Emergency Down Training

Although the emergency down is a requirement for my team, I am practicing this command with Musket for the upcoming NAPWDA workshop. All dogs, whether working dogs or not, should be taught this command. I use the same down command but with more force in my voice. Some teach another command such as “stop,” but using the same down command seems to work well for Musket. In this video, I use the voice down command for his normal down. For the emergency downs, I used voice and my down hand signal.

Musket does a great job with his emergency down/stop in this training, but suppose he’s chasing his ball and is about to run into the street? I’ve faced that situation one time and the emergency down worked. It broke his concentration on the ball and he stopped before reaching the street. Repetitive training is what’s important and we should all remember to practice this command at least monthly. This command, or whatever emergency stop command that you use, could save your dog’s life one day.

If you have trouble with the embedded video, try this link:

Musket’s Emergency Down Training


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09/10/2012 — NAPWDA Training

I’ve registered for the upcoming North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) Workshop that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department is hosting.  Here’s the link to their event:


I’m not sure that I can get off work for this workshop, but I’ll see what I can do. I want to support Mike Barnhill and his department because they have been such good supporters of ATSAR. And, I want that certification for Musket. I’m going to work him toward this certification and if I can’t arrange my work schedule, then I’m just out the registration fee. I need the goal and the deadline so I have something to work toward and something to keep me focused.

Here are the requirements for this certification:


The cadaver requirements are on page 30 and 31.

This is a strong certification to obtain and hopefully, I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew on this one. I’m going to vary my training immediately to train him toward these tests. If we don’t make it this time, we’ll make it the next. But training for this will make us a much stronger team.


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09/01/2012 Douglasville Warehouse Training

Aerial Warehouse

Today’s training was at an old warehouse.  We are  receiving more callouts for urban work, so this type of training is invaluable because the air currents, and therefore the scent, will travel differently in buildings than the outside. In this particular location, there was no air-conditioning going, so the air was mostly stagnant.

This particular warehouse is a structure with a large open space with small offices. There are the typical hanging ceilings in these offices and the extended ceilings in the warehouse areas. In one of the warehouse areas, there were rows of old school lockers lined along the walls. The local law enforcement uses these lockers to practice locating drugs in schools. We used them for giving us a different environment for locating cadaver sources.

Warehouse Lockers

The picture posted above is not that clear because this area was large and only lit by a couple of rows of florescent lights, but it does give a better idea of the size of this particular warehouse search area and the locker positions. There were 7 groups of lockers (this photo does not show all the lockers) and we placed bone sources in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th groups of lockers, leaving groups 5 and 6 clear. The purpose of this practice was to train both the handler and the dog in examining each locker. By the time that I was able to run this exercise, the sources had  been in the lockers for approximately 1 hour.

With many of our high-drive dogs, Musket included, we have to slow them down in order to do this type of detailed work. I allowed Musket to run throughout this search area, getting himself accustomed to the area as well as to expend some energy. I then went from left to right, taking my hand across each locker telling Musket to check. All Musket’s bark alert work that I did last week worked for he was giving me strong, multiple barks when he had something. In this case, I tried to get him to pinpoint which locker contained the source. He was able to correctly locate each locker in these instances. In the 3rd locker group, the source was placed in the upper portion of the locker and he correctly indicated the location when I gave him the “show me” command, even standing up to point his nose directly where the source was on the other side of the door. He was great on this exercise and was able to correctly identify the correct locker in each case. I was also able to clearly tell that locker groups 5 and 6 were clean.

Musket AlertThis picture shows Musket alerting to me on the source in group 7 lockers. Paul Ruszczyk, standing behind us, was our observer. We work with someone else to give another set of eyes and to critique the handler actions. Paul is an experienced, certified, HR canine handler.

Lessons Learned from the Locker Exercise and Additional Training

  1. I need to continue to allow Musket the first run through of an area before getting him to slow down for the detail work.
  2. Showing him where to check with my hand worked well. I have to keep slowly moving so I don’t get a false alert from him.
  3. After everyone had tested through the area, we set off three small smoke “bombs” close to the lockers to see how the air currents were flowing. It was stagnant, with the “smoke” slowly drifting upwards and expanding. If this same exercise had been held in an active building with a working ventilation system, would Musket have been able to accurately pin-point the locker that contained the source or would he have just been close (as in within 3 lockers)? I need to try this again in a building that has ventilation.
  4. Musket’s alerts were great today. Continue working on those alerts.

Room Exercises

On this particular exercise, we placed a source in two rooms and closed the door. Room 1 contained large bone sources and Room 2 contained a thawing placenta and both sources were placed about 40 minutes before Musket ran the exercise. Both rooms were small, approximately 6′ x 8.’

Musket snorts in his typical intensity when he sniffed under the doors. He properly gave multiple bark alerts outside the doors for both rooms.  Once inside the rooms, he easily located and alerted on the sources because they were not really concealed. The main purpose of this test was to see if he could alert outside the door.

