Search & Human Remains Dogs: Writing Them Right (Learn With Me, To Write And Have Written)

For this month’s Learn With Me, we ask Connie Swaim to talk to us about search and rescue teams, using live search dogs and human remains or cadaver dogs to locate missing persons.

Note, there was a problem with our audio transcription, and it looks like the solution is for me to finish it manually, and that is not going to happen in the same week that I am trying to handle a novel launch, an audiobook launch, and Christmas. /sweat drop/ But I didn’t want to delay the post any longer, so please note that the transcription is only about two-thirds of the video.

Video (from Twitch and YouTube):



Search & Human Remains Dogs! Getting them right, with handler Connie Swaim (a Learn With Me episode) – powered by Happy Scribe

Oh, hey, we have a new follower.Thank you so much.

That was like I went live and poof! message.Awesome.

Thank you.That is.

Oh, I don’t know, PJzoofit?

Is that how you say that? I’m sorry.

I’m really bad at identifying usernames’

preferredpronunciation, so, OK.

Hey, everybody, welcome,this is To Write And Have Written,

and I am Laura VanArendonk Baughand that is three,

three weeks in a row that I haveremembered to introduce this thing.

So I’m going to make it.

We’re going to, we’re gonna go.Yeah, it’s awesome.

So really fun chat tonight.

I do know we have some new people,so thank you. If you guys

are just clicking over to to watch.

That’s fantastic, if youwant to chat with us live.

Please make a Twitch account.

To do that you can use yourAmazon account, I think,

to do that.

But then you can put questionsand comments into the chat.

There is a tiny bit of a delay,so just be patient.

May take us a few seconds to get back

to you, for a few secondsbefore we even see things.

So.All right.

So I have a really fun episode this week.

I’m going to try to make most of them fun.

But this week I’m really excited.

I’ve been asking

and trying to work on this onefor a few months to get this organized.

We have Connie Swaim here tonightis with the Hoosier State Search

and Rescue Team, and she is a handlerfor search and cadaver dogs,

Skywalker and Falcon,which will tell you how cool she is.

So let me bring Connie in with the magicalpower of, oh, look, she’s on screen.

That’s great.And I unmuted her because I’m such a pro.

I’m going to get this right some day,some other.

Otherwise you have to read my lips, right.

Well, I had poor,poor Carla Hoch on a few weeks ago,

and I somehow muted her like everythingwas fine, pre-going live.

Somehow I killed her sound in real life.

So she’s like writing thingswith a marker and holding them up and.

Yeah, yeah, it’s great.So anyway,

so feel free to throwquestions in the chat as we go

kind viewers, but we’re justgoing to have a great time.

I’ve got some things

to talk about with Connie and I’m justexcited that we’re going to get to have

this conversation because this is the kindof wonderful, horrible topic that I love.

So, um, so

let me just say, Connie,

first, why why I really, really wantedto get someone in to talk about this.

This is one of the things that is so

different in reality from the wayfiction often represents it.

And I know that we talked just a little

tiny bit about things wehave seen go terribly wrong.


I guess let’s just talka little bit to start with

wayswe have seen this misrepresented and

and how why then we should talk about howto do it correctly. So.

Oh, hey, Bridger. Bridger in the chat says shehas been looking forward to this all week.

And Bridger if I recall correctly,

has a dog who is related to Connie’s dogbecause it’s a small world, after all.

It is a small world.


you throw in the chat,that exact relation again,

because I don’t remember it and Ijust like to pass that along.

It’s Falcon’s niece.

I’m sorry? It’s Falcon’s niece.OK.

All right, Connie cannot see the chat,

so I have to be the go between,so guys in the chat, I’m sorry.

I am trying to havea conversation and keep up.

And, just noneof it is Connie’s fault.

Let me just say that up front.


one of the things, I was watching a show

a few years ago, I will bekind and not name it because,

this show had a lot of potential.

But on this point,the writers really got lazy.

And so these two guys are being pursued.

They’re running for their lifefrom the bad guys who have search dogs

and they’re hiding in likea culvert or something.

And one of them

discovers that the other one is carrying acheese sandwich that his girlfriend made.

And he’s like, “oh, you fool.

Now the dogs are going to find us becauseyou’re carrying this cheese sandwich.”

