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Old 11-13-2012, 10:45 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Please talk to me about alerts

Hi everyone, I've been lurking on these forums a bit but finally registered. I'm a new SAR handler (though experienced dog trainer and have non-K9 SAR experience) with a new dog, and we're getting to the point of putting an alert on him.

I'm trying to figure out what to do with him. He's an air scent dog, and most of my team's air scent dogs do a recall/refind but I'm not sure that's ideal for him (he already has a tendency to ignore the subject in favor of seeing me). A problem with a stay alert is that he's a quiet dog and it may be difficult to get him to bark so I'd know he found something (although not impossible by any means); a passive stay alert seems ideal for his natural behavior but I'm concerned about that in a wilderness setting where it might be easy to lose track of him. But then, there are GPS collars... I'm also very good at reading him so I would be able to tell if he was really onto something, and he doesn't generally range terribly far though he does go out of sight.

So I've read scattered discussions of alerts on threads here, but I'd appreciate anything you want to share. Whether it's specific advice based on what I've posted, your personal philosophy, what you do with your dog and how it's working for you, etc. I'd like to hear it all!
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Old 11-13-2012, 02:51 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Well, I always hate to rely on technology. Our team has the Astro and we have lost signal in ravines and under heavy cover. They are getting better and better but just like we still make everyone know map and compass, we don't realy 100% on the astros.

The fact that your dog tends to ignore the subject while seeing you may be a problem. What are your training subjects doing to engage the dog and how motivated is the dog to find the subject and get its reward.

These days, while reading the dog is extremely important, the trained indication of some sort which you can articulate is essential. I don't know of any wilderness dogs with a passive alert........but our cadaver dogs do though they don't tend to range as far due to the nature of the work.

We always trained the indication before we let folks do any real scentwork.
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Old 11-13-2012, 03:03 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jocoyn View Post
We always trained the indication before we let folks do any real scentwork.
This is the exact same course my trainer requires before doing scent work.
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Old 11-13-2012, 09:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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My SAR dog has a stay and bark alert. Works well were we are since there is not a lot of mountain terrain in Maryland. However, I do think if we were in Colorado or another state with a lot of mountains we would have trained a find, re-find indication instead. Not sure how a passive indication would work in the field.

We do have GPS collars but the only thing I use it for is to download my dogs track when we get back to base camp after a search.
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Old 11-13-2012, 10:14 PM   #5 (permalink)
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That is pretty much how we use the collars. I have even turned off tracking on the handheld because it makes an ugly mess everytime you loose and reestablish the signal (new track log) so we just download directly ...... at least if a dog *did* get lost we could run out in the field and activate the handheld to locate them........... [we have one handheld and 7 collars]
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Old 11-14-2012, 11:25 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Thanks all for weighing in! Let me clarify a few things, I was trying not to write a novel so I wasn't totally clear. First, we're still only doing very basic runaways. I'm not sure what you count as scent work, but so far it's very basic. The way my team usually does it seems to be that we get them really solid on runaways, then add the alert, then start doing more actual scent work. Is that different from how others do it? I should add that we are by far the newest members of the team (in like a year) and the team also doesn't have a regular official trainer (though several of our members have well over a decade of experience with SAR dogs, and we bring in clinicians regularly), so I haven't really had the benefit of seeing a method or another dog trained up from the beginning.

Also, the thing about him ignoring the subject was initially a problem, not really anymore. It took us a bit to figure out how to motivate him. We currently use food rewards as he's one of those dogs who is so food motivated that he practically has an eating disorder (were initially using toys as he is also fairly toy-driven, but not enough for it to be consistent if he was distracted), and now that we've hit on the right reward he stays engaged with the subject until they disengage.

The GPS collar thing was kind of a joke, I do a lot of canyoneering and I'm definitely familiar with losing signals. I'm not seriously worried about losing the dog himself in a long-term sense, as he has very good recall and is almost too bonded to me so if I couldn't find him, I am confident he'd come looking for me eventually. However, obviously that makes me nervous in the event that I do manage to get this dog certified and we're in a search situation, it would be terrible for him to find someone and then me not realize it because my slow butt can't keep up with him. My team also does mostly work in the mountains and canyons in some pretty rugged terrain that he can cover a lot faster than I do. On the other hand, his range when we hike off-leash isn't very far at all, but that might change when he's working.

