Obedience Class? Yup! I YouTube’d It.

Full disclaimer: I do not teach obedience classes and I have no financial interest in promoting any class or instructor. I simply believe that live classes result in better-trained dogs and handlers than can be produced by a video. Here's why. 

There is some terrific information available on YouTube, and the goofballs are pretty easy to detect. They generally blow themselves up or cut off a finger while telling you how great they are. (Check out this dude who thinks he’s a firearms instructor.)

So why shouldn’t you use a YouTube video for obedience training your dog? It beats rushing to a class after work, is far cheaper, and if your baloney detector goes off mid-class you haven’t paid $125 for six Thursday nights in advance.

The challenge is socialization. Obedience training is only partly about your dog learning to heel, sit and stay. For those skills to have any meaning, the dog must be able to do them virtually anywhere. (OK, the squirrel exhibit at the zoo might be asking too much.)

A dog with a solid “sit-stay” learned at home via YouTube will be a wild banshee their first time at a city park. They’ll be overstimulated by water spraying in the fountain and squealing kids on the grass. If you have a retrieving breed, God help you if there’s an activity happening that involves a ball.

Let me be clear. There are some terrific dog trainers on YouTube. But for that training to be effective you need to get out into the real world, and work through your lessons with other people, dogs and noises around. That’s the advantage of a brick-and-mortar class location. There will be other dogs, doors slamming, other dogs, an instructor talking loudly, other dogs, squeaky toys and more. Did I mention there will be other dogs present? If you’re lucky a family of four will be there with the kids behaving badly while mom and dad work the dog. Bratty, distracting kids are nuggets of gold at a dog obedience class.

The live instructor has other advantages:

  • They can problem solve with your specific dog. While there are some generalities, every breed and every dog within a breed is different.
  • They can problem-solve with YOU. I don’t care if it’s high-end SAR or just basic obedience- the harder half of the team to train is the human.
  • They can reassure you when you’re doing well. Honest confidence means you’re the leader of the pack, and your dog will respond to your sense of self-assurance.

The final benefit of a live class is that you’ll get to see other handlers struggle with their dogs. I’m not trying to be catty or suggest you engage in one-upmanship. I do suggest you file those challenges (and the solutions you observe) in your memory bank. Trust me- eventually your dog will go through the same phase, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with it quickly.

Live classes are the way to go. Good instructors can be found in almost every locality. Do an internet search or check with a trusted pet store or breeder for a recommendation.

Stay Found!

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Beginning SAR – Doing “Searchy Things”

103A solid foundation in the basics is critical to many endeavors, but especially K9 Search and Rescue. The single biggest mistake made by new handlers is trying to move ahead too quickly.

“We popped out in the woods behind the house and I turned the dog loose. He found my neighbor OK, but never came and got me. He’d been doing that part just fine, and now…nothing. What happened?”

What happened is that new handler got too far ahead of him or herself, and was out back trying to do “searchy things.” Small problems, supposedly easy, to move the dog ahead between official training days. But without a mentor around, the problem goes off the rails.

Here’s why this continues to happen with teams everywhere: new dog handlers are enthusiastic about getting certified, going on searches, and helping their community! Those are exactly the attributes I want my teammates to have! I’m not criticizing “searchy things,” but I do want to lay out how risky it can be to freelance during the early part of your training. Something as simple as having an untrained hider do something unexpected and scare your dog can set back your training by months.

Soooo, what do I do there, Mr. Bob?

Walk your dog. That’s all. Until your mentor tells you to do otherwise, just walk your dog in the environment it’ll be searching in. Do that as many nights a week as you can spare.

  • If you’re a trailing handler, walk around town. Around construction sites. Busy intersections. Bus stops. Restaurant exhaust fans.
  • If you’re an air scent handler, take your dog for hikes in the woods. Let it get used to all the smells it’ll encounter in the wilderness. Let it get used to flushing birds or spooking deer. Figure out early if it’s one-a those dogs that has to roll in stinky stuff. (Ask your mentor about crittering and their philosophy for discouraging it.)
  • If you’re doing cadaver work, take your dog to both wilderness and urban areas, as well as inside buildings. Get it used to going from room to room to room in quick succession. The only two buildings your puppy has likely been in are your house, and the vet’s office. (We all know what happened at the vet’s office.)

