Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Tracking dog finds missing children in fifteen minutes

When I read on Instapundit the headline to this Powhatan County Virginia story I thought the dog could have done it in five minutes had there not been a hundred people messing up the scene before they brought in the dog. I recall a tracking instructor complaining about that over four decades ago. They never do bring in the dogs until the people start losing hope. And sure enough.
Deputies said parents and neighbors had been searching the woods for two missing 8 year olds for 45 minutes -- as daylight faded -- before they called the Powhatan Sheriff's Office.
More deets at the link.

Shepherds, Malinois and the like are fairly good as any breed, but they're sheepdogs, not hound dogs. The best breeds are designed for this. Literally.

I convinced my older brother to help me train my German shepherd in tracking. What the heck. Why not? We joined a group of like-minded people amounting to about ten vehicles. We'd get up early on weekends and meet up at odd places all parked in a row with our own area of open field before a cluster of trees.  Heres' how you train your dog to track.

This is your aim: Dogs other than hounds naturally sniff the air. Your job is get the dog to sniff the ground.

Trackers like early mornings because they're most like an erased blackboard. Best of all times to do this is after a rain. There will be less animal tracks.

To begin with the secondary partner holds back the dog while you depart in a straight line and hide behind something. The dog sees this and can go straight to you. The dog finds you and you and you make a big f'k'n deal out of the dog's tremendous ability. Game over.

The next time, same set up except the dog does not see you. The dog sniffs the air for you. The secondary handler holds back the dog hoping to notice the dog putting their nose to the ground to get a handle on your direction of departure. The dog finds you and you make a big deal out of your joyous reunion.

Third time same setup. Except this time you make a 90° turn and hide. Shuffle off and really rake through the grass. Leave a good strong scent trail. That is, don't leap over the grass, rather, take more footsteps than necessary. Leave a good trail. The secondary handler with the dog on a leash lingers at the spot where you made your turn and this is the critical point that the dog must sniff the ground. The dog finds you and you repeat your overly joyous reunion routine. It's all a great game where the dog does what comes naturally.

You repeat these exercises adding 90° turns and by then your dog is using its nose quite well.

Then you change it up to find the toy.

You get a toy and jazz it up in front of the dog's face. "This is the thing we're playing with." Back and forth between hands. Then give it to the dog. Then take it. Then hide it. Roll the toy on the ground, or kick through the grass to a hiding place.  Repeat the pattern of straight line to a hiding spot in the dog's sight. "Go get it!"

Remember to make a huge f'k'n deal about the dog's success. Oh, the joy of finding the toy. It's the only thing on earth that counts.

Increase the difficulty with 90° turns as you did with dog tracking you.

Depending on how fun-loving your dog, this whole series of lessons goes fairly quickly.

Now your dog is ace at finding its toys. Or anything that you make a big deal about finding.

Because the dog wants the joy of your joy.

There are dozens of people out there doing this with their pets every weekend. No kidding. No exaggeration. These classes are running continuously. It's a thing they do with their dogs to have fun and keep their pets mentally challenged and provide them an opportunity to do something great and receive earned praise.

So there is really no reason to wait for a police dog.

This article assumes police dogs are the only qualified animals to do this. Not so. There will be trained dogs in the immediate area, certified or not. And they should be called in first before the whole neighborhood starts looking around.

Search groups should contact their local dog tracking groups immediately, not as last resort. The dogs work best when the ground is mostly clean slate. Doing it backward as they do increases the challenge for the dogs greatly. They have to sniff through a million additional scents, all the soaps the people used, all the shampoos, all the laundry detergents, all the various body odors and perfumes, all the food they've had on their laps and crumbs fallen on their clothes, all the car scents, garbling the scene.

The reason the dog could do it so easily through the scent-clutter of all the other humans is because little kids are often so stinky. To dogs.

Okay, detour right here.

Tonight I was watching an episode in the first season of "The Sniffer" on Netflix. An excellent show. You must watch it.

The guy with the great nose and scientific mind is a jerk. He knows he's a jerk and he owns it. His heightened ability sets him apart and makes him difficult of association.

The show makes a point of emphasizing how lousy everyone's diet is. The police colonel is always eating a takeout hamburger or a delivered pizza. All the people around the Sniffer eat terrible food. Fast food. Convenience food. Chips, coffee from machines. Crap.

The Sniffer is called to a crime scene on the street. It's a Mafia murder. There's going to be a Mafia war. The crime scene is cordoned off with police tape. The Sniffer steps over the tape. Policemen are standing around drinking terrible coffee and everyone's having their terrible breakfast pastries, sweets and snacks. The Sniffer snaps at his police friend about there being so many people mulling around not contributing anything to solving the crime but messing up the scene with their outrageous scents interfering with his work. To him, everyone else is a slob. They do everything wrong just being there, criss-crossing and passing food to each other. He tells the Colonel, "Either him, or me," referring to another useless policeman stinking up the scene.

