“No, really. I mean what’s ‘up?'” Magnum confessed one day during his early training. We were chatting about how he uses his nose to find people, and he admitted he wasn’t sure what “up” meant.
I told him I admired his courage for admitting a problem, and it wouldn’t require 12 steps to fix.
Dogs don’t really have a concept of up (or down, or beneath.) Their world is what they smell, modified by their lesser sense of vision. If they smell something they can’t see, it can confuse and frustrate them. We fix that by hiding subjects (or cadaver source) well above ground level, and gently directing the dog’s attention “up.” Once a dog learns the concept, it doesn’t need perpetual reinforcement. It’s kinda like riding a bicycle.
The same is true for water or snow searches. The dog has to learn that subjects can be under water or buried in snow.
However, dogs aren’t the only ones that need to be taught to look up.
I once missed spotting a missing subject at night, even though Magnum had taken me to the edge of a steep ravine and been very animated. I could read Magnum well, and was totally sure the subject was at the bottom of the ravine. We hoped he was alive, and had merely fallen. I called Mountain Rescue to go down.
By the time the climbers arrived it was daylight. They could easily see the poor man had taken his own life by hanging. His remains were hanging from a tree just off the lip of the ravine, exactly where Magnum had alerted. I had such focus on seeing the bottom of the ravine I didn’t look up, or out. I’d probably swept my flashlight just underneath his feet. I was embarrassed, and greatly relieved it was trained searchers who found him and not a family member or other hiker.
Now, Magnum and I both remember to look up on searches.