So he takes the cheese sandwich away

from the guy and he throwsit like six feet over.

And he’s like, now,

now we can get away because wedon’t have a cheese sandwich on us.

And I’m sure that, like,there was supposed to be a lot of pathos

about throwing away the cheese sandwichthat his girlfriend made and all of this,

but I was hurting too hard laughingto get any of that pathos.

Can you talk a little bit about

the effect of cheesesandwiches on search behavior?

Yes.And I should say that while my dogs

personally only find human,the odor of human remains,

I do work them on the search teamwhere dogs do find live people.

And a lot of the informationis the same for

drug dogs, bomb dogs, dogs that findcancer, anything that is scent related.

So but yeah, soa live, a dog that’s finding a live person

might go, oh, cheese sandwich,extra bonus for me.

But most dogs, their paycheck for findinga person is so amazing that the cheese

sandwich is probably goingto not be that exciting.

So they’re going to find the cheese

sandwich or the person and then theymay go eat the cheese sandwich.

So for my my dog,

he was just on the search notthat long ago and he was lovely.

We found, we were looking for a bodyand there was this disgusting, I mean,

very ripe deceased deerby the side of the road.

I’m like, he looked at it and he’s like,

“oh, I would really loveto go see that deer.”

But he worked.He knew that that was not his job.

He kept working.

So at the end of the search,we didn’t find anything.

And so I said, oh, all done.

Which is to search is, for you to just know,OK, we’re done now.

And I threw his toy and instead of getting

his toy, he ran straight to the dead deer,jumped on it and started rolling in it.

And I’m like, OK, but he leftthe deer until he was done searching.

Because he wasn’t searching actually

for a dead deer or a cheese sandwich,right? That is not.


so and you touched on this briefly.

I was going to do this later.

But actually, let’s do this now, because I

feel like this might be one of those–a lot of times for the Learn With Me,

you know, we’re talking about thingsthat I am not that familiar with.

And I here I know just enough to be

dangerous because I don’t workprofessionally with scent, searching.


but I do come in with probably a little

bit more grasp on the vocabularythan the average person.

So go ahead and, you know,

break down a little bit between,like live search versus cadaver dogs.

And I love that you saidthat the principles are for the same

for all the applicationsthat we use dogs for scent in.

And we can talk about thatapplications a little bit later.


so you don’t, do youhave a dog that does both?

Why do you do one way orthe other with a dog?

Just break that down a little bit for us.

So for a search team,

most search teams are going to havetwo to three different kinds of dogs.

That also, it kind of dependson the search team.

But the more common ones you’re goingto see are dogs that find human remains or

dogs that find the odorof a decomposing body.

And you’re going to find dogsthat find a live person.

The dogs that find a live person are

generally going to break downinto two different categories.

Most people, when they think of the dog

finding a live person,think of the bloodhound.

They you know, they show the bloodhound

a T-shirt and they say, “old Roy,go find the person” and things like that.

So that’s a specific dog,meaning that that dog is going to find

something connectedto that specific scent.

There’s also what are called live areadogs and live area dogs are dogs that

will find any person in a given area.

It might not be the person we’re lookingfor, but it is going to be a live person.

And so that’s really good.

If, let’s say that a 10 year old goesmissing in a park,

we may not have the scent article, wherehe was last seen may be far from his car.

So we can tell a lot of areas,search dog, just go find a live person.

And we’re obviously going to know whetherwe found the missing 10 year old.

And so we can then tell the dog, OK,this is not our missing 10 year old.

So we’re going to keep going.

But those kind of dogs will find anyspecific or any person that is alive

in a given area.

Good for like a disaster searchsituation, because, you know, you don’t want to say,

“I’m sorry, we can onlyfind people in collapsed buildings

if you bring us a scent article

that belonged to them.” No, it’s buried with them.

Right.So, yeah.

So yeah.OK, yes.

So for dogs that do disaster,

especially like the FEMAdogs and things like that.

Those dogs are going to be lookingfor either a dead person or a live person

depending on what they’vebeen trained for.

You also can find dogsthat are called article dogs.

So let’s say that someone is runningor it could even be a missing child.

And you want the dog to tell you if you

find a sneaker or if you finda wallet or if you found something.

So these dogs are really amazing becausethey can go down a track or like, say,

along a roadway and they’ll tell youwhat the most recent human scent is.