This is search training. Your dog will never search in a sterile environment. There will always be coyote poop in the woods, and restaurant exhaust along city streets. The best and safest thing you can do to advance your dog’s career in SAR is desensitize it to as many distractions as possible. That way, when you do get to searching, you’ll know it can focus and do its job.

Yes, it’s magic seeing your dog’s head snap when they catch the scent of a subject. Every handler out there wanted to do “searchy stuff” before they were ready. But along with desensitizing your dog, going for walks is fun and builds a great bond between the two of you. That is search training and it will pay off.

Stay Found!

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Choke, Pinch or Halti? A better way to leash your dog.

Despite 15 years as a search and rescue dog handler, I’m not an expert on dogs in general. I’m barely an expert on the one I work. But doing this volunteer work has gotten me in the room with some pretty spectacular dog trainers and I try to soak up what I can.

One of the best tips I ever got came from Jean Hampl who runs a school in Gig Harbor, WA. The question always comes up when training basic obedience: Do I use an old fashioned choke collar, a pinch collar, or one of those “gentle leader” types?

Jean has a better idea. She recommends a harness, but then NOT

This ring connects the two shoulder straps with the chest strap. Clip into it instead of the usual spot on the dog’s back.

connecting to the usual spot on the dog’s back. Good harnesses will have a metal ring connecting the two shoulder straps with one that comes up from the chest. It’s not meant to have a leash clipped to it, but it works great. Here’s why: When the dog inevitably takes off running out in front of you, the connection at the chest pulls the dog to the side. There’s no choking, no pinching, and no yanking of the head on those supposedly “gentle” leaders.

If you clip to the usual spot on a dog’s harness, you’re pitting the dog’s strength against yours. After time, you’ll tire and lose. Think Iditarod.

A leash correctly clipped to the front ring of Ruger’s harness.

If you clip to the front ring, simple physics spins the dog back toward you. There’s no need to yank. Just hang on and the dog will correct itself. That’s another key to effective and humane training: the dog controls the correction, not you. (Especially not you if you’re frustrated.)

Because the dog gets pulled to the side, it has less strength to fight the correction. Its body isn’t built to pull hard in that direction. And when you’re ready to let the dog play around and be a goofball, then go ahead and connect to the regular spot on the back of the harness. Then the dog will know it’s OK to pull in search of that wonderful smelling fire hydrant.

Jean’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/Hampls-Dog-Obedience-141987085827318/. All credit to her for this tip.

If you enjoyed this post you can sign up to be notified of future posts. And be sure to like Sierra’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/sierrasearchdog.

Stay Found!

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The Bangor Backstory

I had a great time today with Mattie Baker’s three and four-year old nursery-school group at the Sub Base Bangor (WA) community center. Mattie is a most gracious host, and the kids were wonderful. I read them both of my children’s books, and they asked great questions afterward.

But when I first arrived at this pretty-big-deal Navy base, I started to get nervous. In my truck was a K9 training setup called a Behavioral Shaping Device. The set consists of four large wooden boxes, three of which are distractions. The fourth has an electronic device inside that will launch Ruger’s toy when he performs correctly. Even more concerning, Ruger’s reward toy looks just like a stick of dynamite! Pink or green dynamite perhaps, but dynamite nonetheless. Annnd just to top things off…the remote clicker was in my pocket!

Having worked at an airport I’m VERY familiar with the qualities of a “suspicious package” and the BSD has every stinkin’ one of them. The guard at the gate was very professional. He touched my ID and tossed a surprise question my way to make sure I was legit (I won’t reveal it here). He apparently didn’t hear me exhale as he waved me in.

The rest of the visit couldn’t have been more fun, and Ruger did great. I’ll note the event in his official training log. Surrounded by a herd of noisy three and four-year olds, Ruger was still able to focus and successfully “find Digger.”

If you’d like to see how a BSD works, CLICK HERE. It’ll be pretty obvious from the video why it wouldn’t have been good for security to have flagged me for a “random search.”

