Showing Locations

While I have titled several dogs in Rally, my first agility show was quite the lesson.  My first agility show, was at an outdoor venue.  Unfortunately, the venue was a place my dog had been several times for training… as a search and rescue dog.  We did a show



and go the night before the trial. Instead of going around the ring and doing all the obstacles like he did in his INDOOR class, much to my horror my dog kept trying to search.  He was all over the place, sniffing like crazy.   When he found someone in the ring, he proceeded to stop and bark at them. (His indication for a find is to bark.)  Making this even more fun, I had just broken my foot and had a big air cast on.  Show day was only slightly better.  We did make it around the courses so in that sense we were successful.  However, it was pretty embarrassing.  He’d try to go off and search.  When I told him that wasn’t the game we were playing, he’d come back… usually the wrong direction over the obstacle.


After the show was over, I realized I had set my dog up for failure.   Whenever, we did obedience or agility classes or the rally shows, it was inside.  Whenever, I took him to search events, that was outside.  I know my dog has in the past been an extremely strong location learner.  He will do exactly what I ask every day in one location and act like I have 3 heads when I ask him for the same behavior in another location.  His favorite task in the whole wide world is to find missing people. I took him to a place he had several times found missing people and expected him to know he was change gears and perform exactly as he did at his indoor agility class.

Lesson learned. Our next show, was an indoor one. While we still didn’t get a clear round, it was night and day better.  We are getting ready for our 3rd agility show this weekend. And yes- it will be indoors.  I’ve come along way. My first show, I really expected to pass. However, agility shows are very difficult even at the Novice level. While he might do good in class, there is no way his class fully prepares him for a show.  It’s not like obedience that I can easily take him different locations. Agility equipment is heavy and bulky and generally we don’t do much outside of class or the home course we have in the backyard.  So I need to expect there will be a learning curve for him.  He needs to show to learn how to show. So pass or fail, I think we will keep trying.  Even if he doesn’t pass this time, there is always next time. Its a good learning experience for both of us. And even better, all this practice has been paying off in unexpected ways. My dog has become a much better search dog and our relationship has drastically improved since we started competing.


Dog Parks vs. Structured Playtime

Dog parties are fun. No doubt about it. While many dogs do well getting to play in a group environment, some dogs can be reactive. That doesn’t make them aggressive, but you do have to manage it and train to desensitize the dog to his/her surroundings.


This involves continual training and proofing to find out what they can successfully handle without reacting.

I have spent many years desensitizing my dog to his trigger of other dogs running around and playing. He has come a long way from when he was younger. I can successfully take him to shows and have him around a large number of dogs. But I manage it. I scope out the area first and try to find an out of the way location for him to be settled down. If things get too much for him, I take him out away from the situation for a little while to settle down. We have his favorite treats/toys and when he starts getting distracted we play the attention game. 

Even with all our training, I wouldn’t take this dog to a dog park.  I’d have no control. The other dogs could run up to him and set him off. I also don’t know who will happen to take their dog to the dog park at that time of the day.  If another dog was aggressive, they could take his reactivity as a threat and we could end up with an issue.  I wouldn’t be able to manage the situation.  I need to think about what is best for my dog and the other dogs involved in the party. 

However, in a more structured environment, I can continue to work on his issues.   If another dog starts setting him off, I know I have help to control the situation. If he starts reacting, I can back up until we are at a distance he can handle. This is one of the reasons we require knowledge of the dogs before we allow them to attend a doggie party event.  We need to know ahead of time if the dogs will have issues requiring assistance.  For dogs that are reactive, but haven’t yet started desensitization, both dog and owner need to have some training first.  As an owner, you need to learn how to manage your dogs individual reactivity issues so you can help control the situation and ensure a happy party experience for all.


Attention Games- It really DOES work!!

While hanging out at a dog show with my once reactive dog, a remarkable thing happened that really made me step back and think.  My dog observed two dogs in joyous play with each other.  These dogs were barking and jumping and having a grand old time. The owners were completely obliviously and engaged in a deep conversation.  Instead of barking, howling and becoming that foaming at the mouth, loud obnoxious and very embarrassing devil dog, my dog saw the other dogs and immediately turned back and gave me a very intense stare.


The stare at the handler is an extremely desired response. I now have all his attention despite that overwhelming stimuli right in front of him.   This response was not easy and took a really long time to perfect. There are still times he gets over his threshold and reverts to devil dog mode.  But today, something that has always pushed him over his threshold in the past, simply made him look back to me for a treat.  Attention games really DO work!