Lessons Learned from the Room Exercises and Additional Training

  1. Musket can alert from the outside of a small room with fairly large sources. Could he do the same in larger rooms?
  2. If I could repeat this exercise in a larger room, say 8′ x 12′, how small of a source could he locate outside the door?

Cubicle Exercise

This was the hardest for Musket and was made more difficult by the way we ran it. As can be partially seen from the above photo, there were four low cubicles that only contained various computer and luggage bags. A source was placed in two of the cubicles and no sources were placed in the remaining two cubicles. In an actual search, I would have removed the bags if possible and spread them out so Musket could get a clearer scent.  But, in this exercise, we left the bags in place and had the dog check each bag. The small space of the cubicle contained much of the scent and it must have been “hanging” within the cubicle because of the stagnant air. I believe that made it extremely difficult for Musket to pinpoint the exact bag.

Lessons Learned from the Cubicle Exercise and Further Training

  1. I need to work with hiding sources in containers such as this. I have not trained Musket in this way.
  2. If possible, remove the containers and spread them out to give Musket a better chance of isolating the scent source and which bag contains that source.

Synopsis of this Training

  1. I was pleased with Musket’s alerts and his overall accuracy.
  2. I need to include these types of exercises in his training, especially placing sources in different types of “bags.”

After Training Reward

Musket SwimmingThere’s nothing like a swim after training!

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08/27/12 – Indication Work

Pat assisted me by placing four HR sources within the tree line near the house at Villa Lobo. She had three low hanging and one on the ground, slightly concealed. These were all in a line, approximately 20 feet apart, and were for me to practice his alerts, not for an actual search. However, since she did conceal them and place most of them above his head, it did cause him to work for it.  Musket enjoys the hunt, so we want to give him something that he enjoys to reinforce the behavior that we want from him.

I’ve started using the clicker and it really does work. I started Musket away from the sources and pointed him in the general direction and told him to “find.”  He immediately went to work, tail going and his nose traveling just above the ground. When he found the first article in the lineup, which was the one on the ground, I clicked and gave him the speak command, which is his bark command. He did as instructed. But, I want good, multiple barks, so I was right next to him, excitedly telling him to speak again. He did, and continued and I continued telling him to speak, working him up. He did multiple barks at the source, even nudging it with his nose without me using the “show me” command that I give for him to show me the source. I gave him his reward, which was a chuck-it rubber ball and tons of praise.

We went to the next source, which he had to actually find since it was hanging in the tree above his head. Bone doesn’t give off that much scent, and dogs don’t often look up that much. He searched briefly for the item, following the scent to its end then back until he worked back into the hanging source. When he stood on his hind legs and literally touched the cage containing the bone, I clicked and gave him the speak command again. He immediately barked and then barked more. This time, I didn’t have to tell him to speak again; he just did it. As he stared at me, I did nothing  this time so he continued to bark, and bark, even showing me the item again. I gave him the ball again, and great praise.

He knew what he was supposed to do by the third and fourth sources, and immediately began multiple barks at each source. I’m going to have to repeat this training multiple times until I have his bark firmly in place. I don’t mind him continuing his “find dance” as I described in the previous post, but I want him to also tell me that he has found something by giving me firm multiple barks as he did during this exercise.

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08/18/2012 Lithonia Training Notes

Musket at Training in Lithonia, GA

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.

Lithonia Training AreaThis 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.

Tracks of Search AreaFrom 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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Posting Again

I’m posting again after a long hiatus, because a major change has allowed the time to do this again. This particular post will not be directly about Musket or his training: rather, it is about the important background force that has impacted my training and my posting of that training.

My particular change has been my job. I had a management position where I took the job home with me. I’d work usually 10 to 11 hours per day, then come home, have dinner, then get back on the computer for a little more work. I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something work related. Like so many others, I was allowing this job to consume me.

Then, my employer reorganized the technology department, where all of technology management, with the exception of the Technology Director, had to interview for their positions. My job was actually eliminated and the duties that I performed were incorporated in two new positions. This was a terrifying ordeal, to have my job yanked out from under me, but it was also an amazingly freeing experience. I have long hated my job since I was doing more accounting than technology work, but I was paid well and it’s “stupid” to leave a well paying job for something less. Suddenly, I was freed from “doing something stupid” by having the job removed.

I now had some choices. Do I reapply for one of the replacement jobs that was close to my salary or do I apply for something that made less, but brought me back to actual hands-on technology and freed me from the worries? I decided not to apply for the management position and only apply for a technical, and less paying position. I now have a technical support position and I have not been this happy in a very long time.  I am currently getting my technology skills back up and am studying for additional technical certifications.

