Give That Dog a Pay Raise!

Sometimes you know something, but it takes a new situation to remind you of it, and to reinforce it.

Ruger’s rubber toy on the left, Rocco’s canvas paycheck on the right.

I forgot a critical element when I started my new dog Rocco on the detection of human remains. I started out rewarding Rocco with the same toy Ruger likes because, well, it was in my pack. But Ruger’s toy is rubber and sometimes hard to pull out of a pocket quicky. With a beginning dog, you want to reward behavior instantly. So for no other reason than to avoid ripping my pants I switched to a toy that was similar, but made of canvas not rubber. It simply came out of my pocket easier.

Ho-Lee-Cow. I couldn’t believe the difference in Rocco.

His play has become much more animated. He’s much more reluctant to give me back the toy. He’s a complete bull-in-a-china-shop when I toss it someplace, and he’s even nipped my fingers a couple times trying to get it back from me. (Just part of being a dog handler.)

My point is that if you’re not getting the behavior you want from your dog, part of the problem might be the reward. Virtually every dog owner is trying to get certain behaviors from their companion. You first need to make sure the dog knows what’s expected, but the other half is making it worth their while.

Consider the following:

  • Bigger version of the same toy (yes, it works).
  • Let the dog choose from a sack of toys.
  • Longer praise and play.
  • Really yummier treats (if food is your reward).

The little twerps are actually capitalists who would put Rockefeller to shame. They’ll do what you want, but the price has to be right.

Stay Found.

Could My Fido Be a Search Dog?

I’m asked a lot by dog owners whether their dog could be a search dog. Many times they seem genuinely interested in the process, until they learn the training requires about 300 hours per year for two years to get that first dog mission-ready.

The American Kennel Club has an outstanding option for those whose dog needs a job, or in this case, a hobby. K9 Scent work (sometimes called Nosework) is an AKC competitive dog sport that very closely replicates the world of cadaver dogs (or drug or bomb dogs). Instead of finding dead humans, the dogs are trained to find the odors of three different essential oils.

Here’s a link to the AKC page on Scent Work

You can also find instructors in your area by Googling “Scent Work” or “Nosework.”

Can your dog do this? Of course. Some of the pug-nosed dogs might struggle, but pretty much every other breed can handle this. Some individual dogs won’t enjoy the game, just like some people don’t like tennis or Monopoly.

So get out there and have a good time with your dog, and Stay Found!

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Doggie Needs a Potty Break!

There are lots of good reasons to avoid leaving your dog in your car, but there are lots of good reasons why it happens. In SAR, we get our dogs used to being in the car because we might be given a task that doesn’t require the use of a dog. For example, helping to carry an injured subject out of the woods is an all-hands drill, but you don’t want a dog running around underfoot.

So if your dog is going to be in the car for an extended period, it’ll need potty breaks. Will you be around to do that?

Some dogs consider a car their “territory” and will defend it even if they’d welcome burglars into the family home. If yours is one of those dogs you should desensitize it to having strangers get it in and out of the car.

Start out by having a friend with whom the dog is familiar get it in and out, with you present. Have them (not you!) provide lots of treats as they go. Then move up to a stranger, but again with you present. Finally, have a stranger go up to the car with you nearby but out of sight.

If your dog just won’t accept a potty break from a stranger, that’s OK. At least you know. And if it will, all the better. It’ll put your mind at ease in situations where you might have some bigger issue going on.

Stay Found!

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Chicken Soup for the…Dog

Your grandmother was right. Chicken soup cures almost everything, and that’s even true in the dog world.

Two of the biggest problems with working dogs are being too hot, and being too cold. Chicken Soup, or more accurately low-sodium chicken broth, can help with each of those.

Low-Sodium Chicken Broth for cooling or heating your dog.

For hot days, freeze a can of chicken broth. Let it thaw just enough to get it out of the can, and drop it in your dog’s water bowl. It’ll not only cool the water, but as it melts the flavor will encourage your dog to drink. The only caution is against leaving the mixture out too long after the block completely melts. Just like any other food, it needs to be kept cool, or hot. Which brings me to the next suggestion.