So there could be a lot of trash

on the roadway, but that dog is goingto say, oh, but this one is more fresh

than that one, which is the otherreason dogs’ noses are amazing.

So they can make distinctions between, likethere are dogs

that will at airports find peoplecarrying a certain quantity of money.

So, you know, they’re not going to stopeveryone that has a ten dollar bill.

But they may stop alert on you if you have

fifty thousand dollarsin one dollar bills on you.

But the things that a canine nose can doare crazy, phenomenal, like, yeah, that’s.

They’re superpowered,

so those would be a dogswho would, you know, go down and be like,

hey, this cheese sandwich was droppedby the person we’re looking for.

So, yeah, it actually would

be a disadvantage to throwthat cheese sandwich away.


So I guess another myth that I see a lotin fiction and I think I know where this

comes from, but it’s definitely not truetoday, are the search dogs that attack

the people when they findthem, because this is…

So would you like to speak to that, please?

So it really be sad if I’m looking

for a 10 year old and the dog decidedto drag him after he found them.

So a lot of people, when they think dogs,they have it in their mind,

a police dog like what are calledlike dogs or takedown dogs.

And those are dogs that are specifically

trained to the handlersays that’s a bad guy.

Go stop that bad guy no matter what.

But we want dogs that are friendly,oddly enough, to people so that they want

to find the person and that they are superexcited to find the person and that they

hopefully won’t terrify the persononce the person is found.

So the live find dogs I’ve worked with, likethey are so excited to find a person.

I mean, there is nothing better in yourlife than to be hiding behind a tree

and have a giant bloodhound comeand slobber you with kisses.

When he finds that he has finally gotto his person and he’s like,

I found you and now I’m goingto slobber all over you.

So those, you know.

So, yes, we don’t want dogs that are

finding live people,nor do we want dogs that are finding dead

people to drag the dead person away,especially if it is like a crime scene.

Obviously, the police are notgoing to be very excited.

I’m like, oh, yeah,

my dog found your body, but it’sabout ten feet from where it was.

So we also don’t want dogs that.I think that finding the dead person also

means we will play withthe dead person, right?

That’s not, that’s not how that works.Yes.

And I think that comes out of, you

know, there were times and placesaround the world where

dogs were used to search for people, for,you know, you’ve got dogs hunting escaped

slaves, you’ve got dogs hunting prisonersand you and then all of that got taken.

Right.Bad stuff that got taken and then

fictionalized into the bloodhoundsleaping at people’s throats.

And then even though that’s not a common

image today, that culturalconsciousness is still there.

But that’s not how, I mean,

I’ve hidden for searchdogs to find for training.

And I think I’ve been viciously nose poked

and perhaps licked on my chin, like, it’s not a high risk activity.

So it is definitely not high risk.

And, you know, and we actuallytrain our dogs,

especially the live find dogs,because sometimes people we may find be

looking for a person who has dementiaor a person who has some kind of

spectrum issue with, you know, autism,anything that might make them more afraid

or even a little kidwho’s terrified of dogs.

We actually also train our dogs what to do

if they find a person who the dog getsthere and the person is not excited.

So we might train the dogs to not give up.

If the person suddenly gets up and runs

away for them or the personstarts screaming.

I do a lot of scenario training with ourteam, which means that I try to think

of really weird,may or may not be realistic kind of things

where we’re going to try to make it seewhat the dogs will do if we do X or Y.

Well, yeah, you want to just,you know, prep them for all kinds.

I mean, I had a handler tell me once that,

you know, not everybody wants to be found,so they have to prep dogs for if somebody

is trying to scare the dog awayfrom them and, you know, just.

Absolutely, there’s a lotof things to to to think about.


one of the good things abouthaving a human remains only dog.

I worry about my dog going, oh,

the person got up and walked awaywhile I was coming back to find you.

I am a speculative fiction writer.

So, you know, I think we were

discussing not too long ago,we were discussing, you know,

would cadaver dogs be the best,you know, in the zombie apocalypse?

You know, they’rethe best warning systems.

The cadaver dogs are like, hey,you know, zombies coming that way.

So so this is something that also humanremains handlers will often debate is

like, what’s the dog going to do? Likethe dog is going to be confused, going,

hey, they smell dead,but they’re moving.