Why is this post in a blog that is dedicated to Search and Rescue dog training? Because one of the major forces in my life, my job, has changed in such a way as to allow more time to dedicate to Musket’s training.  We work in order to pay our expenses, and to allow us the time to do the things in life that matter.  Truly living is helping others and this is exactly what I am doing with Search and Rescue. Although I am now training Musket in Human Remains Detection instead of searching for live people, I am working to bring closure to people in very trying times of their lives.  To me, working with these wonderful canines and training them to assist others is one of the many things that make life worthwhile.

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Short Bi-Weekly Training at Villa Lobo

I’m trying to catch up on my training with Musket, so I’ve actually hired a pet sitter to hide for Musket, twice a week. I’m using these shorter trainings to keep the fun for Musket and to work him with a scent article. I’m experimenting with teaching him to scent discriminate — to become a scent-specific air-scent dog. For this particular training, I had the pet sitter, Christina, park up my long driveway and leave a scent article — a rounded, cotton swab that she placed against her body, in a baggie next to her car (which was parked next to the “sleeping wolf”on the map). She then went into my woods and radioed me when she was in place. I took Musket up to the car, opened the scent article bag and told him to “check it.” He did, then I gave him the command to “Search.” He went around the car and then hit onto her trail. Since the time has changed, it was getting dark in the woods so he was way ahead of me. While I’m still stumbling through the darkening woods, I get the message on the radio that she had been found. Less than a minute after the radio contact, Musket ran up to me and barked. I told him to “show me” and he took off, leaving me bumbling through the woods again. The poor dog came back two more times to take me to Christina and finally his ball reward from the subject. He really loves this and has been doing great hitting her trail.

This map is somewhat misleading because the roads were planned roads but were never built. Part of my long driveway is part of one of these planned, non-existent roads. This area is actually wooded.

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Musket, the stair climber

Musket and Brad in the Attic

Besides my wilderness training, I am also adding disaster training such as directionals. Eventually, I will get into ladder work with Musket, but he decided to jump ahead of me. A week ago, I had a co-worker assisting me running some network cabling for a security video system that I am installing. We were both in the attic and Musket was at the bottom of the rickety, folding attic ladder standing up at its base. Upstairs, I could hear Musket, but was busy with the cables. A few seconds later, I heard some scratching and turned in time to see Musket climbing from the ladder into the attic with us! He had taught himself how to climb that ladder.

The only problem was that he was not as confident coming down. After about 30 minutes of trying to coax him down, I finally had to pick him up and walk down the ladder with my back against the ladder. He was perfectly still in my arms, as I’ve trained him to be, and that was important for both of our safety.

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November Training at Red Top Mountain

As I posted earlier, I’m trying to make up lost time in training Musket. In this training video, Tim, one of my teammates, hid in the valley. I knew that he was in the area, but did not know his exact location. Since Musket is being trained as an air scent dog, my original aim in this training session was to walk him along the top of the ridge to expose him to Tim’s scent which should be lifting up the hill due to the rising heat of the day.  The fault in my plan was that Tim had left from the same location that Musket and I started. Instead of following me along the ridge, Musket followed Tim’s hot trail. I was thrilled that Musket followed the trail and quickly found the subject.

An air scent dog is a free agent; he has the freedom to follow a trail, if he finds one, or to pick up the scent as he gets closer to the subject. The handler, meanwhile, continues on his pattern, usually following the terrain in an organized manner to insure that he, and his wandering canine, cover the area. One thing that I like about German Shepherds is their herding instinct. They may range, but they come back to watch the original herd, which is me. I never really trained my previous search dog, Circe, to come back to me from time to time during a longer search. She would just naturally check back in. Musket does the same thing. During this training, I did call him when he came within view, but that was only to make it a little easier for him to locate me. He gave me a definite bark indication, although I would prefer more barking when he came back. I am continuing to work on a stronger indication.

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NAPWDA Seminar at the FFA Camp in Conyers, GA

The search team that I am a member sponsored a NAPWDA (North American Police Work Dog Association) certification on Human Remains Detection. We had two of our members testing, and the rest of us were benefiting from the NAPWDA instructor. I was only able to go to the Saturday portion of the seminar, but it was worth it. I am not, at this time, training Musket in Human Remains Detection. Instead, I am staying with Live Detection at this point. Although I was not participating in the Human Remains portion, I did observe because I have done this with my previous K9, Circe.

These pictures demonstrated an interesting training technique for HRD sources. Each box was lined up, as the pictures indicate, with only one of the boxes containing an HRD source; the other boxes were clean. The first picture shows an assistant introducing the boxes to the K9 so the dog will know where it will be expected to search. The second picture shows this particular Lab properly indicating at the box with the source. Once the dog indicates on the correct box, an assistant would pull a chord which would pop out a tennis ball through the hole at the top of the box. This is for an instant reward for the dog.

Air Scenting

There was a person at the seminar who has, for the past 9 years, trained her dog in scent-specific air scent, so I did spend a great deal of time with her. And, I had several opportunities to work Musket, and did great, especially since I have not been able to work him as much as I’ve needed.

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