Introduction to Search and Rescue Dog Training
Have you ever heard of man trailing?
This fun and active dog sport came to us from Europe. It is similar to the training that Search and Rescue dogs complete: We teach our dog to find hidden people by their scent.
We currently are the only dog training company in Albuquerque offering man trailing! If you like the outdoors and like to learn new skills together with your dog, this might just be the sport for you.
Which Dogs Can Learn Man Trailing?
Man trailing is an activity that is suitable for all ages and breeds of dogs.
Since it is a low-impact sport even young puppies can start to learn man trailing. There is no jumping, running or tight turning involved.
Instead, the dogs move relatively slowly – after all, they need to sniff as they are going along and make sure to follow the scent they are taking in.
It is not required that your dog completed obedience training before joining a man trailing class. Of course it will be helpful is he has already learned to pay attention to you around other dogs and people and to train together with you.
But even if you have not yet started to train with him, he can still learn to be a tracking dog!
One big necessity is that your dog is reasonably calm around other dogs and absolutely not reactive to people.
Since it will be his task to find hidden people, we cannot have him be stressed or uncomfortable around persons that he does not know. He will not be able to enjoy himself if he is worried about the person he is trying to find.
If your dog is struggling with reactivity towards humans, we can address this in a private training session first.
Which Equipment Is Needed For Man Trailing?
A Long Leash
This is not a walk “with” your dog, it is the scenting dog working and you just hanging on so they don’t get lost. Therefore we do not want to use a regular 6ft leash. These are too short and will be very inconvenient when your dog is guiding you around bushes and through the forest. In the above video you can see how useful it is to have a long leash.
I recommend that your leash is at least 20ft. A flexi leash does not work, it needs to be a long line type of leash.
If you are interested in a no-tangle one, we sell Biothane leashes in a variety of colors. They are a leather-like material that does not get dirty or knot.
Our dogs will navigate through bushes, around trees etc. If the leash gets caught in something we do absolutely not want to hurt their neck. Not having the leash attached to a collar will also help your dog to distinguish between loose leash walking during which he is not allowed to wander off by himself, and man trailing during which he is supposed to follow his nose and guide us!
If you use the harness consistently, putting it on will become a cue for your dog to go and look for the hidden people.
We will all take turns hiding for the dogs, so do not wear your best clothes. They might get dusty or muddy. Also make sure to always bring a little item that we use to let the dogs take in your scent when it is your turn to hide. You will hand it to one of the other dog handlers before you go to your hidden location.
Gloves, hats, scarves etc. work well for this.
Searching for a hidden person is a lot more work for your dog than for example sitting when asked. We never want him to feel like he is underpaid!
The reward will be kept by the hidden person at first and given to the dog when he finds the person, which should make him feel like he just got the best thing ever.
If your dog likes toys, bring those. You are welcome to use whatever special rewards he likes best. If he loves to tug on an old pillow case bring the old pillow case!
If he prefers treats, bring treats and use some kind of special container that they can be kept in for easier presentation (a small lunch box or similar). It would be ideal if the reward could be something that the dog doesn’t get on a daily basis (eg, if you have tennis balls out in the house at all times, don’t use these but maybe a special tug toy).
Because this reward will be his payment for completing longer and longer (and harder) searches, it should be as special as possible. The better and more desirable the reinforcement you have is, the better your dog will work for it and the faster he will learn!
How Long Does It Take For Dogs To Master This?
Man trailing is a constantly evolving skill. We will make sure that your dog feels successful in every lesson and is able to complete the searches we present to him.
That means that at the beginning we only ask him to find people that are hiding very close (or, in the first lesson, even hiding in sight – meaning just sitting behind a little bush so that the dog can see where to go immediately).
The challenge for the dog is that he needs to understand to use his nose to find the hidden people. In dog training we usually discourage sniffing. If you ask your dog to sit and he turns around and sniffs the ground instead, he did not exactly do the exercise correctly!
So after learning that sniffing is not what we want in all basic obedience and agility training, it is a mental challenge for the dog to understand that now sniffing is exactly what will bring him to his goal!
We cannot make a dog sniff the way we can make him do other tasks. Basic positions, leash walking etc. can be lured with a cookie in our hand. There is no inherent action we can take to ensure that the dog puts his nose on the ground and follows a scent however.
So we need to work with the dog on his own timeline. Most dogs are able to use their nose to search for hidden persons within three lessons. Then over time we make their searches more and more challenging by having the people hide further away or having them take a more twisted path with several corners.
There is always room for improvement and more challenges in man trailing!
Where Do We Train?
Since man trailing originated from Search and Rescue dog training, we train in outdoor locations. We are lucky to have the beautiful Sandia Mountains right next to Albuquerque, so a lot of training happens there. In addition, we sometimes train in Edgewood, the Bosque or the Foothills.
Every week I send out an email to let you know where we will practice next. Since dogs are not good at generalizing different behaviors to many locations unless we practice in all these locations, we make sure to introduce your dog to man trailing in many places from the beginning.
This way he also automatically learns to work around distractions. His focus will come by itself when he enjoys his task and feels successful.
Will This Make My Dog Tired?
If you have a young dog that is full of energy, you might rightfully wonder if this rather low-key sport is going to tire out your dog as effectively as for example agility training will.
Interestingly enough, sniffing in itself is calming for dogs. This in combination with the fact that our dogs are challenged to pay attention for a really long time results in a dog that will be very tired and content after his man trailing class.
If you think about it, searching for a hidden person for just three minutes requires extraordinary amounts of focus from your dog. In general obedience we would rarely ask our dogs to sit stay for three minutes, or to hold eye contact for that amount of time or to heel next to us without intermittent rewards.
In man trailing they cannot break their focus – as soon as they are distracted and lift their head to for example look around or check for a sound, they loose their scent trail. Dogs understand this very quickly and make a big effort to stay on the path even in their first lessons.
How Are The Classes Organized?
We adjust the difficulty of the searches to every dog’s ability. No dog will fail – we always make sure that they are successful and receive their reward for finding the person they were looking for.
The class sizes are small with no more than five people in an hour-long class. If in rare cases there are six dogs in one class, the class will run about 1.5 hrs to make sure that everyone gets plenty of turns and feedback.
In our group classes we strive to give you both the opportunity to practice new behaviors around other people and dogs and work through the resulting distractions as well as still receive a lot of instructions and one-on-one attention.
Every dog is seen as an individual – just like no two people are the same, no two dogs are the same either! The more we can tailor the training to each individual dog, the more successful they will be. We will spend a lot of time and thoughts on finding the perfect reward for your dog. Also, we concentrate on figuring out exactly which level of challenge he needs and how to make sure he enjoys training as much as possible.
Training should be the best part of the day for your dog.
If done right, your dog will look forward to his man trailing classes and get excited as soon as you put on his harness and put him in the car! This is the kind of attitude we are looking for. If he enjoys the work, focus will come by itself. He will associate the fun he has during man trailing not just with training, but also with you and with working around other people and dogs.
How Do I Sign Up?
If you are interested, give me a call or contact me through the contact form at the bottom of the page. We will chat about your dog and his current state of training and make a time and date to start you guys in man trailing!
The group classes are $115+tax for 5 weeks of lessons.