A Word is Just A Word.

Just a little rant this fine morning.  I really get tired of hearing handlers in one part of this Country, or World, judge and trash talk a handler in another part of the Country, or World, simply for choosing to use different terminology.

When talking dogs, training, and working them, do not get so tied up in the different terminology that a handler or trainer chooses to use.  Many of us use terminology that may be different from what you use.  That does not make it wrong, it simply makes it different.  If you are confused by their choice of words, maybe it’s better to ASK for clarification, nicely, rather than attempting to judge and condemn them, simply for using different terminology.

A great example of this are the words “tracking” and “trailing.”  All of us experienced handlers and trainers, we do know there is a difference.  We simply use the term “tracking” as a commonly known word to get our point across to those non-dog people who are not quite as knowledgeable as we are.

Tracking is the art of a dog following the actual footsteps of a subject.  The dog’s nose will not deviate from those footprints, or very little at all.  The dog is smelling the subject’s odor, in combination with the odor of crushed ground vegetation.

Trailing on the other hand, is the art of the dog following the human subject’s odor.  The dog will follow the path that the subject has walked, though he may deviate off the actual footsteps, by as much as 20-30 feet in either direction.  When he does that, he is following the blown odor, where the wind, time, temperature, and even the terrain, have moved that odor.  We humans cannot see odor.  But the dog sees it with his nose.  So it’s absolutely crucial, that we as handlers learn to read our dog, and just let him work.

Another example of terminology differences are the terms cadaver dog and human remains (HR) detection dog.  The two are the same.  Most SAR dog teams who train in this discipline train the majority of their time on remains, or parts.  Most rarely have the opportunity to train or work with a whole cadaver.  So one may ask, are they different? The answer is No, they are not different.  The dogs and handlers do the same thing.  The difference is the amount of source material that they are able to acquire for training purposes; more source material, a higher concentration of odor.

To help combat these terminology differences, is through the use of classroom time, in any training or seminars that you may attend. Pay attention to when the instructors explain the use of terminology, and ASK questions if you find yourself confused. That classroom time is important when learning how dog’s work and how we need to learn to work them. Fieldwork is to apply that classroom knowledge, so that we are able to see it in action.

Terminology can also impact your work if ever a case has legal implications that will find YOU testifying in court. If you learn to use terminology in the proper context, you will not go wrong!

So in conclusion, when we get tied up in terminology, we lose sight of what we are really doing.  I know my dog is a trailing dog, but I use the term tracking synonymously.  That does not mean that I am wrong, it simply means I am trying to explain something quickly, without getting tied up in semantics.  Different areas of our Country, and the World, may use different terminology.  It’s not wrong, it’s just different!



To fly, or not to fly. That is the question.

Many people will not like this, but I am against allowing dogs to fly in-cabin on our public aircraft, ordinarily.  There are exceptions, but those rarely occur, UNLESS that dog is a legitimate service dog, who’s trained alert is to save the life of his handler. If the handler can control their disability through meds or any other way, then NO, that dog does not belong in-cabin.
Working dog handlers, military, police, and SAR, are rarely trained enough to be able to handle an emergency that should arise in-flight, aboard an aircraft, let alone the average civilian with their alleged “service dog.” This makes that dog, and YOU, a liability on the aircraft! You also need to take into account the other passengers, who have also paid for their privilege to be there. There are many people who are just downright fearful of dogs, from prior incidents. And regardless of how well trained your dog is, and how much you are paying attention, YOU cannot control how that person is going to feel or react. It’s really about just being a responsible citizen and being respectful of others. It’s not only about YOU and YOUR DOG!
But it seems today, that we have many people who just feel they are entitled to have precious little Fluffy, or that highly trained working dog in-cabin. And there is usually no legitimate reason. It is all for the “convenience” of the handler, to not have to wait to pick up their dog from baggage claim, or cargo, whichever applies.
So let’s all try to be the responsible handlers that we should be and take into account the well-being of others.  After all, isn’t that WHY we have chosen this profession, to keep others safe and secure?

Learn Do Not Follow

I am greatly disturbed lately by the state of integrity in many sar dog handlers. Over the past few weeks, I have seen/read things that just make me shake my dumb ol’ head.

There are several great trainers across this great country of ours. Learn from all of them! Do not put all of your eggs into one specific basket. To do this means that you are missing out on a lot of great information from those other trainers, that you have chosen to pass on. They each have their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. This is what will make you a good dog handler, and possibly, if you endeavor to go that far, a good dog trainer.

This is what I do. I take seminars, and read most everything from each one. But what I do not do, and will never do, is to blindly follow anyone. Now by ‘blindly following’ I mean, do not change your lives or plans, just based on a particular trainer. Newsflash folks, that is what is called a ‘cult following.’

I started my career in working dogs way back in 1979, with the US Air Force, and this is still the foundation of my training. Today, I am constantly updating those skills. I read EVERYTHING that I can, from a variety of sources, even if I do not think that it may apply to me or my training with my dog. I take what I like and apply it to our training, tweaking it to fit our ‘style.’

But I refuse to alter our style, just to appease any one specific trainer. My training methods work for me and my current dog, and they will stay. We are not a competition team. We are an operational team. We train the way that we will search. I am always adding in different scenarios or distractors, if you will, to our training.

