FTI K9, a division of the Force Training Institute located in north-central Florida, is redeﬁning personal-protection dogs by selecting European-born German shepherds – carefully chosen from a network of the ﬁnest kennels in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria – from elite bloodlines and tailoring their training. They use modern, reality-based methods backed by positive reinforcement, and speciﬁcally target shepherds with high intelligence and courage. What is also important to FTI is that the dogs must demonstrate an admirable temperament and dependability. These key traits can be the perfect base for a companion that is truly the family’s best friend and eager protector.
RAUL HERNANDEZ, a former K9 sergeant with a major US law enforcement agency, is the lead trainer for FTI K9. Hernandez is certiﬁed with Delta Society Pet Partners program and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He is also an instructor in law enforcement high-liability training, including defensive tactics. With over 30 years of experience working with canines, he has a worldwide reputation as one of the top importers, breeders and trainers of quality European German shepherds.
THE 32-ACRE FACILITY runs these dogs through all sorts of scenario training that mimics real life events. They are put through rigorous exercises that include agility, family protection, law enforcement and military applications, sport and obedience. They also use bustling Florida cities like Ocala, Gainesville and Orlando, which are often ﬁlled with tourists and high-energy activity, to acclimate them even further. Hernandez says that the physical aspect of a working dog is very important, but equally important, if not more so, is that their dogs must be loyal and trustworthy to the core for the families they will join and protect.
Hernandez says that positive reinforcement is key during training, and they ensure all of the dogs have fun and enjoy working with their handlers. They praise the dogs with food or a ball, depending on the dog’s motivational preference, and ensure they’re well socialized with people and taught manners so that they can seamlessly work in homes, oﬃces, warehouses – even yachts.
Whether you are taking on a birthday party with a dozen and a half 6-year-olds or securing the perimeter of a nuclear power plant, the trainers and K9s at FTI have a lot to share. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more info on FTI K9, you can visit them at ftik9.com.
While driving through the night to beat the sunrise over the hunting grounds that were still a hundred miles distant, our furry hunting partner was tossing and turning in the backseat, dreaming of coursing over harsh terrain and climbing vertical rocky outcrops for a bird he has found. Occasionally he would rise to press his soft muzzle on our cheeks to nuzzle and make sure all was well.
Moments after reaching the entrance to the hopelessly barren and ominous terrain where nature has somehow orchestrated the survival of birds, Winchester is long gone, only visible by the GPS screen communicating his location. A half mile distant, and about 800 vertical feet above, his body goes rigid; only his tail “feathers” blow in the mountain air. You would think he was cast in stone. Finally, after ascending to his position, I search for the small, fuzzy blobs of camouflage feathers that are surely there. Slowly I begin to doubt. I look again to Winchester for reassurance; he ignores me. I turn back and glimpse gray-and-white ghosts flying up the mountainside. Ptarmigan. Ah, no matter. Winchester has struck out again, up the mountain and is coursing the slopes with his head held high, a tireless hunter cast in the memory of his storied English setter ancestry. Moments in time.
One summer day in 2010, Winchester bravely made the trip from his birthplace in North
Dakota to the Delta Airlines cargo office in Anchorage, Alaska, and forever changed our lives.
At seven weeks old he ran across the parking lot on his wobbly puppy legs and promptly pointed a songbird. After catching him, with the assistance of some friendly folks who were mesmerized by this black-and-white ball of energy, we immediately knew he was going to be special.
Pointing dogs are not your typical gun dog, and big running setters are, similar to their only serious competition in the gun-dog world, English pointers, incredibly gifted physical specimens that astound the senses with their prey drive and bird-finding ability.
The wide-open spaces of high country become theaters as their human hunting partners are mesmerized by the ballet conducted before their eyes. The edge of nowhere, places where few have been or will ever go, where even horses cannot climb, these magnificent animals unfold a drama that can find us sentimental gun-dog folks teary-eyed, and grateful for the front row seat to the show.
When Winchester showed up at the trap and skeet range at nine weeks of age he had already been exposed to gunfire in a way that convinced him it was a good thing. A fellow shooter asked, “What are you going to do with a bird dog in territory that has no birds?” It’s a common reaction we Alaskans with gun dogs hear. Most folks here are conditioned to the spruce grouse that are typically taken on the side of gravel roads where they come for grit to aid in digestion, and a dog is hardly required for success. Most hunters, even bird hunters in Alaska, don’t consider ptarmigan as a viable proposition for the gun dog. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game concluded with annual surveys that 90 percent of ptarmigan are taken via snowmobile during the winter months when they can be easily found and shot with .22 rifles or pistols. When they flush they don’t flush far, and some hunters follow the flock, shooting until none are left.
There is an exception to these standards: the whitetail ptarmigan. The smallest member of the ptarmigan family is also its wildest.
