These are my Human Remains Detection (HRD) training records for Musket at my last official training with my search team on Saturday, August 18, 2012. We began training at 8:00 am, on a mild, overcast day that was “cool” compared to previous conditions. It only reached into the mid-80s with a slight shower toward the end of our training.
We trained on an old farm, which I believe is now part of Arabia Mountain Park located in Lithonia, GA. Lithonia is located just east of Atlanta directly off Interstate 20 which is about an hour and a half from where I leave, on the west side of Atlanta.
This picture from Google Earth shows the training location as well as my GPS tracks on one of the HRD areas. This is a wonderful training area, closed off from others and containing roughly 100 acres of wooded, grassland (old pasture), small lake, and a rocky sections. We divided the area into sectors, giving much of the wooded area to the live dog searches. For the HRD, we chose the rock outcroppings, which are the white areas in the photo. The waypoints are the HRD materials used and their locations. The tracks are my actual tracks and not those of Musket.
My sector for this particular training was the first outcropping. From the picture of Musket, you can tell that the rock was actually smooth, and when wet, became quite slippery. Our sector was the rock itself and approximately 4 meters into the wood line around the rock.
Finding HRD versus finding live individuals is similar, yet not the same. I was originally training Musket in area air scent, which included a bark alert where he would then take me back to the subject. I’m using those basics here so that I can build on those finding. Also, he is a rocket, blasting into the area so I have to work with that natural energy. When you work with locating live subjects, you try to arrange your search to get your dog into the wind where he can cover the most area. However, when you are working with finding individual small pieces of human remains, I’ve found that it’s best to work with a negative area and then bring the dog into the scented area. So, I tend to think backwards from the live search. I try to put Musket in the area that might be upwind, or where the wind is blowing away from the dog and then work him into the area. This should allow him to pick up smaller sections of the area when he gets into the wind where he can concentrate on the smaller sections that he needs to cover.
So, first of all, in any search, we have to have a distinct area to cover. But, I also have to take Musket’s natural actions into account. As I said, I have a plan, but I have to first let Musket “fire” through the area. I let him explore the area freely at first, calling him back when he has exceeded his area. I do want him to explore slightly outside the actual area, because he will need this distance to fully cover the edges of the sector. At the beginning of a search, I let him explore, as another respected dog-handler often says, “to get his ya-yas out.” Musket is high energy, high drive dog with only two switches; on and off. There is no half-way with this boy, so I have to use that. His constant motion can be an issue, but his determination not to stop makes up for that. So, I let him loose at first, controlling his explorations through voice commands.
In this particular instance, since so much of the rock area was clear, I could see him throughout the area and didn’t have to be right with him as much. However, in wooded sections, I have to be very close to him in order to see his body reactions when he doing his first pass. He will often get a whiff of something and then it’s gone, or he may find the source directly. The found source is then duly noted and he is rewarded for any finds. I make a mental note of the behavior changes so that I can closely cover that area again when I bring him back for my more systematic approach. As I stated before, my main tactic is to bring him into the area from the negative and then take him into the possible scented area. However, when I first start, I let go to basically get a feel for the area. He often finds many of the sources during this first pass. But I have to take him on the systematic search, starting from one side of the sector, say the west side, then covering it in a north-south up and down motion till I reach the east side. These cardinal directions are just examples of how I work, because the actual directions depend on the wind or lack of wind. But the whole idea is to have a very systematic way of ensuring that the area is covered.
From these tracks, it may not look like I covered the areas as my plan indicated. However, I feel that I did. Remember, these tracks are where I am and not where Musket was. Musket’s tracks would have made the entire area blue, for he is covering everywhere in his high energy runs with his nose just above the surface of the ground. Since much of this area was open, I could stand in areas and easily watch him. I really liked this area for a search or for training, for the openness allowed me to easily see him. Musket had no problems finding the sources.
However, he still had problems with repetitive barking when he found something. When Musket finds a source, he does a type of dance, going back and forth and his tail wagging. He then comes up to me, stares directly at me, then wants to turn to take me back to the source. All of this extra is good, but I want him to give me definite barks either at the source or, if he wants to do the old refind, then he needs to bark at me. His indication is supposed to be a strong bark or series of barks. Sometimes, because of his speed, he might get out of my sight (especially in heavily wooded areas) and will find a source. In those instances, he comes back to me as he was originally trained. I try to stay close to him so that he can just turn around and bark at me from the location of the find. Either way, the indication should be the same; a strong bark. His dance is great, but in heavily wooded areas I might not be able to see that dance. I need him to clearly tell me.
So, my continued work with him will be on his barking immediately when he finds the source. He finds the sources, does show me that he has found them, but I need the more definite bark instead of the telepathic stare.
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