So it would just be training.

We’d have to live long enough throughthe zombie apocalypse to train the dogs.


So, yeah, so we’ll just.

That’s your that’s your next HR team exercise.

Yes, surviving the zombie apocalypse.



So let’s talk a little bitabout how scent works,

because, again, this is one of the things

there’s so much mystique about it that itjust I think people think about it as like

there’s a dotted line where peoplewalked and that’s where scent happens.

But that’s not exactly how that works.

So can you explain, like, in my mind,

scent is a fluid, but I don’tknow if that translates well.

So how would you explain scent?

So the easiest way for people to lookat it is get a smoke bomb and let

the smoke bomb go and watch wherethe smoke goes, throw it like watch what

happens if it’s on the wateror near the water.

Watch what happens if it’s in the trees.

Watch what the wind does with it.

So you’re going to notice that itdoesn’t just go on a line.

If the wind is blowing,

the scent is going to keep blowingthe direction of the wind.

If the scent is on the water,it may go with the current.

It may also go against the wind.


you have to know all of those kindof things of how that is working.

But when you see a dog work,

generally what the dog is going to dois try to find it’s called a cone.

So you just I think of it more as a Vwhere the dog starts out with the V very

wide at the end and the dog starts goingback and forth across the V going, OK,

I ran out of scent over here,but to go back, I ran out over here.

So I’m going to keep tracking backand forth until I get to the place where

the scent is the strongest or where Ihave odor in the strongest concentration.

And so dogs have a pretty amazing senseof smell that we obviously do not have.

I always think of their dog,a nose as the dog superpower.

So different studies have said anywherebetween 10000 and 100000 times,

a dog is ten thousand to one hundred thousandtimes greater at smelling than we are.

I mean, obviously, we can’t,like, just say to the dog,

hey, why do you smell, buddy?

So a couple of people have tried to put itinto perspective, like Alexander Horowitz

said, think about if you could smella teaspoon of sugar in your cup of coffee.

If you put that teaspoon of sugar into an

Olympic swimming pool of water,the dog could find a teaspoon of sugar.

Another analogy I saw said that if weswitched it to vision,

which is easier for people to visualize,obviously, then if we were only talking

about 10000 and not 100000 times greater,it would be like you being able to see

a third of a mile and the dog being ableto see like three thousand miles away.

So their sense of smell is amazing.

They can smell very minute things.

So you’re not going to smella lot of what the dog smells.

We might find a dead person, a dead animal

once it’s decayed for a couple of days,especially if it’s really sunny.

We’re going to smellthe smell of petrification.

But a dog

decomposition starts within minutes after

death and blowflies will start comingin within, I think an hour after.

So dogs can start to smell whensomeone has died really quickly and we’re

not going to come in andsmell anything at all.

Same with drugs.

Same with anything else.

So dogs also are really good

at distinguishing what isonce and what’s another.

So if you decide that you are going

to hide in coffee grounds because you’regoing to think, oh, the dog can’t find me

because I’m hiding in a giant pitof coffee grounds, the dog is still going

to be able to go, oh,those are coffee grounds.

And yeah, they smell.

But I also smell the personthat I’m looking for.

So I’ve seen dog handlers,

especially drug dog handlers,use things like coffee, gasoline,

even having a dog in heat, working,having the person who has got the drugs

have to have a dog in heat with thembecause a lot of the drug dogs,

a lot of search dogs,a lot of working dogs are not altered.

So and they found that the dogs will still

keep working no matter whatthe person tries to do.

We also know that dogs have been reliable

on finding bodies up toI know, at least 15 feet.

I’ve heard far more than that, too,but at least one hundred feet in water.

So they are pretty good at finding what

they are looking for, no matterwhat is going on around them.

So the way I personally visualize this is,I’m listening to you and I think this is

this is fitting, this matches up, isyou know, we tend to think of the smell

like the coffee grounds are so strongthat it overpowers all the other scents.

But I try to imagine itas a dog smelling the way we see.

So you can have, you know,a hundred yellow tennis balls.

But I can pick out the onered one that you put in.


And so I think that’s that’s how Ivisualize how dogs scent distinguishing

works, because, you know,they would be like, yeah,

that’s a lot of yellow tennis balls,but there’s a red one.

Right.So in the chat,