Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Dog Days of February

I spent much of today with the Michigan Search and Rescue teams.

They train every three weeks.  They needed volunteers who could sit quietly in the woods for five hours.

I did not chat with many of the folks.  They were all business.

But I do have pictures of dogs.

There were many puppies in attendance.  Socialization is an important part of the mission.  They must be socialized around other dogs because they might work a very large event, like 9/11, where there will be many, many other dogs working.  They must also be socialized around people because some of the techniques involve letting the dogs run off-leash.

Lots of smiling dog faces.  These are dogs that are happiest when they are working.  You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.
Some basic obedience training took place at the start of the event.  That got everybody into a working mindset.

Can you tell this dog adores her master?
Clementine is a rock-star.  She is a bloodhound.
My original intent was to take a bunch of pictures of dogs but things moved too quickly.  There was not much stand-around time.

Belladonna told me that she would believe me unless I got some pictures.  So I did the best I could.  I asked a couple of other guys if they could send me photos.  I will post them if they show up.

The set-up
The volunteer "victims" were placed in the woods.  We were spaced about 400 yards apart.  For the novice dogs we were placed in easy-to-find places.  For the more experienced dogs we were shuffled up and placed into more difficult places, that is, farther from the trail.

The first team with an experienced dog told me that I was too visible and they directed me to move one hundred yards farther to the west.  Okie-dokie.

Exactly one hundred yards to the west was a tiny pot-hole swale.  EXACTLY the kind of place a deer would bed down in.  Good enough for a deer to avoid detection by predators, good enough for me.  And it WAS exactly 100 yards west of where I had been.
The dogs really struggled with that pot-hole.  My scent stream lifted off only to reappear 60 yards downwind and to the left or right of downwind.  The handlers told me they walked around the rim of the pot-hole and the wind direction shifted like crazy-mad.

I think they also had issues with the fact that I wear no fragrances and my outer clothing has not been laundered for more than a month.  Not that I am a slob, it is just that I have many coats and jackets and there is little mud or filth in the winter.

Another thing I did was to remain still and to shield my face.  A fairly large number of the people they need to find are folks with dementia or emotional issues.    In the moment they might not want to be found or might be petrified by dogs.  Sometimes the victim is not conscious.

Dogs are predators and they see motion more than shapes, and shapes (body language) more than detail.  Think like a bunny, hunch over like a stump, hide your face and don't move and you will be harder to find.

This would be Akron.  Akron is a novice dog.  He loves cheese.

I forgot this little darling's name.  He was also a newbie.  His treats tasted like chicken.  OK, they smelled like chicken.
This is the bottom of the pot-hole I tucked into after I was directed to move. 
According to my compass, the previous picture is looking north-east which is nominally downwind of the prevailing winds.
I had a dog that was 20 yards downwind of me and did not find me.  They wear bells and you can follow their progress with your ears.
This is the first experienced team that found me...before I was moved.  When the dog finds you he/she has to bring the handler right to your position.  You can see the tips of my boots in this shot.
 The handlers work very hard to ensure that the dogs will bring the handler right to your position.  Close is not good enough.  The team might be looking for somebody trapped in rubble, inside culverts or in boats or campers.  The last thing the handler does before leaving is to capture the GPS for quality control reasons.

This is Zephyr.  She has some very stylish kicks(footware) 
 She found me like she was a heat-seeking missile.  Her owner was very humble, he said later dogs had an advantage because there was human and dog scent all homing in on the victim.  That is why Michigan SAR likes to do their training in large facilities with many volunteers.  That gives more dogs the ability to puzzle-out the problem without the cues left by previous teams.

A surprising number of dogs are rescue dogs.  Zephyr was a rescue dog that was purchased in front of (outside of) a dog store in Miami, Florida.
Front of card

Many of the teams (invariably named after the dog) have their own business cards.  This is Zephyr's card.

The red dog on the right is a mixed breed.  The owners believe she has some Redbone Coonhound in her background.  The dog in the middle is of mixed ancestry.  The dog on the extreme left is a German Shorthair Pointer who is also being trained to air-scent interesting chemical combinations.

I expect I will do this again.  Like my daddy told me...there will always be a place for people with strong backs, closed mouths and a high tolerance for boredom.  I continue to marvel that it took me 57 years to find my niche; a job where I can sit out in the woods, read a book and smell bad.

Many more pictures at Michigan SAR's Facebook page.

Overall, it was a lovely way to spend a warm February Sunday.


  1. Joe, thank you for coming and spending your free day hiding for our dogs. Your sacrifice gives us the ability train these dogs to save lives or bring closure to families in need. We welcome your help at any time and it does not go without thanks.

  2. Thank you for coming out today! That was the toughest problem of the day by far! I know my dog Peanut (The black Pit Bull that slobbered you with kisses) ran past you upwind and it was very cool to watch! It was a great learning experience! Thank you again for coming out! With out volunteers to hide, our dogs would never be able to help those in need!