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My SAR New Year’s Resolutions

Well, it’s that time of year. We all make New Year’s resolutions and hope to make at least a couple of them ongoing habits. A couple of my personal resolutions this year are going to revolve around Search and Rescue, and generally relate to safety.

  1. I’m going to start wearing a helmet when I search, even on training ifhelmet I’m alone in the brush. On most searches handlers are accompanied by a support person but in training we’re frequently short-handed and alone. Why a helmet? Because Ruger doesn’t have thumbs. If I fall and crack my head, he can’t key the radio microphone to call for help. (It’s good thing Ruger doesn’t have thumbs. If he did, he’d be able to drive the truck and wouldn’t even take me on searches.)
  2. I’m also going to incorporate a heart rate monitor into my SAR work. Read more

Snow Safety for K9s

Dogs love the snow. But the snow doesn’t necessarily love them.

We are having our first little winter event in Western Washington- the kind that people in Maine or Minnesota mock us for. (“But it’s a wet snow here, and really slick!”)

This is a good time to go over some safety tips for your K9 friend if they’re snowgoing to play in the snow.

Before you go out, know your dog’s metabolism and whether it needs to wear a warming coat. Just like us, dogs generate heat when active. They might be fine playing in your yard and curling up in front of the fireplace later. But if you take them in the car, or under a canopy in your truck, you might need to put a coat on them when they go back in their kennel. You do transport in a kennel, right?

While short-haired dogs can get cold, long-haired breeds need protection from ice balls building up in their coats. Golden retrievers, for example, have hair between their toes. An ice ball there can be excruciating to walk on, and can create a bit of front nip on the tissues. My beloved Magnum with his show dog coat would come out of the snow with ice balls up to…um…where we removed his other ones.

Booties aren’t always the answer. They don’t cover the upper legs or chest and belly, and if your dog doesn’t routinely wear booties you’ll get to see an “ice dance” that would make Scott Hamilton take notice.

There are several products you can spray on the dog to prevent the formation of ice balls. The one most everybody has at home is regular, original Pam. pamI haven’t tried butter flavored or “Pam for Grilling,” just the regular, original Pam. Spray it on their feet and legs, being sure to rub it between their toes. If the snow is deep and powdery, get it up in the “armpit” portion of their front legs and on the insides of their back legs. Those ice balls can become quite large and also create front nip if left in place.

Periodically while out and definitely when you return to the warm, check your dog thoroughly for ice balls and break them up.

If you want to go whole hog, there is a proprietary product called Musher’s Secret that is available on Amazon. It’s a cream that will remind you of petroleum jelly- BUT DON’T EVER USE A PETROLEUM PRODUCT! For those of you into horses, I’m told that Show Sheen also works, but I haven’t personally experimented with it.

The next step is to keep your dog hydrated. Think of how much work it would be for you to bust through chest deep snow. Some snowy environments can actually be quite arid. Give them plenty of water and a bit of extra food is always in order, too. When not active, dogs use the food in their belly to generate heat to keep them warm.

Finally, play smart! Retrievers or ball-driven dogs will love a loosely-packed snowball tossed to them. The key phrase there is “loosely-packed.” Don’t throw a chunk of ice to your dog to catch in their teeth. Limit play and don’t let them over-exert themselves in an exciting new environment.

Then, with these few safety tips out of the way, get out and enjoy the snow with your K9 friend. They’ll have a good time, and you will too.

P.S. If you have or plan to use your dog for Search and Rescue, make a game out of burying a favorite toy and letting them dig it out. As much as they tend to dig up our back yards, not all dogs understand that something can be “under” something else. Having them dig a toy out of the snow is a concept that will pay dividends later. They don’t need to search for it. Just let them watch you cover up their favorite toy and dig it out.

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Home School Event!

I had the best time yesterday at an event with a network of kids who are home-schooled. I was a bit intimidated at first, because of the range of ages involved. It’s not like speaking to a traditional classroom of X-graders, all at one age and reasonably close in comprehension skills. The home scho161102-home-school-1ol group included everyone from kindergarten to fourth grade, plus parents. How on earth could I do one explanation of Search and Rescue that would work for everybody?