Whitetail ptarmigan inhabit country that is foreboding to any type of vehicle traffic, and they live where Dall sheep dwell, way up high. Just getting into these areas is an adventure in itself. If there is a perfect match for running gun dogs, it is this bird. Spreading out across the range they will inhabit a 2,500-acre mountain valley. Setters, with their physical gifts and ability to operate in cold environments all day long, are uniquely qualified to find the birds.
At six months old, Winchester was climbing into sheep country and finding whitetails as if he had been born doing it. Some gun-dog folks were critical of allowing Winchester to run around mountain country at such a young age. Worried that we might be doing something detrimental, we called the breeder to inquire. He laughed and said, “Yeah, most folks don’t get what these setters are about. As long as he is happy and wants to go, let him go.” After the first year of watching Winchester unfold in the field, I was certain that he exemplified the qualities of an extraordinary gun dog – a true once-in-a-lifetime prospect.
Before Winchester’s first birthday we had already decided another setter was necessary. In spite of their physical prowess, even the best of the best dogs cannot hunt in the mountains day after day. Winchester’s GPS collar showed his typical day in the high country covered 30 to 35 miles. So, with a dual purpose in mind, Parker arrived at the same Delta cargo office shortly after Winchester’s first birthday. Having come from the same kennel with equally magnificent bloodlines, she would be Winchester’s relief until she was old enough to breed, and then she would make more setters; two that would hunt with their papa into the foreseeable future. Best laid plans.
When Parker turned two the process of breeding started. Well, it could have started; Parker would have nothing to do Winchester. Parker was smitten with Red, our Irish setter who was neutered. For two cycles she avoided Winchester’s advances, and it seemed unlikely they would ever conceive, but just after her third birthday she came into heat again, and something changed because she was quite receptive. On June 30, 2014, the blessed arrival of the puppies quickly turned into a nightmare because Parker was having extreme difficulties. She was seen by the vet, who induced labor to get the process started. Her labor lasted for three days, bearing seven pups in the first 24 hours and then four more over the next two days. It was a very large first litter, with one stillborn and several extremely small. An emergency trip to the vet, lots of bottle feeding and hoping for the best wasn’t good enough; we lost five more. The last little one was a beautiful tri-colored girl who we held in our arms to comfort until she passed.
We aren’t breeders, and although we had prior experience with litters, this was different. These puppies were special; losing so many was heartbreaking and life changing. After that, any thought of letting the survivors go to other homes was unthinkable. Four boys – Colt, Hugo, Cogswell, Boss – and one little girl named Purdey would never have to leave their family. “Have you lost your minds?” people would ask. Granted, when you already have three chocolate Labrador retrievers (the duck hunters) and three setters it does appear to be a bit irrational. We had the good fortune of unique circumstances which allowed us to foster the relationships that are so important for four-legged hunting partners: my recent retirement coupled with enough space for them to run and grow, and an extraordinary love of dogs. Possible? Yes, if not a bit daunting.
Timing found the pups too young for real hunting when the season rolled around in fall. The experiences with all of our dogs have shown that a critical element in building a relationship is taking them out of their comfort zone and into the field, where they learn that you will always be there for them. Colt, because he looks so much like Winchester, went to the field first. At nine weeks old he rode in his first bush plane to a mountain lake that’s an ideal base to hunt ptarmigan from. Winchester had been injured earlier and could not make the trip, so we hunted with another fella who had a Lab and a setter. Colt ran the mountains with all his might. When he got tired he rode in a small backpack or my wife Christine’s game vest. He had the time of his puppy life, and the way he interacted with us showed the strong bond that trip formed. A few days later, Boss flew into Redoubt Bay with the Labs, and donned camouflage face paint to hide his little white setter face in the blind; he loved every minute. Cogswell, Hugo and Purdey all made overnight camping trips before they were three months old.
There may be something better than a setter puppy snuggled into your sleeping bag, but whatever it is escapes me at the moment. It is said that puppies that stay together, like ours
have, will form a “superbond,” and be less bonded to their people. That might happen, but for
now they are ten months old, and there is no question who they would rather be with. The difficulty is refereeing the fights over who gets to lay in the recliners with us because they won’t all fit – we’ve have tried.
The next chapter for these pups will be written this fall when they follow their magnificent father’s lead into the high country for the season opener. The moment in time when he points the first bird and all of his pups back him up will be the reward of all time. The trouble, the vet bills, the chewed items and everything else that comes with a setter family will mean nothing, and that moment cannot come soon enough. ASJ
Trace Sargent And Her Pack
Sargent is one of the nation’s leading K9 handlers who specializes in search, rescue and recovery missions. It’s not something most people want to think about, but there is nothing more precious than a specialized K9 team when loved ones are lost or missing.