Finding Time for Training

Training regularly is one of the keys to success in dog training as well as many other things. Yet we all lead very busy lives and it can be difficult to find the time to train regularly. I very much get it. I have a demanding full time job, multiple business commitments, am in the middle of a college degree and have multiple dogs in various stages of their search dog careers as well as other commitments. To say I'm busy is an understatement. Yet I always find time to train my dogs everyday because it is important to me. I weave training into our every day lives. So I might not spend an hour training, but each dog in the house has had individual time with me working on their unique goals. When I feed the dogs each dog has to do a down stay. No one in the house eats until all the dogs are laying still. This can be an out of sight stay when it is time to fill up the food containers. When we go outside in the morning I often grab a toy so we can practice training during our morning walk. Often we will do the same thing for the evening walk. For my youngest that has the most to learn, I write extra time to work on specific things right into my to do list. I also make time to go to outside training. At the doggie parties, instead of just letting my youngest have a party, she plays for a bit then we work on her obedience and directability skills. We alternate play and training throughout the party. This routine works for us. By weaving training time into our daily routines, all the dogs get training every day even if only for a short time. I also find my days are always more pleasant and relaxed when I've had sessions with my dogs. Happy Training!

Understanding K-9 Motivators

Would you wade through sewer if I promised to give you $1? I'm guessing the answer is not only no, it would be heck no. It's just not something you have any interest in doing and $1 offers next to no motivation so it's just not worth it. What if I offered to give you a $1 if you would go to the beach? It's something you want to do anyway, so the $1 doesn't really matter. Sure you'll take the dollar, but your doing something


Sewer? $1?


Sewer? $1?

enjoyable. What if we upped the stakes? Instead of $1 imagine it was $100, or $1,000 or even $1,000,000. At some point the dollar value is likely going to be enough motivation to overcome the "I don't really want to." For different people it will be a different dollar value. It isn't going to take much to motivate you to do something you want to do anyway, but if it's something especially difficult and nasty it will take more of a motivator to get you to do that task. People are motivated by other things then money as well.



Dogs do not work for money, but they do work for other motivators. With working dogs, we commonly talk about this as the paycheck concept. Each dog assigns a different value to motivators whether they are food, toys, affection, etc. Each dog also assigns values to specific tasks and just like humans dogs are individuals. Dogs like getting paid (rewarded) for a job well done. The tougher the job, the better the "paycheck" will have to be to motivate the dog to do the task. Just because one dog likes something, doesn't mean another dog will place the same valuation on it. The paycheck needs to be specific to that individual dog's motivators and values.

So how do we apply this concept?


My young lab, Ellie, is normally pretty motivated by toys and play. She has a specific favorite toy that we hold only for when she is "working". Because she doesn't have access to the toy other then in specific situations the value of the toy has gone up and she gets very excited when the toy comes out. When it was time to start teaching her to climb



Quincy demonstrates the ladder climb






Quincy demonstrates the ladder climb

the ladder, I pulled out her toy. She took one look at the ladder and one look at the toy and said nope. In this instance replace the ladder with sewer and the toy with $1. To Ellie at this point in time the ladder is a tough nasty job and there is no way I'm trying it for that toy. It's just not worth pushing through for that reward.


I then pulled out food. As a typical lab, Ellie values food way higher then any toy I've yet found. I choose a tasty treat she really enjoys. In a manner of minutes Ellie was climbing all the way up the ladder. She had by far the fastest learning curve out of all the dogs I've taught to climb ladders. What changed? The ladder is still scary just as the sewer is still icky. But now Ellie thinks she is getting paid a $1,000,000 jackpot if she will only do that tough job of climbing the ladder. Now the job suddenly becomes very worth tackling, because I'm using a higher value motivator. As Ellie learns the ladder, it becomes less scary and more fun, and I can lower the value of the reward over time. It will slowly stop being the sewer and eventually become a day at the beach.



