The Use of the "Back Dog"
in Search and Rescue


By: R.J.Kavanaugh
Former New York State trooper
Bloodhound Tracker for Gloucester County Sheriffs Dept


*Editor's Note: Printed in the N.J. Curier Post Friday March 14 ,1997
"A stocky Bloodhound named Ohinook Bill of Rib Mountain received his second Certificate of Merit for his search work in Glocester County and elsewhere - Ohinook Bill's owner R. J. Kavanaugh of Gibbstown accepted his tracker's second Hall of Fame Certificate in the Professional category."

Mr. Kavanaugh has trained Tracking dogs 42 years and is a specialist in wilderness Search and Rescue. He writes " 35 years ago after finding a lost trout fisherman, I could not find my way back due to swamp location. I finally worked it out but the fisherman said 'Can't your Bloodhound lead you out?' I said 'No they don't do that' - the seed was planted. Thus the birth of the BACK DOG."

The Problem

Lets look at this problem search. You have been called out by the State Police to help find a lost deer hunter. He failed to return to his car after going out at 6 am. It is 7 pm and he has not returned yet. It is getting dark. His buddies failed to locate him after using all the common methods - horn blowing, shouting, gun shots in the air and a short walk in the direction they saw him go in the morning. They don't want to get lost too and it's getting dark. They drive to town and call the State Police. The State Police call you, the Forest Rangers and the local Volunteer Fire Department. You arrive and it's dark. What now? You must wait until morning - RIGHT? WRONG, not if you have a BACK DOG.

The Forest Rangers and Fire Dept should wait if the man has no medical problems and has the training to hole up and build a fire. But his buddies say this is his first time hunting. He was a Boy Scout but they don't know if he has any matches.They think he will stay put once he realizes he is lost. OK, there is enough reason for you and your Bloodhound to try to find him in the dark - but how do you find your way back once you do find him? Here's where the "Back Dog" comes into play.

What is a "Back Dog"

A back dog is a dog trained at the same time you start training your Bloodhound. He is there each and every time you use the Bloodhound. He is ordered to do his thing even if you don't need him to do it. What is his THING - he trained at the command "GO HOME" to follow the scent of YOUR Bloodhound back to the spot you started from. What good is finding the lost hunter, if your lost also. For night time work he is equipped with a halter on which you have mounted a jogger's flashing light. When turned on for the return trip you can follow him in pitch blackness back to where you started from.


How to Train a Back Dog

Selecting the Right Pup

The selection of the pup to be your back dog is not that hard. Select a sporting or herding breed. I am prone to the shepherd strain, but a border collie-type will work just as well. My latest back dog came from the animal shelter. You want a dog that is fairly smart, not too big and most of all - is a shy animal. Select the dog that will shy away from you when you try to pet him. The reason for this is that your Bloodhound must be the ALPHA dog and the new pup subservient to him. They sleep and eat together. Soon you will see the back dog tending to the Bloodhound, cleaning him, licking his face, etc.

Starting the Training

After awhile, you will see that they are becoming very attached to each other. You'll find them playing together, walking together, etc. At about 3 to 4 months of age, start your training. You will find it to be easy and because he is a smarter dog than your Bloodhound (Oh dear, now I've said it, the real secret of all of us Bloodhounders - our dear babies are not that smart) he will get the idea of what you want very quickly.

Obtain a "no sound" dog whistle and a police-type whistle. Before feeding, let both dogs out in the run area of your kennel or back yard. Blow the silent whistle and then call them to you. Then feed them at once. You will find after a short time, blowing this whistle will bring the back dog running to your side, shortly followed by the Bloodhound - figuring there must be a reason his friend ran over there. If it isn't feeding time, give them both a small dog bone and praise. Repeated over and over, this whistle will bring both dogs to your side all the time. At times during this training you take the back dog out by himself and teach him to sit and stay. Each lesson should be preceded by the blowing of the police whistle, and after he obeys you , give him the release command "OK". During walks in a safe area outside, let the back dog off the leash. When he runs away, blow the silent whistle and he will return to your side. Let him run a small distance away and blow the police whistle. He will sit and stay right where he is. Walk to his side and give the release command (OK). He will than feel free again to run and play. Repeat this over and over, rewarding and praising after each session.