The writers have it exactly right.

Apparently they know about tracking dogs.

Because that's exactly the tracker's perspective.

Below is the first episode. I saw it again last night and marveled at its excellence. If you choose to watch only the first few minutes, you must agree, now here is how to open a show and captivate the audience's interest right off. I urge you to watch until he talks to the pilot. That's at the beginning. Then having landed and in his American muscle car driving off he hears on the radio the reporting of his own incident. All that is just intro. After that they get into their story. The actress playing his wife is written and cast perfectly for the Russian bitch-wife.

Oh bummer. The subtitles are poor. They miss the best part. The Sniffer tells the pilot:

There is a man with a plastered arm in 32C.

But under his bandage is a plastid instead of cast.

The detonator is in one of the fixing units.

     How do you know this information?

(Impatient look) The smell of acetone peroxide plasticized in celluloid can't be confused with anything else.

(Expression of disbelief)

     Are you trying to say that you smelled this?

Correct. Just like the scent of the fact that 35-40 minutes ago you had sex with this pretty lady. In the cockpit. Twice.

     One moment. 

Highway scene. 


rhhardin said...

Koehler bases it on the forced fetch, so no game is necessary except for praise for doing it right. (The Koehler Method of Training Tracking Dogs or some such).

Unfortunately he apparently didn't actually do the exercises he recommends because the setup time (lay a track and wait a half hour) makes it hopelessly long to do. But having started, you can figure it out. That's enough for the dog to get the idea.

My Doberman wanted to use her eyes, which I remedied by cutting the toe out of a sock and folding it over and putting it on her as a blindfold.

The eventual game evolved, taking no setup time, walk out into a alfalfa field, with turns and so forth, and drop a sock somewhere in the loop back to the dog; then send her ("find it!") free running into the field to find the sock. She ran it at high speed and always found the sock, which she carried around for the rest of the day.

edutcher said...

I thought the dog could have done it in five minutes had there not been a hundred people messing up the scene before they brought in the dog.

Too many people doing Elvis' impersonation of Carl Perkins.

Dad Bones said...

A friend's dog loved to fetch sticks. With his nose to the ground he could find it in the tallest grass. Sometimes, if he didn't see where it was going, it was necessary for him to do wide sweeps of an area before he located it which he always did. I once bet the owner $10 that he wouldn't be able to bring in a large branch after it was thrown from the end of a dock. He dived in, swam to it and pushed that thing to the shore in his mouth. Watching that was the best $10 I ever lost.

ricpic said...

So once these air sniffing dogs have been trained to sniff the ground is that imprinted in them permanently? Or do they go back to being air sniffers....and have to be "reminded?"

Chip Ahoy said...

Ricpic, they do both. But you've trained them to have success by putting their nose down.

After we trained my German Shepherd, we never did do any actual tracking. Thereafter we kept his skill up by playing find the toy game in the back yard.

And there was no way for anyone else to know he had that skill. He wasn't registered anywhere for that. He never passed any certification, nor was he ever tested by any organization. No proper trials. No ribbon.

We'd make a track with a few turns without crossing over. The toy left at about the half way so we didn't have to track back the same path.

I'd leave the dog in the house as I hid the toy and the little bastard would cheat and run to another window to watch me. So I had to enlist another family member to hold him.

I feel a bit bad about challenging the dog so hard by putting the toy on the fence post or on top of the shed roof or inside a window well, inside the crook of a cottonwood tree branch, all places too difficult for him to get it.

Although, he did jump at the post until he got his ball, and he did learn to jump to the top of the shed shaped like a barn, and he did learn he could claw his way up a cottonwood tree. But he jumped into the window well and couldn't jump out because it was deep and there wasn't enough room inside for him to squat first and he couldn't pull himself out. Then I thought to myself what an asshole I am for purposefully making it so hard. I drove that dog crazy because he would NOT give up. That dog was total game on all the time.

rhhardin said...

The dog instinctivly knows how to find what he wants using his nose. You're just training him to find what you want instead and stick to that trail even if it's crossed by more interesting scents.

rhhardin said...

The dog starts out training in grass crush scent, by the way. You don't age the tracks at first.

MamaM said...

Good story and training info.

This article assumes police dogs are the only qualified animals to do this. Not so. There will be trained dogs in the immediate area, certified or not. And they should be called in first before the whole neighborhood starts looking around. Search groups should contact their local dog tracking groups immediately, not as last resort.

By the time reality sinks in enough for an adult to realize a child is truly lost or missing, as opposed holding on to the belief that the child is somewhere nearby, could easily be located or will soon return home; calling the police is the next step.