Lets look at another case with Ellie. I hold Ellie back and someone teases her with the toy getting her super amped up and excited. Then that person runs and hides. As soon as I release Ellie she runs as fast as she can, finds the person and barks to indicate she found the person. Her tail is going 100 MPH the entire time. She is super happy to do this job. It is not scary or nasty, it is a day at the beach. For this Ellie's reward is her



normal working toy. It's something she values and enjoys, but she also enjoys her task so we don't need to go up a level on her paycheck for this task. While I won't call her toy the equivalent of a $1 to her as she enjoys it too much, it is not quite the $1,000,000 jackpot we needed for her first exposure to the ladder. I adjusted her reward to suit the task I was asking Ellie to do based on Ellie's valuation of the task and her perceived value of the reward. I also adjusted it based on the criticality of the task. It is critical that as a search dog, Ellie enjoys search work and wants to do her job. One way I can help that process, is to ensure I'm rewarding her good behavior with something she finds valuable. Its a day at the beach, so I don't need to get crazy with my level of reward. But I want to pay her more then $1 to ensure she keeps her motivations to find and wants to keep coming back for more. A day on the beach and $1000, what's not to love? Can we do this task again and again?


When training dogs we have to think of each dog as an individual. We have to ask ourselves how difficult is the task I'm asking of this unique individual dog. Am I asking my dog to do something that is comparable to the dog of going into a sewer? Or am I asking my dog to have a day at the beach? If I'm asking the dog for the equivalent to the sewer, I should be prepared to pay out a higher motivating paycheck. Maybe your dog highly values a specific toy? Or a specific type of treat? Maybe even a piece of steak. It's whatever your individual dog values the most. Once the dog gets the hang of the difficult job and starts enjoying it more, the level of reward can gradually be decreased.


If it's a day at the beach type task for that dog, maybe all you need is a piece of kibble randomly given to motivate the dog. On certain critical tasks, such as Ellie's foundation search work as well as recalls (a good recall could save your dog's life someday), I usually use at least a moderate level of reward ($100-$1000 paychecks). I also try to mix it up and randomly give them the $1,000,000 jackpots on critical tasks. Everyone likes a nice paycheck bonus here and there and it keeps them coming back for more. I've found over the years thinking in terms of level of task and level of reward helps to develop solid working partners and companions.


K-9 Fitness

January is the time for New Years resolutions. For many of us resolutions include getting fit and spending more time at the gym. Like many of us, I have the best of intentions and usually start the year off good. But then life happens and I get busy and I stop exercising the way I should.


Over the years with my working dogs, I've had the opportunity to attend classes on K-9 Fitness. My dogs and I enjoyed them immensely and they were good for my partner as well as myself. The classes I attended were always a weekend and filled with all kinds of exercises designed to help my dogs build their core strength, leg muscles, balance, etc. However, there was no regularly scheduled sessions. It was one weekend and done. I would leave the seminar all ready to start a fitness program for my dog. But again, life happened and I would stop after a little bit since there was nothing to push me to keep up with the program.


I regularly exercise because I know its important, but exercise is not something I overly


enjoy or something that comes naturally to me. I often dread it. I'm sure there are others that can relate. Last year, I had the opportunity to start including my dog as a partner in my workout. It made things a lot more fun and I found myself looking forward to gym time. My dog was always excited to go to the gym with me and couldn't wait to see what our trainer would think up next. We would race each other. We would do balance exercises. We would heel through the cones. The exercises helped him work on his fitness and made me a lot more motivated in my work out. I found my relationship with my dog was improving as well since we had to work together on new and unique things. It was a win all around. They say you the best way to be successful long term at fitness is to have a partner. Who makes a better fitness partner then our dogs? They are always there for us and love to exercises right along with us if we give them the opportunity.


Exercise is good for both humans and dogs. Humans have all kinds of opportunities for fitness classes. Dogs unfortunately do not. The K-9 Magic Doggie Gym is our version of the weekend K-9 fitness seminars only on a regular weekly basis so that your canine friend can learn some new fitness related tricks and build muscle tone on a regular basis. Every Fri @ 8 PM, we will have some fun doggie fitness exercises picked out for everyone to work on.


While it's good for dogs to exercise with new fitness tricks, we also want others to experience the joy of having mans best friend for a work out partner. Our first joint


dog-human fitness class is starting with Doga (Dog-Human Yoga) starting Tuesday Feb 5, 2019. We have some other exciting joint human-dog fitness classes in the works as well. With my dog by my side, I feel a lot more confident I will be better able to keep my New Years fitness resolutions. Join us and partner with your best friend for a fun and exciting fitness program in 2019.


Building a Strong Stay

A strong stay comes in very handy. You can leave your dog in one place and go off and do other activities. In the case of the partner gym workout, it has been helpful to have my dog wait while I do some things and then I call him to me and we do his exercises. But how do you get a strong stay?