When it’s cold, some hot chicken broth in a thermos is great when your dog gets back to the car. Cold days can be dry days, so your dog can still be dehydrated. Getting them to drink some lukewarm chicken broth can both warm and rehydrate your K9 buddy. How hot? Check a few drops on your wrist, just like you might check milk from a baby bottle.

Is chicken soup good for the soul? I don’t know, but chicken broth is good for the dog, and the dog is definitely good for your soul.

Stay Found!

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It’s Always Communication

I’ve been around emergency services since the early 1970s, and when events didn’t go well, communications was always a major reason.

But here’s the other bit of news: even when things DO go well, communications is always cited as an “area for improvement.”

How does this apply to you? You should get used to the fact that in a major disaster your cell phone won’t work. You’ll be lucky if texts go through, but that’s not guaranteed. Worst of all, they might be delayed, which could make for massive confusion if yesterday’s texts start arriving today.

I keep a stash of low-cost Family Radio Service walkie-talkies at my house. My wife hates technology, but these are things that even she can operate. I store them in an air-tight ammo can, without the batteries installed, and I avoid using them for anything but disasters. I have other FRS radios for dog training or other needs. But just like that extra roll of TP or that terrible-tasting emergency food, my stash of FRS radios is waiting for the big one.

You should have one radio for every member of your family, along with spare batteries. Did I mention that you should store them with the batteries out? That way they won’t be a cruddy mess in two years when the batteries leak all over the inside. The only hitch this creates is that with some models they will likely be back at factory defaults when you put the batteries in. One thing not shown in the picture is an instruction manual, which might be a good thing to also have in your radio box.

These combined FRS/GMRS radios are for advanced users. Google “General Mobile Radio Service” for more information.

These radios will allow family members to be in touch at least around the neighborhood. The range can be a bit limited, but if you send an older child to check on elderly neighbors or to the corner store for supplies you’ll be able to stay in touch.

I think my love of radios started when I got some 1960s-era walkie talkies for Christmas when I was about 11. I had a paper route then, and a month or so later I had to deliver papers in a massive snow-and-freezing-rain storm. My folks made me take one of the radios so I could stay in touch with them from my route. I highly recommend them for all families.

Stay Found!

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Gun Dog!

Ruger comes from a long line of gun dogs, so we’re making a gun dog out of him.

Huh? There are really two meanings to the term “gun dog.”

In the hunting world, a gun dog is a hunting dog that responds when the hunter drops a bird. The term implies that the dog is used to working around guns and won’t be skittish at the sound of firing.

In the search and rescue world, a gun dog is a dog that finds guns, or expended shell casings, at the request of police. It’s not well known that SAR teams work a lot of crime scenes. We don’t chase criminals, but we are frequently called to look for evidence and occasionally for bodies.

Ruger is already nationally certified to find both live and deceased people. We’re adding what’s called “Gun Shot Residue” to his resume. Over the past few months Ruger has been finding progressively fewer shell casings tossed into grass. The eventual expectation is that he’ll be able to find a single shell casing in a 100’x100′ area, along with guns themselves.

One curve ball is that we’re not allowed to have firearms at SAR trainings. That’s kinda like training a cadaver dog when you can’t have a human body in your freezer. So we work around this challenge by bringing gun parts that are dirty, but not bringing an entire functioning weapon.

Not sure yet when we’re going to take our test, but we’ll keep you posted.

Walkin’ On, Walkin’ On Bro-Ken Glasss

It’s a frightening scenario for a dog walker. You’re admiring the birds or the trees or the sunset and you realize you’ve walked your dog into a scattering of broken glass.

What do you do? If the dog is small enough, you can pick it up. But if that’s not possible then the next best answer is to just keep walking. The absolute worst answer is to start yanking on your dog’s leash in an effort to rush them out of the area.