Another thing that I do not believe in, is the practice of a trainer certifying a dog team. Never, never should that happen!!! A certifier or evaluator should ALWAYS be a neutral third party individual who has not been involved in the training of the dog team. To do otherwise, just gives the appearance of favoritism, and you all know, or should, that ‘appearances’ are given a hefty weight in the sar dog community, as well as the larger working dog community. That practice is liable to come back and bite you in your ass, harder in some cases, than many dogs will!

“Purely Positive Training”

“Purely positive” training. Who has heard that term?

Now I am probably going to break that big lie to you, but there is no such thing as “purely positive” dog training. Every effective trainer uses some form of negative reinforcement in their training, but they most likely do not even realize it.

Take for one example, the Recall. Your dog is running around, having a good ol’ time, When time comes for you to go, you call your dog, but he ignores you and refuses to come. So we do what many of us have learned to do, effectively, and that is to ignore the dog, and start walking away.
Well, folks, that IS a form of negative reinforcement! The dog is not getting what he wants (your attention), and is getting no enjoyment out of your actions. Therefore, you ARE using Negative Reinforcement.

This term “purely positive” training started about 20 years or so ago, as a marketing gimmick. The old harsh style of dog training (the one I was trained in), was coming to an end, and the newer, less harsh methods were taking hold. Notice I said, “less harsh.” We still use, and will continue to use negative reinforcement, as you cannot effectively train a dog without it.  But we do not use those harsh methods any longer.  We have learned to adapt and overcome.

It’s simply a matter of balance.

Train the Way that You Work

To be the best working team that you can be, you should train in all different situations, thereby acclimating your dog to every possible situation he may encounter. Also train with different people, take seminars, etc. In other words, take your training to the highest levels possible.

To be a reputable team, when it comes time for that certification, certify yourself and your dog, with a third party, neutral person, or organization, that is knowledgeable of working dogs in your chosen discipline. If you certify with anyone that you regularly train with, that only gives the appearance of “favoritism.”

Every reputable K-9 organization that I have ever been associated with, calls for neutral, third party evaluators, as well as “double blind” evaluations, to truly test the competence of the team being tested. When your regular trainer tests you, this just gives the appearance of “favoritism.”

With double blind evaluations, you really know that you and your dog are working together as a team.  You should NEVER know the location of hides or subjects on certifications. This just leads to the handler cueing the dog into giving his indication, for fear that you may miss something.  But if you are afraid that the dog may miss something, then the real question is, are you really ready for certification?  If so, then perhaps you need more training before attempting that certification.

We have ‘liftoff.’

Dogs.  We love them and want them to be a part of our life.  For most folks, that desire is satisfied with simply having a companion dog as a member of the family.  But with a smaller percentage of dog owners, we want to take that partnership to the next level.

At Phoenix Working Dogs, we primarily offer training in Trailing work and scent detection work.  Obedience work plus CGC testing is also offered.  Future plans may include personal protection work, as well as a breeding program.

We train in public areas; parks, downtown areas, and residential neighborhoods.  This helps to desensitize the dog to various environmental distractions.

We will also be working in support of LE and SAR teams, giving them access to training and seminars, from renowned trainers in their areas of expertise.

Good Day to all dog enthusiasts!

I have started this blog to introduce myself and my dog, talk about training, and tips, tell folks where to go to get more information on specific subjects, review dog-related products, as well as to let folks know about various training opportunities.

My name is Claudia and I have recently retired from the US Air Force as a Military Working Dog handler.  Now retired, I devote my time to the training of myself and my dog in Search & Rescue activities. Zephyr is a Dutch Shepherd dog, and we are training in Trailing work, as well as Firearms detection.  Phoenix Working Dogs is the name of my fledgling dog business, and the root of Zephyr’s UKC registered name; ‘Phoenix’s Rising Star v Cher Car’, aka Zephyr.  Zephyr is the first purebred, registered dog that I have ever owned, and she is my Rising Star.  Life is an adventure with this girl and she keeps me on my toes!

I highly encourage anyone to get involved in SAR, however it is a huge commitment, and can be somewhat of a financial drain.  SAR workers are competely volunteer, which means they receive no financial compensation for their time, efforts, or any personal gear that they purchase.  With that said, it is also extremely rewarding to be able to help others in a time of need.

To get involved in the world of SAR, I recommend you check out your local or State’s Emergency Services department.  That is a great place to start in order to find the teams that will work for you.  In many states, mostly our western states, SAR is governed through the state’s County Sheriff’s offices.  Then there is the East and Mid-West states, where most teams are not governed by any organization, but are simply private organizations.  If you live in an area where SAR teams are private teams, I strongly encourage you to check them out thoroughly with local and state authorities.  I only say this, because as with any endeavor, there are a few ‘bad apples’ out there.  Generally, most SAR folks are great people and will warmly welcome you to the team, and help you on your way to becoming a certified Search team member.

For me, K-9 SAR means the world.  Dogs are my life, my passion, and to be honest, “it’s all about dogs!”  I try real hard to keep my sometimes brutally honest opinions in check, but sometimes that just leaks out.  I do not intentionally criticize or judge anyone, rather I tend to judge ‘methods.’  Actually I question some strange sounding methods, so it’s not so much judging.  Really typing and reading words on a page, we sometimes lose that ability to really ‘hear’ how someone is trying to communicate.

I thank you for reading along so far, and please come back to see what we have been up to.

Have a great day, and summer, and get out there and enjoy life with your best dog friend!  🙂