When I start teaching the stay to my dogs, I usually start with breakfast and very short duration. I hold the dog and give my command. Then I give a release word. The dog is released immediately when the release word is given and helps themselves to breakfast. We follow this pattern until the dog is staying with my gently holding for about 5 seconds. I then start fading out the holding. I now have a dog that will stay for 5 seconds in a non distracting environment. I gradually build up the time I am asking for the stay. I like teaching the stay in association with breakfast. If the dog breaks the stay, I simply tell the dog that wasn't correct, and lift up the food bowl. A little while later we will try it again. Food motivated dogs tend to learn pretty quickly to stay to ensure they get their breakfast promptly.

In addition to duration, once I'm fairly confident in the dog, I start walking away and


gradually start moving out of sight, but within hearing range in addition to adding some distractions. Once I have a reliable dog at home, I start taking it on the road. Dogs tend to be location learners. Just because I have a 5 minutes out of sight down stay at home, doesn't mean I'll have the same behavior at the park. I need to lower my expectations. I might start with a one minute stay with me in sight. If the dog does well, I will gradually make it more complex. When we are practicing I will often walk back to the dog, let them know they are being good and reward randomly while they are in the stay. By practicing a lot, rewarding when the dog is doing what I asked, changing duration, distractions and locations, I gradually build a very solid stay.

Remembering 9/11 Dog Heroes

#9/11 #Search Dogs #WTC #Never Forget

This year marks my 20th year anniversary working with amazing search and rescue dogs. I've had my ups and downs over the years, but the one thing that keeps me going is the dogs. The dogs live for their jobs and have such extreme pleasure and joy in working. They stand by our sides and never say no, I don't feel like it today. They always want to go find people without fail even in all kinds of awful weather and circumstances. Whenever I have had an injury or illness that has prevented training for a while, the dogs all noticeably miss their job and act a bit mopey.


K-9 Libby is not happy to be pulled from the field on a search despite her collection of snowballs.

The only thing the dogs ask for is a game of tug or retrieve at the end. For that they will search all day though snow, cold, rain, etc. These dogs don't know they are heroes or doing anything special, but they are. While all dogs are extremely special, it does take a unique combination of traits and training to make a good search dog. The search dogs are our partners and our friends and they save lives or bring back the missing to their loved ones.



As many do, I remember 9/11 and mark the anniversary each year. I also remember a different side of it then many. I assisted recovery efforts out of Staten Island. They brought the rubble over on barges. Again, the dogs didn't say no. The dogs were used to searching for one person in a wilderness setting, but they adapted. Their humans were stressed and wearing funny suits. The dogs were asked to search a football size field full of spread out rubble, something they had never done before. Yet still the dogs didn't hesitate. They did their job without fail to help bring back the missing.



We spent a relatively short time down there. Yet those days influenced my whole life. I along with the others working, saw sights no one should see. Dogs had to be happily rewarded for doing their job, even when the handler was devastated by what the dog had found. There was wreckage everywhere and huge piles of rubble. One of the things that effected me a lot personally, was a soda




truck. Amidst the wreckage all around, the back of the truck still had untouched cans. Even now all these years later it is hard for me to comprehend why anyone would feel so much hate they would do something like that or how there could be so much destruction but something so little as a soda can could be untouched.

9/11 recovery efforts were by far the toughest search I have been on in my 20 years in search and rescue. Part of that is that is because it wasn't caused by nature or an accident. It was a senseless hateful act done on purpose.

When we went back to our base at night feeling low after the tough day, the dogs again stepped up. Despite working long shifts the dogs took on a second role as therapy dogs after working all day as search dogs. They comforted the workers as only dogs know how.

It took quite a while to get back to normal life after the experience. I ended up changing my college major and my long term career choice and committed myself to getting further into volunteer search and rescue. My experiences are also part of the reason I started K-9 Magic LLC.

Every year on the anniversary, I take time out to remember those who died and remind myself of the experiences of working recovery efforts. I look at pictures and remember the tireless and heroic efforts of the search dogs who searched all day and then helped us hold onto our sanity in the evenings. I also thank my current search dogs and hope upon hope we can continue helping people without ever having another terrorist incident such as 9/11 to respond to again.

Everyone has different ways of remembrance. How do you ensure you Never Forget 9/11?



Libby (Retired)- Wilderness Live Find, HRD, Water Recovery






Quincy- Wilderness Live Find








Indy- Wilderness HRD








Ellie- Live Find Urban SAR