This week we were taken on an unexpected field trip to a detector dog convention held at Six Flags over Georgia. The rides and vendors were all closed for the winter, of course, but different areas of the park were marked off as training areas for different types of detector dogs. We were escorted around to observe the various canine exercises, and we could ask the trainers and handlers questions about what we saw.
First we watched the drug dogs, who had to find small amounts of different narcotics hidden somewhere inside the various restaurant and gift shop facilities. (Many passengers at the airport think that our agriculture beagles are drug dogs, but they actually use much larger breeds for the task.)
After that we went to see the patrol dogs in action. These dogs don't sniff out contraband. Instead, they are trained to patrol a secure area and attack any lurking intruders.
Our third stop was to watch the search and rescue dogs. These canines are the ones who seek out survivors amid rubble after explosions, earthquakes, or other disasters. This particular dog is being rewarded with a game of tug-of-war using his favorite toy after locating a "victim" hiding behind the silver counter in the left side of the picture. The amazing thing is that the dog knows to ignore the scents of all the bystanders that it can see and only hunt down the scent of the person it can't see.
Next we followed around a cadaver dog that is trained to find dead bodies or body parts. Interestingly, they only alert to human remains, not remains of any other kind of animal.
There were other dogs present that we didn't have time to observe, such as the bomb sniffing dogs and the tracking dogs. It was a shame that we couldn't watch everything. On the other hand, the temperature was in the low 40s, which may not seem so bad to those of you who spent the same day trapped by a blizzard, but we were all freezing after standing outdoors for hours. (My poor classmate from the Cayman Islands had to skip a bathroom break because her fingers were too numb to work a zipper!)
Another area we were sorry to miss was Skull Island, which was the place designated for canine agility exercises. I would have liked to see what challenges they had set up for the dogs to run through.
Aside from that trip, we spent the rest of the week continuing to work with our partners. As time goes on, the training becomes more complicated, with bags arranged in stacks or piles or other configurations. On Thursday we ran through an exercise with the dogs off leash, following only vocal commands. That was tough, since beagles are prone to distraction, but it was also interesting to see how well they listened to us.