “Search!” I then said. Together, Ryder and I then went bounding down the trail.

Along the way, Stacey Re explained things to me, the most important lesson of the day being to watch and read the search dog. If the head goes up and the dog is looking around and sniffing the air, it’s working on the problem. But if the head goes down and the dog is sniffing the ground, the dog is crittering. A few times, I’d interrupted Ryder’s problem solving process by calling her off trail. Instead, I ought to have planted my feet and waited for her to continue on. Fortunately, Ryder is a very easy to read dog, and this (I realized) is going to come in handy down the trail.

The third and final session was the most difficult for Ryder and I. Ryder had to travel along a creek bed and then find Jim, who’d hidden off the beaten path. She overshot him, went up to the bridge that crosses the very busy Glenn Highway. She looked intently at the cars and trucks – but when I said “on trail,” she returned to the trail and promptly found Jim. This is because I’m not yet scent trained. But I do know that she’s now actively problem solving, and this is very exciting.

Next: 138. 5/19/14: Antsy