Saturday was a day for the dogs, at least, it was in Cass.
Dave and Sandy Weik of Appalachian Bloodhounds hosted their fourth annual man-trailing training event where they assist bloodhound owners in training dogs for search and rescue missions.
As part of the training, several volunteers, known as runners, walk a specific trail and wait at the end of it for the dogs to sniff them out. The dogs are given an article of clothing and are led on leash by their owners until they find the runner.
“We’ve had a tremendous, actually, very surprising rate of success so far,” Dave said. “Much better than what I anticipated with the complexity of the trails, which goes hand-in-hand with the amount of training we’re doing. The dogs are getting better and better, and we’re getting better and better.”
Bloodhound owners from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia came to learn man trailing with their dogs. Several of the Weik’s dogs also participated.
While this is the fourth year the Weiks have trained in Cass, they try to mix things up a bit to prepare the dogs for all types of situations.
“It’s our fourth year that we’ve been training bloodhounds, and we’re always looking for something different because in a real life search scenario, you never know what you’re going to encounter. Diversity is the key. You’ve got to train everywhere.”
The Weiks are passionate about bloodhounds, as evidenced by the time and energy they put into breeding, training and rescuing the breed. They were joined this weekend by like-minded people who love the breed and want to see their dogs use their natural-born talents to find missing people.
DeWayne and Salina King, of western Pennsylvania, brought their five month old Ginger to give her a leg up, or rather a nose up, on her litter mates.
“We have several bloodhounds at home,” Salina said. “She was one of our puppies and we just wanted to see what we could do with her, and what her nose can do.”
Rose and Paul Williams, of Webster County, got their bloodhound, two-year-old Jed, from the Weiks and decided they would be the best trainers for him. An added bonus to the weekend was the fact that Jed was reunited with littermate, Gunsmoke Festus, who stayed with the Weiks.
“At first, we decided to help out Webster County because we don’t have a lot of search and rescue,” Rose said. “We told Dave we were interested, and he let us know about the group. We’ve been coming ever since.”
While it’s nice to give the dogs an opportunity to meet new people and other dogs, the training was also a chance to let them get serious about the job at hand.
Many factors go into search and rescue training, and the dogs, as well as their trainers have to be prepared for everything. Weather, atmosphere, ambient noise and distractions all have to be considered when a bloodhound is “on the job.”
“You have to look at this from a little bit of a complex scientific standpoint,” Dave said. “Think about thermal air – what the air does in the morning, what the air does in the evening, if it’s rising or falling, direction of wind, atmospheric conditions, humidity. It’s all variables that affect what the scent does, and it’s what causes the dogs to deviate from a particular scent trail.”
For example, if a morning is warm and the warmth continues through the day, the scent will remain where it was, but, if the morning is cold and the day warms up, the scent will rise with the warming air, causing the trail to move and change.
“We’ve had instances where the scent was laid on one side of the river in the morning, but by the afternoon, all their scent was on the other side of the river, so the dog was actually parallel to the trail, but on the other side of the river because that’s where the scent is now, not where it was put in the morning,” Dave said.
Sometimes the dog finds what seems like an easier route to the victim, but there are obstacles which may harm their health or the health of their trainer.
“This is a real interesting trail right here where Gunsmoke Festus just finished up,” Dave said. “We did a giant paper clip where we’re here at the Cass Fire Hall; directly across the river is the old pavilion in the old park. That’s where our runner is. They way the air is blowing today, that scent is coming directly to us across the river, but we’re forcing the dog to go clear up into town, across the bridge and over, because today, we’ve got an impossible river crossing with the high water and swift current. You don’t want to attempt that, so even though the dog knows the person is over there, rather than ‘cheating’ and just going there by smelling them, we’re forcing him to follow their actual trail.”
Along with training bloodhounds, the Weiks have dedicated their lives to protecting the breed, so much so that they have halted breeding their dogs to instead focus on rescuing bloodhounds from shelters.
“We pretty much have our line of the Appalachian Bloodhounds where we want them as far as size, health and hot-nosed ability for training, so we’ve slowed down,” Dave said. “The other thing is there is such an overabundance of bloodhounds in need of rescue right now. There’s such an over population, that I can’t bring myself to breed more when there’s this many dogs that need homes, and this many dogs that are being euthanized.”
In 2015, the Weiks rescued and re-homed 37 bloodhounds. Only three months into 2016, they have done nine re-homes and currently have 17 rescue bloodhounds waiting for their forever homes.
Many of the rescues go on to become search and rescue dogs in different parts of the country, including a few dogs who recently went to Florida to assist police officers.
“We delivered another rescued bloodhound that was trained by us to Orange County, Florida, two weeks ago,” Dave said. “He is now serving the public at Disney World as a search and rescue dog. It’s very satisfying. We have police departments in Hillsborough County, Florida, and Orange County, Florida, that come up and spend a couple weekends with us a year, do dog assessments and take our best dogs back with them.”
Appalachian Bloodhounds hosts monthly training sessions along with the main session held at the Cass Volunteer Fire Department each year.
For more information on the organization and dogs, email AppalachianBloodhounds@gmail.com or call 304-456-4446.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org