"Take the lead..."
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
| PC: Chris Williams / Run Your Pack |
It has been a few weeks and a lot of reflection since Kato and I went west to Colorado and Montana to expand our understanding of manhunting. We had the privilege of going as the K9 unit for BUSAR-the search and rescue team that we are on, to train in varied terrain and under the watchful eye of Chris Williams of Run Your Pack. Many lessons were learned, much confidence built and a lot of fun had as we worked through progressively harder terrain, levels of distraction, contamination
and surfaces. The culminating event was a track of a ‘lost’ hiker-Kato and I were deployed on our own to find her 2.1 miles away, 1000 feet up and through a ton of contamination. All this with steady 20-25 mph winds and 45 minutes of track age. The track overlay below shows our work and the precision with which a good dog with proper training and genetics can work a problem like this.
So much was packed into those long days that many of the lessons we learned have yet to be realized. However, I know that they are circulating in each of our brains, waiting to be applied and assimilated into our standard operating procedures. None the less, below are a few of the more obvious, yet still valuable takeaways.
The motto of Chris’ Tracking Club is “Take the Lead and Follow”. Tracking is one K9 discipline in which the handler takes a backseat to the dog. There were many times during the week when I wasn’t seeing the confidence that I was wishing for from Kato, and often none at all-yet I followed and he worked the problem to completion, finding the person of interest. I learned a ton about how my dog works and what to expect to see from him in different situations and at different confidence levels. As trainers, handlers and owners we need to always be open to our K9’s showing us new behaviors, body language and capabilities as they grow, learn and mature. “Trust Your Dog” was the mantra I kept repeating in my head as we circled, stopped to investigate, backtracked and at times seemed to be confused/lost/stymied. The crazy thing is that at the end of the week of ever progressing challenges, Kato never once quit or lost a track. That after an entire week of Chris saying that he wanted to keep pushing us until Kato failed, just to establish a baseline of his capabilities. Kato must have heard that talk, as even when to me his typical tracking behavior and drive seemed nonexistent we never failed in the face of progressively and aggressively harder scenarios.
Tracking has its exciting moments, but for the most part is more of a slow and intense burn. Be ready for your patience to be tested as your K9 works through contamination, physical obstacles and the devious and sometimes downright mean work of a good track layer (shout out to Ellie and Lee). Don't get me wrong-working a high drive working dog in this discipline is physically demanding-they are faster and more agile than we are, and cut through thick underbrush like a rabbit, when on scent. You'll get your heart rate up and better be ready for it to be up for a while once you put them on a track. I certainly had flashbacks to some of my days elk hunting and adventure racing in the Rockies more than a few times during the week-those "What the %@#& was I thinking signing up for this?!" moments that used to creep in 5 hours into a 12 hour race. The same rules apply here-grit your teeth and focus on the job at hand, and make sure your dog knows they're doing a great job.
Having someone experienced to watch, encourage, offer advice, critique and support you as you train and push harder towards your goals is just as important here as it is in any other realm in life. Without real-time commentary and the ability to have an after action review many of the lessons learned would still be vague and certainly would be less valuable, or would've dissipated into the Rocky Mountain ether. If you are a private citizen, search and rescue or law enforcement / military handler looking to significantly up your tracking game I would highly recommend contacting Chris at runyourpack.com to discuss a trip to Montana. He took Kato and I from the solid base we had already established through hundreds of hours of tracking, to being mission capable with our search and rescue team-all in a few days of intensive and personalized instruction and application.
Whether you've imprinted your working K9 puppy (or want to) or you have a mature dog you'd like to teach a new skill, if you are in East Tennessee and the surrounding areas Calibrated K9 is here to build a custom program just for you. If you'd like a taste of the action or want to see what it's all about we are always looking for people to get 'lost' for us, and are more than happy to buy you a beer and talk dog once we get out of the woods.