Training the tracker - Live tracks
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Success Techniques for Live Tracks

by SMI Chris Aycock

In the first part of this series, we talked about teaching negatives, the core of all tracking success. Then we discussed the ways to process a track once the negative is issued. Finally, last week, we covered the training process, preparing us for the live tacks. Now, in the final part of this series, we are going to reveal what really makes it all work - the nuts and bolts of true tracking success.

Once we have trained our dog and proofed ourselves for realistic tracks, we are ready for the street. Maybe, you've already been on the street. Maybe you've had hundreds of tracks. That's great. But now is different. Hopefully, you’ve been learning through this series. Hopefully you’ve been digesting the principles of success and are now ready to get out there and track with a new since of direction and confidence.

Live tracks are stressful. I have seen hundreds of handlers who are confident in training and run training tracks with a near perfect success ratio. And I've seen a large number of those same handlers set out on live tracks and disintegrate. Why does it happen? I figured out a long time ago that the main cause of live track failure is stress. Along these same lines is the rookie officer who can pass his BLET course with amazing accuracy, only to get in FTO training and crumble under the pressure of having to perform - live. Let's face it, when we track live - we are being watched, observed, and our backup officers trust that we know what we're doing. Administrators also buy into the philosophy. They have expectations that we will succeed. If we fail, it looks bad.

Here are the primary causes of track stress:

The handler is relatively new.

The handler has never found anyone on a track.

The handler has missed persons on a track.

The agency spent a ton of money on the dog and training.

The administration originally didn't want a dog but were talked into it by the handler.

The administrators believe that every track will result in a capture.

The handler doesn't get along with administration and or supervisor.

A more experienced (though less knowledgeable) handler is trying to guide the handler.

Eliminating the stress causes will greatly reduce the possibility of track failure. However, we may not be able to eliminate all of the causes. Therefore, we have to cope. If we have to deal with stress beyond our control - we need to focus ourselves on what makes live tracks work. We need to offer ourselves the best possible route of success with or without the stress.

Success on tracks is not beyond reason. There are many hk9 teams that boast a solid eighty or more success rate. How do they do it? What's the secret? Well, there are five secrets and here they are.

1. Train properly and often. This is easy. We already have discussed how to do this.

2. Speed. This means quickness in all forms. Get to the scene quickly. Get your information quickly. Harness your dog quickly. Break the dog quickly. Scan the scene quickly. Read the dog quickly. Track quickly. Process negatives quickly. And if you have trouble - train again quickly. Simple right? You bet it is. So get in a hurry.

3. Analyze the scene. When you arrive on scene, immediately (quickly) sketch out the area and include the areas beyond your immediate vicinity. For example: sketch the parking lot, woods, roadways, Etc. But also include the apartment complex about half-mile away, and the shopping center across the highway. Once you have your QUICK sketch, start making some notes on the sketch regarding the scene. Make a note of where everyone on scene has been walking. Make a line on your sketch that represents each officer who searched the environment. Maybe an officer gave foot chase? If so, make sure you not exactly where the officer went. Then, keep the information in mind while you start tracking. No remember this - don't avoid areas where officers have been. If you do, you're going to keep the dog from being able to track in that specific area. What does this mean? Simply put - the officer could've been on the correct path of the suspect. But if you keep the dog away from where the officer went - you will also keep the dog from the scent of the suspect. See? Indeed, allow the dog to process the entire environment just like you do in training. If the dog starts on a path and you know that that is where another officer walked - just read the dog for a negative when the trail stops. Chances are, the dog will get to the end (where the officer stopped) and will then suddenly drag you towards the suspects track. When this happens, the dog is scenting both the officer and the suspect from the beginning. Once the officer's track stops, the dog chooses to continue on the suspect track and you are a happy camper.

4. Remain Persistent. It's raining and cold. The wind is roaring and it's 0400. You were out with the family until midnight and got to bed around 0100. Then the call came. Now, with less than two hours sleep, soggy, and half frozen, you're about a quarter-mile on a track and the dog is not having a good time. Your backup officer is complaining about the wind and your perimeter officers are snuggled warmly in their cars. You keep getting negatives. How long will you stay with this track? Another five minutes, a half-hour, or maybe you're already done. Maybe you're thinking there's no way you're going to stay out in this muck any longer and still have to be in at 0645 for first shift patrol. Sound familiar? Well, he handler who has successful tracks has an answer to this question. How long will he put up with this wet, seemingly useless situation? He stays with it until his administration calls him and says, "Get your butt off that track. We need you". There have been countless situations whereby a handler has lost a track, misread his dog, or simply became exhausted only to discover some hour or more later that the suspect is still within reach. The handlers who stay out there - working - trying - are the ones who find these suspects. We want even talk about search and rescue here. SAR handlers need to be prepared to be out there for days - not hours. Enough said.

5. Process track failures. If you discover that something went wrong on the track, maybe the dog tracked the wrong direction, possibly the suspect was captured opposite of your position, even the track never got going, you should get the dog back into that exact-same environment and set up a training track. This training track will reveal to you what conditions and situations are present in that environment and what likely happened during the live track. This is important. It may be the most important step in live tracking. Handlers who train in the areas where they have had track problems will overwhelmingly reduce those problems on future tracks. This elimination of difficulties is not limited to the one environment either. Overcoming problems in one area will eventually lead to strong decision making in any similar environment as well.

There you have it, the five secrets of success for live tracking.

If a handler will produce a training program that emphasizes the correct track processes, integrates unknown track testing, troubleshoots itself, and then applies the principles of live tracking, he or she will have tracking success. It’s not all that complicated and even less difficult but it requires dedication, time, and loads of planning.

I hope you have enjoyed, better yet learned something, anything, from this tracking success series. Should you have questions and or needs please feel free to contact me directly. I will help you the best I can.

I'll see you later...on the Training Field.

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