One conversation with Sargent and you realize that she is one of those extraordinary people who found her calling, changed her life’s path accordingly and never looked back. A story in Reader’s Digest would depict her as someone who went from not knowing which end of the dog wagged to founding K9 Search and Rescue Specialists, Inc. (K9 SARS) in Georgia. Sargent has also been a program manager for Homeland Security, and has conducted search missions across the globe.
The article Sargent credits with starting it all was of a woman and her German shepherd who found a missing three-year-old boy in the woods. The short story resonated with her. “If she could do it, dog gone it, so could I!” recalls Sargent. She could clearly see that having a specialized tool, a K9 partner, to help people in need was her calling in life. The switch was flipped and a dog enthusiast and her pet were transformed into a nationally acclaimed, life-saving K9 team.
“I want to end my life’s sentence with an exclamation point, not a question mark.”
Sargent’s methods for teaching her dogs, and herself, on how to find a human being would time and again prove successful, but the scope and depth of her knowledge in public safety didn’t stop there. After her initial beginning, Sargent asked herself, “What if I actually found somebody? What am I going to do?” That’s when she became an EMT. Throughout her work, she noticed that most of the crews used specialty radios. “Everyone was using these funny radios,” Sargent notes, so she learned how to use them and became a certified HAM radio operator. As she was working with firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel, she asked, “Ya’ll get paid to have this much fun?” She then became a firefighter, police officer and certified in emergency management. She has also earned several college degrees along the way, and continues her life-long passion for learning, as evidenced by her recent certification as a forensic sketch artist, putting her naturally gifted artistic talents to work in the never-ending battle of good versus evil. Any one of these professions can define a career, but Sargent gracefully embodies them all.
Chance, Cinco and Drako are three of Sargent’s current K9 partners. All are highly trained in search, rescue and recovery, and are some of the most highly decorated dogs in the country. Cinco, a 10-year-old black German shepherd, is perhaps her most talented K9 partner. By the time he was a year old, he had received five national certifications. His predecessor Brooke, a sable German shepherd, was the first dog licensed for SAR work in Georgia, and is honored in the Georgia Animal Hall Of Fame. Together, Sargent and her dogs have found lost children, Alzheimer’s patients and tracked down violent domestic terrorists such as Eric Rudolf, who was known as the Olympic Park Bomber and was responsible for a series of bombings across the South between 1996 and 1998.
The great affection and intense professional relationship between Sargent and her K9 partners is undeniable. While at home they are very much her “kids,” when it is time to get in the truck and respond to a call the dynamic shifts. In the field the mutual respect and professionalism forged through thousands of hours spent working together appears to manifest in an almost telepathic connection. For example, watching Sargent and Chance move through the debris of crushed homes in Tuscaloosa, it is clear the dog’s tuned senses are an extension of Sargent’s instincts, and her ability to translate for her partner enables them to communicate what they find to those who simply don’t speak dog.
Like Sargent, her K9 teammates can’t be measured by first impressions. You might think that these exquisite breed specimens, with such skill and intelligence must be hand picked from very specific breeders – not the case! “They are all rejects,” says Sargent lovingly. Either a show dog with a cosmetic defect that left him unfit for the championship ring or castoffs in line to be euthanized at the local pound, Sargent’s team is made up of great minds, not pedigrees. She admits, “Not every dog is meant for the kind of work and lifestyle that a SAR dog leads, and shepherds and Labs tend to be more naturally inclined for the job.” It takes a special personality and temperament as much for the dog as for their human to do the work and thrive in a work environment filled with death and destruction.
Search and rescue is not without its perils or personal sacrifice. Logan, one of Sargent’s first dogs, was killed in the line of duty. Although that was over 10 years ago, the loss is still one she can’t bring herself to speak about, except to say, “I have learned that it is OK to be afraid. You just can’t let that fear stop you from living.” Sargent even joined the front lines and served overseas in Iraq as a bomb-dog handler, contributing her array of skills in the fight against global terrorism and keeping Americans safe. While some calls result in the joy of finding a missing hiker or child who is still alive, other calls have a grim and emotionally
On the lighter side, Sargent is a trainer who developed and instructed an award-winning training program for the state of Georgia, has coauthored an internationally published book titled How to train a human-remains detection dog and conducts seminars and workshops for groups seeking this type of specialized training. She finds balance on her farm, which she describes as her sanctuary from the craziness of her life and the world. She also volunteers with her local Humane Society and has plans to launch a new program training dogs to partner with our wounded warriors. Among all of this, she also founded STAR K9, a professional animal talent and wrangling business that trains and casts a Noah’s ark of varying animals and their handlers for the entertainment industry.
