By Certified Trainer Sgt. Adam Slater
I review my training records monthly, ensuring they are in order and updated. Recently I was completing this process and I noticed several of my call-outs were during the early morning hours. I am sure this is fairly standard, but it got me thinking about night time tracking and how Odin’s capture rate has really taken off during these night time tracking applications. I compared tracks where Neeko and Odin have had captures / successful tracks to tracks that were either not established or were unfounded. While looking objectively at these deployments I noticed two things which were highly effective in determining a capture or successful track at night. In this article I will talk about these tactical tracking considerations at night which will I believe will improve your capture / success rate if you are able to perfect and utilize them.
Early in my development as a handler, I was extremely loud when tracking. I would give multiple commands to my canine when most were not needed. If I got frustrated I would become louder and louder with my commands when all that was needed was a simple correction. Radio traffic and conversations between cover officers and myself were excessive and unneeded. This style of tracking at night was tactically unsound and almost never amounted to capture early in my career with Neeko. I realized I was placing my canine at a high level of defensiveness with excessive noise. I also realized I was broadcasting my position to the suspect(s) allowing them the advantage they needed to successfully evade capture.
The important thing is I finally identified these mistakes I was making and took steps to fix them. I began to limit my commands to my canine, again as most were repetitive and not needed. I reined in my emotions and stopped becoming frustrated. Simple corrections were issued when needed and I no longer got into an argument with the dog. My cover officer was placed in charge of all radio traffic and I turned my radio volume down to its lowest level. Tactical breaks were taken along the track utilizing cover and concealment to give the canine or cover officers breaks along the track. Lastly, I began doing an informative brief at the beginning of the track with my covers officers and explain to them what was expected, including noise discipline while on the track. At the conclusion of the track, I also begin conducting a debrief with officers about the track so they could ask any questions they had or express concerns which needed to be addressed. This greatly decreased the conversations which had previously occurred during the track, because my cover officers had a clear expectation any questions they had would be answered prior to clearing from the location.
When I first began tracking with Neeko I didn’t really enforce what I wanted or expected from my cover officers. This being said, we did not locate a suspect on a night track for about the first six months. What’s the reason you may ask? Simple…..Lights! It’s amazing how people don’t want to turn off flashlights when tracking at night. This is extremely counterproductive when trying to locate a suspect whose sole goal is to elude detection and capture by the canine tracking team. Lights can be seen by the suspect at a great distance and allow the suspect to evade capture by changing direction, and location frequently. It also creates a serious safety issue by clearly identifying where members of the tracking team are located. This becomes a serious issue if the suspect is armed. You need to remember when tracking at night darkness acts as concealment! Does concealment stop bullets.....No, However, if the suspect doesn’t know where you are at because you are keeping your light off you are much more likely not to be injured and or identified.
If you have cover officers who don’t believe you are at an increased risk when over utilizing lights do this experiment with them. Go to your local football field and stand at one end. Place someone with a lit cigarette at the other end of the field. You will be able to clearly see the cherry of the cigarette at night. Then have your helper blow into the cigarette (Same as inhaling). You will be amazed by how bright the end of a cigarette can be from 100 yards away. Now think about all the flashlights we use that are super high-powered. Think about that the next time you are using a flashlight on a track at night.
Now am I saying don’t use a flashlight? Absolutely not. What I am saying is if you can refrain from using your light, do it! If you are in an open field, if it is a bight night with a full moon, if you have ambient lighting or if you know you are on a track where the dog has confirmed and is tracking hard, refrain from using your light. Guess how you get used to this light discipline? Yep, start training this way at night. Use cover officers in your training at night. Work on unknown training tracks at night utilizing these concepts. This will assist you in reading your canine not only visually but by the feel of the lead. When you master this you will be able to tell your cover officers when they need to begin looking with flashlights. Neeko’s night time capture rate increased substantially when I began using and perfecting the above tactical considerations at night. Odin’s capture/success rate has also greatly benefited from these concepts.
These are simply ideas to assist you with tactical tracking at night. They have helped me immensely and we have had awesome successes at night when using them. The most important thing is SAFETY! Safety of your canine, the safety of your cover officers and safety of yourself! Remember if they don’t know where you are coming from it makes it a lot more difficult to get away!