It's in the nose
The Carbon County Sheriff's Department held a training seminar last week. It may have been a one of a kind event that no one has ever held before. It was about noses, wet ones.
"I have never heard of the kind of training we are doing here before," said Wally Hendricks, a sheriff's department deputy who specializes in police dog work. "No one ever trains search dogs, multipurpose dogs and K9 units together in one session. But we thought it would be beneficial, so that is why we offered it so far and wide."
There weren't hundreds of attendees more like 15 to 20 people and well over a dozen dogs. They came from many locations throughout the state and also from outside Utah. They wanted to learn more about their dogs and how to make them better at what they do.
Handlers came from a number of places including Heber, Salt Lake, Orem, Sandy and even a couple of search and rescue teams from Idaho. Chris Gigliotti and his dog, Macy, from the Carbon County Sheriffs Department, were also included in the group. "The fact is that search dogs find their subjects more often than K9 unit dogs do," said Hendricks. "Many of those dogs have less than a dozen finds when released. My search dog has 44 finds under its belt. What we are trying to do here is teach handlers how to use their dogs more effectively."
Carbon County Events Center was the setting for the event. The first exercise was designed to evaluate the dogs' capabilities so that the learning curve for the weekend could have a baseline. Handlers were given numbers and the first set brought their dogs out. They were then tested by finding a prey through a hunt. A few were immediately successful in tracking down volunteers who hid behind construction barriers, bushes and trees in the area; others struggled with finding their prey despite the fact they had been given scents with which to work.
"It's in the nose," said Hendricks, as he addressed the dogs' handlers. "Watch the dogs. Some with start out with using their sight, and then they switch to using their nose. That's when they find what they are looking for."
According to Hendricks, dogs use a hunt mode when they are looking for something in general. Once they find traces of what they are looking for, they head out in a prey mode.
After the basis for the training was set, many dogs--whether K9 units or search dogs-- needed to be conditioned, along with their handlers, to use their correct faculties to find what they were looking for, whether it was a ball used for training, a chew sleeve or a person that is trouble or is in trouble.
For two more days, the dogs and handlers trained in the desert. During two night sessions, they trained at the Carbon Country Club.
"We trained at the golf course at night, meeting at the country club and it was great," said Hendricks. "It was busy there and the dogs did well."
Hendricks said the overall training went better than he expected considering the wide range of dogs, handlers and experiences that were part of the workshop the first day.
"Every handler and dog who came to the training left with new tracking skills," said Hendricks. "We were able to get dogs off using prey drive and go to hunt drive in seeking what they were looking for."
It seems those that attended left better for it; so much so that Hendricks says that he is planning to conduct another similar training in the next few months.