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Water Recovery K9 Training

Excellent turnout this year at the 4th Annual Water Workout Weekend training in Ringwood, New Jersey!  A total of 7 handlers and 13 dogs from our team participated in the two-day training event.

Team President, Rita Argiros and K9 Tank working an area.
Team President, Rita Argiros and K9 Tank working an area.


Jennifer Culver and Water Certified K9 Abby & crew return from working an area.
Jennifer Culver and Water Certified K9 Abby & crew return from working an area.


Eric Svalland & K9 pup Freyja being rewarded with her toy by a diver.
Eric Svalland & K9 pup Freyja being rewarded with her toy by a diver.

Keeping Fido Safe this Season

My friend dropped off one of her beautiful handmade wreaths which promptly fell off the door when it slammed. Within minutes a “dobe” who will remain unnamed tried to pull the pine cones off and etc. I can only imagine the delicious crackle on the teeth of the red shellacked berries and the crunch of the styrofoam! So, here’s some worthy notes…

Common holiday items that can be harmful to your pets.

Alcohol, Aluminum foil, Anti-freeze, Avocado Candles/open flames, Cellophane, Chocolate, Christmas tree water, Coffee, Cooked bones, Electrical cords, Fatty foods, Glass ornaments, Grapes and raisins, Holly berries, Ice-melting chemicals, Lilies, Macadamia nuts, Mistletoe, Nicotine, Onions, Poinsettias, Ribbons, Yeast dough.

Here are some tips for pet-proofing your home this holiday season: Resist the temptation to reward pets with “people food.” Sweets like chocolate and candies containing a sweetener called xylitol are toxic. Cooked poultry bones can splinter and cause blockages and greasy, spicy and fatty foods can cause upset stomachs.

Decorate with caution. Tinsel, ribbons, aluminum foil and cellophane can cause intestinal blockages if eaten. Cover Christmas tree water with a tree skirt because it may contain fertilizers or bacteria that could make your pets sick if they drink it. Go faux. Since many common plants, like mistletoe, poinsettias, holly berries and lilies can all be toxic to animals, keep these items well out of reach or consider using artificial versions.              (Excerpt from


Where: Western Carolina University

What: Cadaver Dog Training

Trip Days: Nov 1-5, 2012

Three women and three dogs ready to roll at 0600 (Rita Argiros with K-9 Tank, Sue Lavoie with K-9 Summer and myself with K-9 Ice), we drove South for 15 hours. The dogs were crated and relaxed in Rita’s super outfitted K-9 truck, our human digs were equally comfy-cozy! We arrived in Sylva, NC exhausted and excited anticipating our first day of “forensic” training.

The crazy part of this road trip was that we left within 72 hours “post Hurricane Sandy” and none of us had electric at home. Sue’s friend actually managed to make us scones for the trip on her outside grill! On the way down we passed hundreds of utility trucks going North, 18 wheelers with generators, tree service trucks, Red Cross trucks, FEMA vehicles and relief trucks loaded with supplies. Our teammate Kate Danzig was supposed to be with us but was flooded out in Long Beach NY.

“The cadaver dog training at WCU was held in cooperation with the university’s forensic anthropology program and was coordinated by Paul S. Martin, a graduate of that program who has specialized in human remains detection since 2000 and who has conducted searches or consulted on cases for local, state and national agencies”.

We were lucky to get slots in the program as it sells out within minutes to hours. There are 30 slots available for 30 K-9 teams (one handler and one dog), so on registration day we all sat at our computers and hit “enter” at 1300 to ensure our place in the program…how sweet the word “registered” became!

The program consisted of classroom lectures and K-9 training at the “FOREST”, here the dogs were exposed to a lot of different cadaver material in different stages of decomposition, an incredible learning opportunity that has given our K-9’s an advantage to “catalog” these different smells. It’s a rare chance to have this array of exposure. My personal favorite class time was  “Bone identification”, where we got to examine and assemble a human skeleton.  The skeleton was put away then a  box of animal remains and human remains were put in front of us for differentiating ID, not so easy!

I’m happy to say trusting my dog took another step forward. There were “animal distracters” for the dogs to work through (deer, possum, skunk, chicken and 2 bear), but Ice stayed focused on her work and did not even get diverted into checking them out!