We do have a couple of stay-and-bark dogs on our team who do fine. After more thought, I think that's the only stay alert I'd be comfortable with. The passive alert was just thrown out there in a team discussion on the subject, but it just seems too risky. I'm now leaning again to recall/refind, but I think I read in another thread that some people don't like that--is it a situational thing (like urban/disaster searching vs. wilderness search) or is there a training reason for it?

Sorry for all the newbie questions, we've only been at this a few months and there is quite a learning curve! I read and learn as much as I can but it seems like there's always more contradictory (or at least seems that way to me) information popping up.
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Old 11-14-2012, 01:52 PM   #7 (permalink)
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What you are doing sounds typical.

There is a very small contingent of SAR folks on this particular forum. Most I know like the recall refind for a wilderness setting and dogs who train disaster or dual for disaster and wilderness like the bark indication. That said, the bark indication is a viable one and folks on your team who do that can probably help.

Which indication is a matter of opinion. Our team does not like it because we figure a victim may run from or strike out (or shoot) a dog who is barking at them. Our dogs may range a great distance though because of terrain features. The folks who don't like it feel that it is another thing that can break down. Any way, what you train for is what you expect on a test but in real life you are going to follow up on whatever the dog gives you.

Backchaining is a good way to teach the recall refind, though.
This is actually pretty decent - sub food for toy
Training the Search and Rescue Dog/Finding Articles - Wikibooks, open books for an open world

For getting the dog to range....that can be a confidence issue or an older dog who is trained too much to be close with you. I got my dog comforable with ranging out offlead as a wee puppy. Did that a long time before we did any work with odor.

One excercise we do for a dog too tight with the handler is have two flankers spread out and call the dog and work a zig zag pattern. Get the dog used to it then hide your victim just outside of the zig zag. Dog learns it pays to range out. Thre are also ways of training directional commands that I think could help. I don't know. My dogs "know" directionals but it just kind of evolved -- I think from how we did a lot offlead in the woods, moving the dog with my own body, throwing arm in direction of hidden toy etc.........but there is formal stuff on how to train that ..........
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Old 11-15-2012, 12:30 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Thank you for that link and for your informative post. I think the range thing is definitely a confidence issue. He's very comfortable working independently of me (as in he doesn't look for a whole lot of direction, and again I'm talking about non-SAR stuff), but he likes to always be very sure of where I am. He'll go out of sight but never for too long. He's also very good at taking directional commands, as I do herding trials with my other dogs (or did, they're retired) so I'm sort of in the habit of directing them (one I'm breaking now, and Hector adjusts easily). We live in an area where we can do a ton of off-lead work, so he's quite comfortable in that regard.

The fear issue is a good point. We have another GSD on our team who is switching from a stay and bark to a recall/refind because of that issue--he's big and black and very intimidating to most people, and the fear was that a child especially might run from him. My guy is a lot smaller but people still find him intimidating, and of course any dog can be scary to some people.

I know it's a small group here but you guys seem very knowledgeable and supportive so I appreciate having this resource.
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Old 11-16-2012, 12:18 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Airscent dogs on my team are all trained to refind. The way the dog indicates to the handler varies; mine tugs a firehose hanging on my side. Before we start doing even basic runaways, we train the indication as a separate behavior, so it can be performed reliably on cue. "Tug!" (dog tugs). Every time.

The find/recall/indication/refind sequence is broken down into individual components, and the last step is trained first. Other steps are backchained in when the later steps are reliable. The indication is cued (not "queued" at first, but faded as the behavior becomes automatic.

We never reward the dog for finding someone. We reward the dog for bringing the handler to the subject. I believe this is an important distinction to be mindful of. When the handler physically touches the subject, then the dog is rewarded.

Proof the indication behavior extensively. You don't want a dog that indicates only when you are standing there looking at him. So you need to proof it standing in different orientations, walking in different directions, talking on the radio, up hills, down hills, in thick brush, etc. This is an aspect that I think many teams don't train enough because they are eager to progress to searching areas.

Sometimes it may be necessary to change things up a bit, but avoid it if possible. The foundation training that your dog rehearses the most is what will stick with him. So if you train bark and hold and then later change it to a refind, don't be surprised if you get the earlier trained behavior when tired or stressed. So it is better to have a clear idea of the final behavior you want to achieve from the very beginning.
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