Steve's first SAR dogs
This Shepherd and the Guy I got him from were my introduction to SAR, a discipline that has held my passion ever since.
This Red Dobe "Zeus" (the second) was my first Dobe SAR dog
Search and Rescue
I have always had a love for Search and Rescue since I trained my first Doberman to track and retrieve pheasants. I became fascinated with how the Doberman was capable of doing something I never in my life could do. To watch a Doberman "smell" and follow where something had been even hours before just blew my mind my short obsession with upland game hunting had nothing to do with shooting and everything to do with tracking and trailing. Once I realized this, I spent a lot of time with volunteer search and rescue. I found not only did I really enjoy the work with the Dobermans, but the chance to be the difference between life and death for someone in peril, is a reward you can't put a price tag on. Again the key difference in survival is how fast the victim is located. A Doberman can locate a victim faster than any person with any technology can. It will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do with your Doberman. We love new owners to come train with us!
My SAR theories:
Most of the reason we started our own group is because my opinions are not mainstream when it comes to SAR. I have been involved with many great groups over the years, and I have found nearly all the time there are some very sharp divisions and group politics within the groups. Most groups have a way they want things done, and that rubs against my free/independent spirit a little bit. You see we use Dobermans because they can do something we with all our technology, intelligence and skills can never ever do! We then decide the best way for the Dobermans to do it and tell them their job? Does that seem counterintuitive to anyone else? Don't get me wrong, dogs need directed learning from us, but they are the ones with the gift why do we want to stifle it? So by forming our own group we can do what we want to do without the risk of offending anyone else. Also training being localized to Eagle Mountain makes it convenient to me! So when I am working a Doberman I begin with the end in mind, same as when I train horses or anything else. You create a picture in your mind of what "finished" is, then you build your training program to pursue that. There are three types of Canine SAR:
Tracking- This is what most people think of when they picture searching dogs, or prison wardens running down escapee's and other types of man-hunting. Tracking dogs nearly always are worked on lead about 30 feet in front of their handler and are taught to follow each footstep the subject made. It is very controlled and very disciplined. In some cases it is the most effective approach, yet you can't know that going in, it is learned afterwards after all the evidence is put on the table and maps etc evaluated. Tracking to me is most important only in getting Schutzhund titles, I prefer not to train for SAR with tracking dogs.
Air Scenting- This is perhaps more common in SAR, it is certainly easier to train for, natural to the dog and good "hasty" search approach. The dogs are trained to pick up scent carried on wind currents and follow it "upstream" to the source. This is really effective if conditions are right, and dogs are always worked off lead. IT is really fun to watch a dog turn into the wind when they are "hot" and run on a dead run to the source.
Trailing- This is a system where the dog uses a combination of tracking and air-scenting to find the source. This is the most natural method to the dog if you watch untrained dogs find things they are looking for, or watch wild or feral dogs hunt.
In most groups you either track or air scent. This is what the tests are formed around. Nearly all training programs I have been affiliated with train to pass the test. In most groups I can see why this is necessary. The "end in mind" approach is train to get certified. This is another reason we formed our own group. Those who want to certify can, those that don't want to don't have to. The "end in mind" for me in my training program is always simply find someone with what information you do have. Most often all you know is someone is lost. Sometimes you know a point of origin, sometimes you have other information that you can help the dog begin, but face it the rest of the work is up to their nose and only partly your guidance. You can read story after story of someone telling their dog to go one way, and the dog stubbornly going the other only to find the victim. The dog usually is right, they have the ability to gather information you can not! So I prefer "trailing" If we know where the victim started from, we can start there, if there is a good track the dog may follow it. If they catch scent on the air current, they will not be punished for leaving the track. With real "Rescue" work time is everything, the faster you can locate your subject, the better chance they have of survival. Why would you let politics and discipline get in the way of survival? People may argue that a discipline guides the dog to the end effectively, which is true, I can make the dog follow a track to the end, but if the track is a big giant loop and the dog wants to cut across the field following the air current, why punish the dog? The goal was find the person, not follow the track exactly. So we do our own thing, and it is okay. We don't train to pass tests, we don't obey the disciplines, we train to find people and reward the dog for doing it to their best ability. The dog will excel at things that come natural to them such as trailing. When you don't know a point of origin, air scent dogs are nearly always called to work a grid from down wind until they alert on scent and follow it. Very effective but they are taught not to get their nose to the ground and sometimes miss articles or clues. My theory is this, when the dog decides to track, let it, if it wants to get it's nose in the air and air scent, let it, when it doesn't know what it wants to do, encourage it! It's about finding lost people, not my ego, not my dogs performance, not group politics, it is just about helping other people.
This doesn't mean you can't train a tracking dog, or cadaver dog or any other specialized dog with our group, you can train for any goal you have you don't have to like what anyone else is training for, just don't interfere and be supportive. I am training one tracking dog because Zenny needs to pass his tracking test, though he would be an awesome trailing dog. My other girls and my other stud are all being trained as trailing dogs. We have a little freedom which makes it fun for anyone to join regardless of their experience or inexperience. Breeds of all kind are welcome so long as they can do the work and not fight with the other dogs. People of every variety are welcome so long as they are nice and "play well with others" remember that from the old grade school report cards? You don't need to know anything to get started we will help you set a goal and develop a training program. Just don't come if you already know everything, that will intimidate the rest of us! Really though everyone can still learn something from everyone they meet, have that belief when you come.
Lastly I use Dobermans because they are my favorite breed hands down. I also really love GSDs but the long hair and house dog don't go well with my life, and kennel dogs are not as loved. Dobermans have a great work ethic, and rarely give up on a difficult problem. They have an uncanny ability to think through a problem and ignore all force and coercion to get through their stumbling block. They really do remember past experience and apply it to future problems. When that happens you are simply awestruck with the intelligence they display. I used to love upland game hunting and I learned really good hunting breed dogs are good only because they are dumb enough to run around through the weeds and brush until they find a bird. Take a border collie hunting, they aren't going to run back and forth across a field because you told them to. When I trained my Dobermans to hunt pheasants, they trailed, they would track a bird with air or tracks to find the birds. We walked a lot less than everyone else and found more birds. We also never lost and injured or downed bird, we were 100% on our retrieves. But it was amazing to watch them learn what types of cover they found birds in, and what kind of cover they never found birds, and apply that to the next field, they thought through what it was I was asking, and came up with a better solution, remember they have the nose you don't! I could tell them to jump into a bush by pointing at it, and they would out of obedience, not because there was a bird there. You could read the difference on their face. Pretty soon I quit asking them to do things for my ego, I let them hunt, and they were far more successful than other dogs. It is the same with SAR I trust them to do what I can not do, and we have great success!
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