Ice, Tank and Summer all did great in the seminar and were equally good travelers. Our trip home was filled with ideas for the future of how to make EVDogs an even better K-9 Search Team!  We’re looking forward to the advanced class in the Spring.

PS: Anybody know of a free flight down to NC that wants some well behaved dogs on board, we’ll take it!

2011 Fall Comfed

This years 2011 Fall Comfed was hosted by us, EVDogs as well as Amigo SAR Dogs and NJSAR. Funding was provided by AKC CAR Foundation through two grants that were awarded to Eagle Valley and Amigo. We would like to thank the AKC for helping us make the Comfed possible. If interested in more information about the CAR foundation or to view the video 2011 Comfed video on their website please go to


The phone rings, there’s a search. The rangers are requesting K9s, the predawn communication goes something like this: “This is going to be very rough terrain, no trails, be prepared to bush whack”. “It snowed last night and there’s anything from 2 inches up to a foot at the top.”  Looking at the topo map, it’s about 2700 gain in under 3 miles.

I know this area. I want to roll over and dream the phone didn’t ring. I slip into that daydream state for a minute. I imagine being dropped on the top of the mountain, my dog and I being lowered to the ground from a helicopter. The daydream continues, our search area is tall deciduous trees with little ground cover, no snow, an easy walk down a scenic ridge. Dog finds lost person and we all rejoice!

OK I get up and get with the program, I’m leaving in 20 minutes with K9 Ice already running around, feeling the energy. We get to staging and everyone is a buzz with the impending October snowstorm slated to start within 3 hours. There’s a helicopter ready to take off with DEC Rangers that will be dropped on Balsam Cap. Lot’s of people are milling around the LZ (landing zone), all hoping to get up top before the weather cancels the only ride.

GPS as we start our climb!
GPS as we start our climb!

Eagle Valley has 3 K9 teams ready to search, we get briefed and get our areas.  I have a draw that starts at the bottom in a holler at the PLS (point last seen). Our climb will be from approximately 1200-2500’, a straight run up. My teammate Brook is my flanker. The “Ice machine” along with us 2 humans start on our trek to the top. This is a ‘freakin-rockin’ boulder field and ‘yup’ there’s no trail anywhere in sight! I have to laugh because no matter how we stretch our eyes beyond and examine the GPS there is only one way to go, follow the creek, don’t go astray and get to the top, which ends right between Friday Mt. and Balsam Cap at a spring head.

I’m having a mini panic moment that this will be like a search in the Adirondacks (very steep) where I flanked Kyle Warren and K9 Quax. I spent most of the day on my hands and knees crawling in one direction or another.

Halfway up Ice takes off across the creek, she has scent. She is not indicating but when we get to her, she tries to get me to scale a cliff face by nudging and pulling on my arm. I make a decision to finish my area (knowing that Jen and Abby are working on the other side of that ridge). If Ice has scent on the way down then we would cover the area. Jen and I try to stay in contact.

We eventually reach the snow-line,  it’s that moment that the  forest sounds change into quiet softness and the cool air feels refreshing. The terrain is getting steeper and the boulders bigger. Ice calculates her moves carefully and jumps and glides around the boulders. Brook moves ahead with sure footedness and I hang onto trees and pull my 28” legs up as high as I can to hurdle over the rocks. It’s working.

At one point I have to take a break and eat something and drink water. My legs are shaking. Only another 2000’ to go and bingo we’ll have covered our search area. The first snowstorm of the year has arrived and we are looking like snowmen.

We only have a little bit further to go now, I’m so happy we’re almost there, my cell rings, it’s the ranger, “the subject has walked out on his own”. We are urged from staging to try and get down as quickly and safely as possible as the roads are getting bad. So far we’ve been at it for 5 hours.

We turn back, bouldering down in a snowstorm is not as easy as one may think. The boulders are more slippery. The dog is more cautious she slid a few times on the rocks. The snow creates false bridges, I find myself testing almost every move. I’m on my butt taking a ride to nowhere!

We decide to stray away from the creek bed and boulders,  we find an old washed out logging trail that gets us to the bottom.

At staging the rangers downloaded my GPS tracks from my Garmin Astro (dog and man GPS). That area where Ice had scent was where another dog team had just been placed  by a ATV, they were 600’ from us, what a good nose!

Ice when we get to the snow line
Ice when we get to the snow line

PS: Thanks Brook for carrying my medical pack.

At my house that snowstorm ended up dumping 13 inches and cut electric for days.

First snow of the year dumped 13 inches
First snow of the year dumped 13 inches



Abby’s first search……or two

Last week Abby had her first search as a certified dog, and I my first search as a certified handler. Tuesday afternoon we were called up to Rochester NY to search for a missing man who never returned home from his walk. Abby and I arrived and were fielded immediately clearing an area till dark. We spent the night in Greece and reported back to staging at 0800 wednesday morning. By this time Rita Argiros and K9′s Ripley and Raven had arrived as had Erik and Brook both flankers from our team and Kara a flanker from Amigo SAR dogs. We were assigned a new area that bordered a swamp and a road the man frequently walked down with his 2 dogs. Sandra from Oswego search and rescue team also joined us and Abby and I were thankful for the extra help!

With just a little far away interest across the swamp Abby and I finished up our areas and headed home that evening. Abby did amazing, she worked hard, listened well, and sufficiently cleared her areas. All our hard work was paying off and I was very happy to see her work. I surprised myself as well, and was very calm and confident during the whole search process. This was not my first search by any means, i’ve been to 20 +, but it was my first time in “the hot seat” as a crew boss and K9 handler. The last 3 years of search and rescue training really prepared me for everything that i experienced, as well as my dog training experience and knowledge. I guess trusting your dog really does pay off!!!

Great job Abby
Great job Abby

*Update* 2 fishermen found the body off a well traveled road less then a week later. It was directly across from the swamp area we searched, Abby was right!!!







But Abby’s first week was not over yet!!!

Saturday morning we recieved a call at 0630 of a missing hiker who never came home the night before. Abby and I picked up Kara and headed 3 hours east to Olive NY. We had barely gotten into the door of Incident Command when we were given an area and sent back out. I should have looked at the map a little better!!!!!! The brown elevation lines were blending in together the area was so steep, but Kara, Abby, and I knew this mans life depended on it and we packed our gear and started our area. The forecast was for 7+ inches of snow that afternoon and evening and we knew there was a limited window of time to find this guy. The terrain was a tough as the map predicted and the higher peaks were covered in snow. After about 3 hours of searching snow started falling and accumulating quickly. We had just hit 4 miles and finished our second pass around the ravines we were searching when my cell phone rang………the missing hiker had walked out of the woods 8 miles off the other side of the peak, he was safe, and he was alive! Kara and I were ecstatic, i threw Abby her ball and she got to carry it all the way back to the truck. We waited back at base for Buddy and K9 Max and Karen and K9 Ice to return and then we hit the road with a long snowy ride home.

Our 4 mile track
Our 4 mile track

Abby slept all the way home, and most the next day as well, she deserved it she had a busy week at work!

What I learned from the Casey Anthony Trial

Back in March, cadaver dog handlers everywhere spent hours watching  on YouTube the pre-trial hearings for the Casey Anthony murder trial. The trial reinforced two things for me: the importance of good records and the need for more double blind problems.

Officer Jason Forgey testifying at the Casey Anthony trial
Officer Jason Forgey testifying at the Casey Anthony trial

I felt the strongest empathy for K-9 handler Jason Forgey especially what happened on  3/24/11.    His training logs were examined in detail and the issue of blind problems came up. Officer Forgey’s testimony would have been much stronger if he had more blind problems in his training records.  But exactly what kind of blind problems?

The defense attorney didn’t seem to know the correct definition of a double-blind problem.   Neither him or Officer Forgey every used to term correctly and I’m pretty sure that they are not alone.  The blind problems that they called “double blind” in the court record were really ” single blind”  problems. What’s the difference?

Simplifying a bit here, there are three types of training exercises.

1. Known problem.  The handler knows where the target odor is hidden.

2. Single Blind problem. The handler does not know the location of the target odor. The evaluator does.  This is the most common type of “bind” problem, including testing scenarios.

3. Double blind problem.  Neither the handler nor the evaluator know the location of the target odor. A third person sets up the scenario and that person is not present during the test.

With known problems, handlers can inadvertently cue their dogs and this can make dogs seem more reliable than they really are.  (see Lit, Schweitzer and Oberbauer for a recent example).   Single blind problems seem like the answer.  But, they aren’t.  The same subtle and non-conscious cuing between handler and dog that we  all know about  can also take place between handler and evaluator.  A good trainer doesn’t give the problem away on purpose. She keeps her game face on.  But the circle of people we train with is fairly limited and over the years, like a good poker player, we learn to read each other.  You learn everyone’s  “tells” even if you can’t describe them explicitly. You just have a feel for when you are getting warmer, and when you are cold and you are right often enough.

It gets worse.  What applies between handlers and evaluators applies to dogs and evaluators as well. If dogs can predict seizures, it stands to reason that they can learn to detect whatever subtle changes in vital signs and body chemistry in evaluators and observers. Dogs read everyone’s ‘tells” or cues.   And these cues may become reinforcers.    Without saying a word, the evaluator may be shouting out,

“Yes, you are getting warmer. Be confident. Go ahead and do your trained indication.”   We have all heard that trained final responses may be more subtle outside of training.  Our trainers warn us not to expect a great final response in the field.  A certain type of dog may come to rely on the inadvertent cues given by the people who know where the source is hidden and their behavior outside of training may suffer.

We must be able to field dogs that work independently.   Not biased by the emotions and body language of the handler, or anyone else at the scene of a search.More and more, I think the only way we are going to get that is to do a lot of double blind training.



Gun Safety

On Monday July 18th several of us answered a call from New Jersey Search and Rescue. The news coverage is accurate in one respect… Raven and I were accompanied by a ranger carrying a shotgun to protect us from Bear. That’s a first for me.

The ranger told me that the area of Northern NJ had the highest concentration of black bear in the country!
The ranger told me that the area of Northern NJ had the highest concentration of black bear in the country!

The next day, some additional details were released…but they aren’t saying who actually located the deceased.. and I guess that’s OK because it was a team effort. But here’s a hint, Micha got there first.

Types of Cadaver Dogs

A cadaver dog is a dog that is trained to find the odor of human decomposition. They work in both disaster and law enforcement settings.

Today everyone is familiar with the sight of dogs working at disasters sites—floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, bombings. Most of these dogs are trained to find only the living and to ignore the dead. Today, disaster missions proceed in two phases. During the rescue phase “live find” dogs do all the work. After many days, when there is virtually no chance of survival, will search managers move to the “recovery phase” of a mission and then cadaver dogs specifically trained for disaster settings, take center stage. There is a good reason for this. Back in the 1980s, search and rescue dogs trained for wilderness work also responded to disasters. Wilderness search dogs typically find both living victims and human remains.

Katie Danzig and Cadaver Dog Scout at 2010 search for the remains of Laura Pickard
Katie Danzig and Cadaver Dog Scout at 2010 search for the remains of Laura Pickard
In a wilderness search operation, there is typically only one or two victims that need to be found, hopefully alive but, found nonetheless. Disasters, on the other hand, are a numbers game. You need to work as fast as possible to find as many survivors as possible before they die. The cross-trained dogs would lead searchers to spend hours moving rubble to find bodies, wasting precious time.

Cadaver dogs are also used to help in criminal and missing persons cases—finding clandestine graves, or human remains that are several years old, or helping to locate evidence in the form of very small amounts of human tissue. Many police agencies rely upon civilian cadaver dog teams. And many wilderness search and rescue dogs take the advanced training necessary to moonlight at crime scenes.

Wilderness search and rescue (SAR) dog handlers have been training their dogs to find human remains for decades. But that minimal training needed to find recover a body in the wilderness, doesn’t make a cadaver dog. A true cadaver dog trains more often, uses a wider variety of training aids, in a wider variety of scenarios than is typical of the cross-trained wilderness search dog. And a cadaver dog handler has more knowledge of human decomposition than the average SAR dog handler as well.