Dog Training The Screaming Victim Scenario

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Dog Training The Screaming Victim Scenario

by Michael Russell



When a search for a missing Alzheimer's patient or an autistic child is called, one of the questions which must be asked is whether or not the missing person is afraid of dogs. The subject's reaction to a dog finding him can be important for the handler to know about. The possibility exists that an unprepared dog can be faced with a person who is screaming, agitated, hitting the dog or even kicking the dog, or running wildly away. The dog's reaction should be even-tempered and stable and the dog should be trained for this possibility before such an event might occur.

For this reason, the "screaming victim" scenario should always be set up at some time during the training of the search dog. It is a fairly simple exercise and because the concentration is not one of actually making the find but rather judging that the find itself is properly handled, a fairly large number of dogs and handlers can conduct the same exercise in the same locale without bothering to set up different scent fields. What is necessary is to have a "victim" who will react violently to the dogs...one who will scream, not just a little, but a LOT. A person who will hit at the dog, flapping his arms wildly and rolling away in mock terror is a real benefit for a dog team's training! The subject should react in this manner the instant that the dog comes into his view. And the handler should be there, with the dog, to judge the reaction and prevent the possibility of his dog biting the person or bolting from the search scene.

The group practice should provide an opportunity for each dog and handler, one at a time, to "find" the victim and there should be an observer present for each team. At the end of the practice, there should of course be a session to go over the results of the practice and determine which dogs may need more training or may not have handled the situation in a suitable manner.

Typically, most dogs stop and appear a bit worried at the reaction and then continue to go in to make the find and alert the handler. However, there is always the occasional dog who will growl and become aggressive. Such a dog should either be used on searches always on a leash or should be used as a cadaver dog rather than a wilderness area search or trailing dog. There may also be an occasional dog who reacts with fear and backs off or even bolts. Usually this is a problem, which will go away if the scenario is practiced a few more times and the dog becomes used to the idea that some people act crazy.

One of the benefits of conducting a "screaming victim" scenario is that is does present the dog with humans who are not especially receptive to his attentions. When a handler has taken his dog through a couple of scenarios such as this, he can be fairly confident that his dog will have a stable reaction to stressful situations. In the area of emergency response, all situations are stressful. The key is to make sure that the dog, who is a major player as far as the location of the missing person, is the one who is the least stressed out.

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