As much media and publicity as there is about Sargent and her extraordinary dogs, she is a quiet and low-key person. Her dogs remain the keystones of all the interesting things that she has done over the years, from Iraq and TV reality shows to international searches and hometown cases. “It’s incredible to think that it all started with one little puppy. I still can’t believe I’ve been everywhere that I’ve been, had the adventures I’ve had and lived to talk about it!” says Sargent. By now Sargent’s family is comfortable with her ever-evolving career, though early on they were skeptical and worried for her safety. Her life is led not by what society expects her to do or be, but by the natural progression of where her life’s passions have led her. She is often asked why she lives her life “outside the box,” and it is an easy question for her to answer.
“I want to end my life’s sentence with an exclamation point, not a question mark. I don’t want to have any regrets in my life, and if I should live to be a 100, I don’t want to look back and wonder, ‘What if?’ I’m gong to find those answers while I can, and live my life with passion and purpose,” she says.
It is the dedication and service of first responders like Sargent and her dogs that makes our country a safer and more compassionate place. ASJ
Posted in Women and guns Tagged with: Cadaver Dog, Casey Anthony, Chance, Cinco, CNN, Dave Martin, Dog Training, Dogs, EMT, Fireman, Jennifer Wilbanks, K9, Law Enforcement, Natalee Holloway, Ralph Reichert, SAR, Search and Rescue, Tatiana Whitlock, Trace Sargent, Tracy Sargent
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Venus the Bulldog was the sassy mascot of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS VANSITTART. (1941)
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A mascot proudly poses in front of the the British RAF men who bombed the Nazi warships at Bergen. (11th April 1940)
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An R.A.F squadron adopted a lamb as a mascot and named him Aloysius. The lamb and one of the sergeants quickly became best friends. (18th December 1939)
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This is the English bulldog mascot of a regiment from Quebec based in England. (11th October 1941)
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R.A.F. Captain Eric Stanley Lock boarding his Spitfire with this really cute dog. (31st July 1941)
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Spectators enjoy a baseball game between the US army and the Canadian forces, at Wembley stadium in London. (8th August 1943)
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American pilot Robert W Biesecker and his crew are posing with their two mascots, a dog named Scrappy and a monkey named Joe.(18th October 1943)
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This life-jacket wearing spaniel is Butch O’Brien, a spaniel mascot of the US Navy, on board his ship in the Sea of Japan. (Circa 1944)
American General George S. Patton holds with his bull terrier.(1944)
Coupie, the canine mascot of a squadron in the Allied Expeditionary Air Force, used to visit each aircraft and pilot before take-off. (24th April 1944)
Chilling on the shoulder of a Royal Air Force pilot. (Circa 1944)
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Queenie is participating in a dog show to raise money for “War Weapons Week,” in Twickenham. (1941)
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A steel-hatted bulldog on guard outside a block of flats in London.(15th October 1940)
A French patrol with a Saint Bernard makes their way through a beautiful snowy valley in France. (February 1940)
A member of the British Expeditionary Force smiles from the train window with his mascot having been safely evacuated back home from France. (1st May 1940)
A dog watches AA gunners watching the enemy. (Circa 1940)
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Two Airedale terriers at a canine training camp in England. One dog wears a special gas mask and the other carries rations for a wounded soldier. (16th October 1939)
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Dogs acted as couriers to scattered posts in the French zone. This dog stands by a French officer waiting to deliver his written message (1939)
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Members of L Section of the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) from London offer titbits of food to Spot, a stray terrier they adopted as their official mascot. (21st March 1941)
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“Hoy” was the dog mascot of a minesweeper on the HMS Bangor. Here he is being held by a member of the crew. (1st May 1941)
Oleg of the Glacier, a Samoyed, on a patrol with one of the Canadian soldiers who had adopted him as a mascot. (1941)
American troops and their pet dog are reading a scrapbook. (March 1942)
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Judy, an English pointer, has probably accomplished more during the war than you will during an entire lifetime. Formerly a ship’s dog on board HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper, Judy helped save the lives of servicemen after the Grasshopper was sunk. She then spent three and a half years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, narrowly escaping death many times. She was the only dog to be registered as a Second World War Prisoner of War. This picture was taken right before she was awarded a Dickin Medal, the PDSA’s version of a Victoria Cross, for her heroism during World War II. (5th August 1946)
Posted in History Tagged with: Airedale terriers, Allied Expeditionary Air Force, Auxiliary Fire Service, British Expeditionary Force, British RAF, Bull Terrier, Bulldog, Captain Eric Stanley Lock, Chow Chow, Dogs, English Bulldog, English Pointer, General George S Patton, German Shepard, HMS Bangor, HMS Gnat, HMS Grasshopper, HMS VANSITTART, Military, Parsons Terrier, R.A.F squadron, Robert W Biesecker, Royal Air Force, Samoyed, Spaniel, St. Bernard, Terrier, War Dogs, War Weapons Week