You might have noticed that dogs are different from people. They have four legs which means that if they’re just walking, three of those legs are on the ground. If they put the fourth foot down on something sharp, or hot, they can pick it back up. You or I, with only two feet, would fall over. The dogs do just fine.

When the dogs don’t do just fine is when the handler starts yanking on the lead, disrupting their balance and forcing them to put a foot down where they don’t want to.

If you see you’re in a pile of glass just slow down and if possible continue walking in the same direction. Avoid forcing the dog to turn which might spin them on a sharp edge. Once you’re safely out of the area check the dog’s feet for shards of glass that might have worked up between their toes. That could produce a cut later as the shard moves around.

In the US, SAR dogs that work rubble “go naked.” Not only do they not wear booties but we remove collars and vests. We want the dog to be able to feel heat or sharpness with their feet, and we don’t want a collar or vest that might snag.

My dogs have all worked rubble, including Magnum who worked the SR 530 Mudslide near Oso, WA. None has ever suffered a cut pad, even though they almost always end up on broken glass.

As I said before, there’s never a perfect answer. But you can reduce the odds of a cut pad by simply taking a breath and continuing to walk, slowly, in a straight line.

Stay Found!

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Product Review – Katahoola Microspikes

With the chance of more snow in the forecast, there’s probably still time for a product review I meant to do much earlier in the season.

I’ve had the chance to use a couple of different traction devices for walking on snow and ice, and Katahoola Microspikes are the hands down winners. There’s another brand that was first on the scene, and like many “firsts” it was a great idea. But Katahoola has worked the bugs out, and their microspikes are the closest thing to crampons without needing to be on Mt. Everest.

They go over your boots easily, and unlike “Brand Y” they stay in place. I found that the Brand Y devices have too big an opening between the straps at the front. That allowed them to slide back down the toe of the boot, eventually bunching up under my arch. The design of the Katahoolas prevents that.

They’re priced at $69.95 at REI. REI also carries another version called NanoSpikes which look good, but which I haven’t tried. From the pictures, they might be a little more comfortable to walk on, with rubber soles and embedded studs, almost like a snow tire. If somebody has experience with them, speak up!

Stay upright and Stay Found!

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Update: Payout – The Scent of Money

I’m gratified that so many of you have asked for a sequel to Digger. I’m pleased to report that we’re in the home stretch of production.

The delay was out of respect for you. Although I write fiction, I’m committed to making it realistic fiction worthy of your time. Without spoiling Digger, the solution to that mystery was easy for me to envision. But Bryce and Sierra are search and rescue volunteers. They can’t go flitting around town like Aurora Teagarden or Jessica Fletcher being busybodies. They’d get kicked out of SAR if they tried.

The long-awaited sequel, Payout – The Scent of Money, was easy to write, but much harder to envision. Coming up with a mystery that could be ferreted out by a volunteer search and rescue dog handler took me almost a year. How’d I do it? By hiking with Ruger in secluded forests and just thinking “what if?” After months of “what ifs” I finally sat down at a keyboard and started cranking.

Look for something in a few short weeks. Maybe the ides of March? Hope so. I’ll keep you posted on how to acquire your copy.

Stay found!

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If you AND your dog are hurt.

Iunusual for both dogs and handlers to be injured in the same incident. Traffic collisions are the most common events, but falls, hypothermia and even contact with hazardous materials can send you to separate facilities.

In my truck I carry a pre-filled, signed document authorizing treatment and guaranteeing payment to any vet who treats my dog in my absence. Yes, it requires them to guess at what my wishes would be, but it does give reasonable guidance to an ethical vet. I’d rather pay more at an unethical vet than have my dog die because a vet wasn’t sure they’d get paid.

I’m no whiz with MS Word, but attached for your use is a blank version of the document I use. Feel free to download and copy/modify and keep it with your vehicle registration and insurance papers. Be sure to include any meds or nutritional supplements your dog is on. That’s as critical in the canine world as for humans.

Let’s hope you never need this.

Stay found!

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