have had two tracking dogs in the past but have helped to train a few more over my several years as a handler. My first tracking
dog was a German shepherd which was also my first patrol dog.
Being young and eager to be a successful handler and successful at
tracking, I trained more than the average and would usually do crazy things during my training which I later realized helped
me be successful in tracking. I never understood why when training with other agencies, why they would isolate themselves
and go out in the country in the back roads and woods type places to train. My department had a tracking team of five people
which would often come up with different and unexpected things when we would run training tracks.
I understand better now than then that when my
decoy would run down the side walk in the middle of town so the citizens could see us working, that he really was training
the dog to track in urban settings and all of the problems and distractions that come along with urban tracking. I had one
particular guy on my team that loved to start every track he laid in the middle of a parking lot, he would make me so mad
and he never would leave hardly any marks to follow so we truly had to track and figure it all out without the typical drag
marks. He would always be a smarty pants and make an arrow with some sticks o sometimes try to make us thing he went one ways
when he really went the other. I realized that the more and more this happened, the better we got and the more confident we
as a team became with urban tracks.
I remember one day, it was in the middle of August and it was so hot and we were running a
track in one of the busiest areas of town. We all were tired and the track crossed the parking lot of a motel and under a
breezeway of the motel. I told the team that I was going to stop and give the dog a break, so I went over to the water hose
and gave the dog some water and then put him in a down and tied him up to a pole. I then drank some water and I can remember
like it was yesterday, my team searching the parking lot for some mark or sign of the decoy’s route. I remember looking
at each team member and noticing how focused each one of them were and how well they were communicating and working together.
After we rested a few minutes, we continued on and located the decoy and we all were so happy to be done for the day because
of the heat. I
look back now and I’m thankful for the crazy guy on the team that always thought outside of the box. It programmed
us all to attack the urban tracking instead of avoiding it. We often trained with the distractions and pressures of urban
areas, which conditioned the dogs and the team to understand that the track is there and as a team we can find it.
My second tracking
dog which I am involved in directly training is actually a dog I’m currently training for another police agency. I recently
completed the online course CANI310 Hard Surface Tracking through London Hanover University, which is offered by ASCT and
man has the new information and training techniques made this dog a tracking fool and also really educated me in tracking
and problem solving which has given me the ability to not only improve my tracking but to also help others. I now love the
challenge of the urban and hard surface areas.
I believe in training as close to live scenarios as possible. I’ve learned
to stay at least one step if not more than one step ahead when in urban areas. After learning not to be scared of the urban
tracking along with more knowledge, it’s helped me to understand when distractions and pressures are coming and how
to implement that in my training. I ran a decoy laid track recently with this new dog and at one point on the track, we had
to make a road crossing and when we were about 100 yards from the crossing, I saw three joggers which were jogging down the
road toward us. I purposely held the dog back a little to let the joggers cross the track so I could see the dog’s reaction.
When the track was being laid by my decoy, I watched my decoy walk away while laying the track so I knew that the joggers
were pumping out a lot of scent and most likely more than the decoy. Once we got to the road crossing, the dog sniffed the
decoy’s marks and never skipped a beat!! Man did I go psycho with the praise, I got so excited that the hair on the
back of my neck stood up. The dog went nuts, pulling and lunging and started tracking even harder. From this point on during
the track the dog was pulling so hard I couldn’t hardly slow him much, and certainly couldn’t see any scent marks
left by the decoy. After the road crossing, we crossed a big parking lot of a hospital and then a parking lot of a church
and on a baseball field and to the edge of the woods where we located the decoy. The dog was so jacked up; I told the decoy
to run away but to take a different route back to the truck. I held the dog and after the decoy was gone and out of sight
we started tracking again. The decoy ran down some power lines and never left a mark but I could see that the dog smelled
every footprint left by the decoy until we caught up do the decoy just shy of the vehicles. Wow what an awesome track it was,
but I believe it’s because we are used to the hard surfaces and the pressures involved with the urban tracking.
I have made the choice
to continue to be crazy and over the top with urban tracking because it can only help when the training is set up and executed
properly. I also notice that after every hard surface track that the dog breezes through the next woods or heavy vegetation
If any of us have
been handling a tracking dog for any length of time, we understand the meaning of failure. We all have had those tracks where
we wanted to catch the bad guy so bad but because of bad training, we often times fail. One of the biggest mistakes we make
is we train differently than how things really are on live tracks. For example, we often train during the day, when most of
our tracks are at night. So we put the dog down on the ground and he acts like he’s never even tracked before. Why?
As handlers, we are intimidated by night tracking or simply fail to do it. We put the dog down on a night track and fail to
realize that the night time adds at least 10% of defensiveness and then add in a strange place, which adds another 10%, along
with the chaos of a crime scene or crazy situation with lots of people, lights flashing, people screaming and yelling and
we almost have certain failure for a successful track. We fail to train exactly how the live situations are going to be.
mistake we make as handlers, we stick to mostly wooded or high vegetation areas and often times these areas are seldom traveled
or minimal foot track. We also don’t take into account the stress placed on the dog during urban tracks, often times
we lay our own tracks and are alone during training and very seldom have any helpers to decoy for us and then we get called
to a live track and we throw a tracking team together and expect the dog to perform when they aren’t used to tracking
with multiple people or under the pressures of the current conditions.
The name of the game is train like its for real!
My daily duty is to work interdiction the major interstate here in my jurisdiction, how can I compare the pressures of the
interstate and compare that to the quite setting of my impound lot, which is what most handlers do. We run to the impound
lot or junk yard, throw out a few aids and run the set and throw it all down on a piece of paper or in a notebook and we make
our dogs look like they are the best. Then we get on the interstate and the dog won’t find a thing. Well, it’s
because, the dog is only used to training in the impound or junk yard environment. As a highway only kind of handler, I try
to conduct 60% to 80% of all of my training on the highway, I try to add the stresses and pressures of the live search in
my training. I try to use mock traffic stops, just to make it as real as possible. This should also apply to tracking.
During the live track, the suspect don’t run in the middle of nowhere into a field that hasn’t had any foot traffic,
but he or she runs from a car in the middle of an apartment complex or gas station parking lot, so let’s attack the
urban tracking and get better at it so we can have more successful K9 teams.