My host Mattie was a great coach, and it simply wasn’t a problem. She let me know that “big words” were OK because that helps kids improve their vocabularies. She even helped me with the sensitive topic of describing cadaver dogs to youngsters.

The kids asked great questions and really seemed to enjoy watching Ruger do a basic SAR drill, a “runaway,” with one of their buddies.  For his part, Ruger loved the attention from the kiddos. Despite being a high-drive SAR dog, Ruger is able to channel his inner Therapy Dog and be gentle with the little ones.

Ruger and I are available for demonstrations or I can do readings from one of my books. You can reach us at K9Sierra <at> outlook.com.

Product Review – Garmin Tactix Bravo

If we were playing baseball, the new Garmin Tactix Bravo GPS Watch would be scored as a hit and an error.

dsc_2009The unit is a solid triple (just danged near a home run) when compared to the disappointing original Tactix. It’s much more intuitive to operate and customize, and the various screens are much easier to read in all light. For those of us with aging eyes, the extra contrast means you don’t always have to dig the reading glasses out of your pack.

The Time-To-Firstdsc_2002-Fix is awesome, meaning you won’t be standing around the parking lot waiting for the unit to figure out your starting point. The sensitivity also seems greatly enhanced, as the unit quickly determined my location inside my house. I would expect far fewer cases of lost lock even in the thickest of western Washington’s trees.

So that’s the hit- now here’s the error. (This one would make the nightly highlight reel.) Unlike its predecessor, the Bravo will not save tracks as .GPX files, which is the universal language of GPS units. For a device that purports to have a “Tactical Mode” this is a major omission.

connectWhen I’m going for a trail run, Garmin’s proprietary “.FIT” file format is just fine. It works with the online “Connect” service, and gives me great stats about heart rate, pace, etc. But on a Search and Rescue mission our GPS files need to be saved and offered to the local sheriff in the universal .GPX file format. We never know what mapping program the local sheriff will have. The only way to provide a .GPX file now is take my own computer, and use Garmin Basecamp to convert the .FIT file to a .GPX.

Ideally, Garmin should have the file format determined by the profile in use. In Trail Run Mode the user could set the Bravo to save the file as a .FIT. In Tactical Mode the user should be able to set the file output as a .GPX.

This is still a terrific watch/GPS/training tool, and I hope that developers at Garmin will be able to fix this huge omission in a future software update.

I give the Garmin Tactix Bravo a rating of: Four Satellites.

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What is SAR, really?

160817 River Rescue
http://www.cajunfirst.com/news/local-news/ldwf-agents-conducting-search-and-rescue-missions-in-south-louisiana. Glenn Farley of KING TV overlayed the Louisiana flood area on a map of Washington State. It covers an area from Seattle to Grand Coulee Dam, and from Everett south to Tacoma.

s we look at the world of search and rescue, we need to admit that SAR is really a collection of disciplines and skills, and we are bonded to many more brothers and sisters than might be obvious.

Who among us would be prepared for a SAR mission in which an enemy was trying to kill both our subject and ourselves? Yet that is a given in the world of military search and rescue.

If you’re in the Coast Guard, the ocean is usually trying to kill everyone involved, and that’s a much different dynamic than looking for a lost mushroom picker in a old-growth forest.

In Louisiana there are currently many search and rescue missions which involve anyone with a boat.  We wish them Godspeed as they work to save people from massive flooding.

Even firefighters at routine house fires do search-and-rescue, by circling the interior of burning buildings while keeping one hand on a wall.

Within our world of search and rescue we have trailing, air scent, cadaver, water search. We have counterparts in mantracking, 4×4, snow machine, mountain rescue and much more.

If you’re in SAR you’re part of a much larger fraternity than you might have known. All of us working together to save lives, one subject at a time. So take heart and be proud of your accomplishments. You’ve earned that.

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GoodReads Giveaway

Hi All-160516 Cover 2D

I’m going a GoodReads Giveaway starting Aug. 3. Three lucky contestants will win copies of Digger– Sierra and the Case of the Chimera Killer.

If you like to read, you should be on GoodReads. It’s much more complicated than Twitter, FB or Instagram, but well worth your time in finding the right book for you.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Digger by Robert Calkins

Digger

by Robert Calkins

Giveaway ends August 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway