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Dummy on Dummy

By Certified Trainer Sgt. Adam Slater


In my experience, I have found several things helpful in increasing my success when tracking with my canine.  If I talked about all of these in one article it would be several pages long, so I will limit it to one thing at a time.  Let’s start with Dummy on Dummy. 

My trainer has told me numerous times, “Don’t go dummy on dummy with your canine.”  Now even though this has been explained to me several times in numerous different ways. I never completely understood the concept until a couple years ago when my trainer was speaking with another handler.  I overheard him explain it yet another way.  He spoke of anticipating the negative and searching for the track in another direction through modeling behavior. This explanation seemed to resonate with me and it greatly enhanced my ability to process when Odin and I lose the track. 

The idea Dummy on Dummy is when you and your dog simply stare at each other.  Have you ever been on a track or a detection deployment with a canine team and watch as the dog looks to the hander for guidance.  What frequently happens here (and yes I have done it) is the handler looks the dog square in the eye and asks, “Where is it?” (the track, drugs, explosive, human remains etc.)   This is completely counterproductive when working with and training a canine.  The reason the canine is looking to you is because it is looking for help.  The canine is simply saying, “Hey I need help, I have no scent.”  The canine is looking to you because they want to see where you are searching for the scent.  If you search with your canine by using modeling behavior the canine will begin to search with you, instead of continuing to stare at you.  Once the canine re-establishes the scent, it will again take over as the alpha and begin leading you along the scent path. 

The problem with going Dummy on Dummy with a canine in tracking is, there is a lot to think about when coming to an area to process.  What direction is the wind blowing? Am I on hard surface or vegetation? Is it very dry and hot or wet and cold? Do I have scent breaks or areas of sucking scent?  Keep in mind these are environmental factors you cannot control.  What happens is the canine comes to these areas, runs out of scent and provides a negative.  The canine has done his / her job!  If the canine does not re-cast into scent on its own (obviously the preferred outcome) you need to be prepared to assist the canine re-locate the track.  If you are not always prepared for the negative you will inherently go Dummy on Dummy.  The canine will turn to look at you, and you will not be prepared to assist the canine with the processing steps. 

How can I be prepared for this? Simple, with training of course.  Utilize a handler laid track where you know the exact route of the track.  Place several 90 degree turns on the track. As you approach each turn, slow your speed as you would when you approach an intersection or a danger area on a live track.  When the canine moves past the turn, immediately begin to anticipate the negative.  Before the canine gives the negative already be looking on the ground and moving in the correct direction of the turn.  This will do three things.  #1. The canine will see you searching for the track and immediately move over to your location, re-strike the track and assume the lead. #2. It will provide you with the timing needed to successfully perform this same procedure on a live deployment.  #3. You will see what the canine looks like and its mannerisms when preparing to give a negative. This is no different than, “Training the negatives.”  This creates impeccable timing and awesome muscle memory which will be needed when several other things, out of your control, are occurring on a live track. 

During a live track there is nothing wrong with taking a knee on a tactical break to think about your next move, the weather, wind or terrain.  I would recommend while you do this to look in all directions 360 degrees.  Your canine may be looking at you during this time but do not look directly at the dog.  It is very important you don’t go Dummy on Dummy with your canine while you are taking a knee.  Never stop looking for the track.  Look, with your eyes, for the track while you gently stroke your canine.  I even talk quietly to my dog while looking around and say something simple such as, “You gonna get that guy” to keep him motivated.  When you are ready and have a game plan, stand up and continue to search for the track through modeling behavior.  Be certain you have made your plan prior to getting up.  Be excited and the dog will be excited also.  Try to never let the canine’s eyes and yours meet during the track.  Work hard to master this skill in training.

When I begin with Neeko I had very bad timing and horrible processing skills.  As I have worked on not going Dummy on Dummy my processing and capture rates have taken off!  Continuing to search for the track is what allows you to find the track and ultimately find the person you are looking for.  If you stop searching so will your dog.  You are a team and if both members are actively and continually searching for the track you will be unstoppable! Good Luck!