Teaching the Dog to Back Trail

When your Bloodhound is working, the back dog is in the hands of a friend, about five stips behind the Bloodhound and on a short leash. You will find he wants to be a Bloodhound too and will keep his nose to the ground, tug - all the things your hound is doing. At the end of each Bloodhound training, bring both dogs together, praise and reward both. At that point you take the Bloodhound back while your friend restrains the back dog. After you are out of sight, he gives the dog the command "GO HOME" and releases him from his leash. He will make a b-line for you and the Bloodhound. Praise and reward him and the Bloodhound. Extend the distance progressively. At the end of this training period, you should be back to your car before the back dog is released. Now, start again and this time you hold the dog while your friend goes back to the car with the Bloodhound. At the command "GO HOME" he should start, hesitantly, to follow the Bloodhound. Encourage him with hand signals and more of GO HOME. He will start back, but will be reluctant to leave you. Tell him it is OK to GO HOME. After a few times he will get the idea and off he will go at the GO HOME command.

Now you need the whistles. Don't let him get too far out in front of you. Blow the sit and stay whistle and catch up to him. Say, OK, GO HOME and off he will go. If he runs out of sight or is distracted, blow the silent whistle to bring him back to you. Hold his muzzle in your hand and look him in the eye and in a harsh tone say, GO HOME. Repeat this training over and over. The next step is to release the back dog after a Bloodhound training session with you, your friend and the Bloodhound behind and following him. At the command, he will start for home. Follow him back repeating the GO HOME command several times. Repeat this process over and over again. The next step is for you to stay home and let your friend run the hound and someone else take the back dog. Let him go and send him back. This time your scent isn't on the trail. Repeat this with as many people as you can muster until he gets the idea that the only scent that is always the same is the Bloodhound. Now you're ready! Take him out on each search or training session and let him do his thing even if you are close enough to see the car. After awhile, you will not need the leash for him and can let him run free. When you feel comfortable with his progress, start nighttime training.

Night Time Training

Nighttime training is a whole other book all by itself. You must be an accomplished tracker and have a lot of time doing it under your belt, before you attempt night-time work. It can and is the most dangerous aspect of Bloodhound SAR. It is full of pitfalls that would frighten the most stout of heart - not to mention the critters that are only out at night looking for their supper. There is always that log or hole in the ground that will try to break your leg. To illustrate this point, I include a newspaper article published by the Sullivan County Review, Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. This article shows just one small problem you can be faced with in nighttime training.

With all that said and since this is about Back Dogs - stay tuned for the publication of "Night Time Bloodhounding".


What Special Equipment Do I Need

I am assuming now that you are equipped to handle a daytime wilderness search and do not need any instruction on what should be in your back pack. The following must be added for nighttime work.

  1. Helmet with chin strap
  2. Miners-type light mounted on helmet
  3. High intensity light mounted on elastic and strung across your chest (carry the lantern behind you not at your side)
  4. Pen light in your pocket
  5. One set of replacement batteries for each light
  6. Heavy duty sheath knife (Bowie-type)
  7. Knee and elbow pads (I use basketball-type on under my clothes. I guarantee you are GOING to fall down a lot)
  8. Heavy duty farmers gloves (the 9 inch up the arm type)
  9. Goggles (nothing will slow you down like a tree branch right in the eye)
  10. Snake bite kit
  11. Tightly laced calf high boots
  12. Magellan Trailblazer XL (this position locator allows you to give your lat/lon to a med/evac helicopter)
  13. Four road-type flares
  14. Two smoke flares
  15. Holster carried sidearm if you are qualified or licensed

Well as Porky Pig says, "Thats All Folks". Stay tuned for more to come from the Wilderness Tracker.



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