How Jaco Got His Game

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The Bark magazine published my piece on training Jaco this past June, and it recently arrived as an online link as well! Jaco has been a joy and a challenge. It feels as though every time I learn something new with a dog, I need to apply another new thing to the next dog. That’s certainly been the case here. But he is eager, and happy, and essentially kind and sweet. I feel as though he’s making me a better handler than I am.

Meet Jaco: 19 months old, ready to work!

Jaco, a sable German shepherd, arrived more than a month ago at our house, and he’s just started foundation training in cadaver scent. He’s from the Czech Republic. We couldn’t be more thrilled with him. True, he’s got to be exposed to many more things: lots of people, kids, farm critters, rubble, trash, noise, our (sometimes noisy) friends. But what a little love. He’s as intense as a cobra when he wants to strike his blast-hose toy, but he cuddles and grins when he’s on the couch with us. You can almost see those little canine pleasure centers firing in his brain. You, toys, food!? He’s so different from our sweet Solo, whom we lost in April at the age of 11 (and yes, it still makes me cry). And yet, I see that same spirit in this pup: What do you want me to do? Can we play? You want me to spit out the toy? You nuts? Okay, only because it’s dead now, and you’ve got a live one in your hand. And Coda and he get along like gangbusters. (the wonderful photos are from Aimee Lyn).

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Julie Hecht’s Great Posts at Dog Spies

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Julie Hecht of Dog Spies, my favorite blog — natch! — on Scientific American, has written three or four blog posts over the past year and a half that I simply love, not just because she writes favorably about my book (although I do love that), but also because her pieces highlight the science behind cadaver dog scent detection training. She also features a couple of my favorite studies on cadaver dogs.

(Pictured above is one of my favorite cadaver dogs in training, Coda, as she finally locates a buried skull during training.)

Julie, a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City, explains why she’s interested in cadaver dogs: She wants to know “the whys and hows behind dogs and the dog-human relationship. How does a dog start as a dog with a nose and become a dog who uses his nose to stop beside a corpse under a canopy of trees in the woods? How do dogs learn that dead squirrels and rotting trees are not the end goal and should be ignored?”

I’m posting her pieces here from most recent to least recent. But DO read about dead chickens! Not to be missed. You can also follow her on Twitter (@DogSpies).

“Three Reasons Not to Leave a Dead Body on the Carpet”

“The Dog of the Dead”

“Would Your Dog Make a Good Cadaver Detection Dog?”

“One Day, You Will Smell Like a Dead Chicken”

What the Dog Knows picks up a few prizes!

paperbackcoverI was incredibly pleased and surprised that the Dog Writers Association of America gave What the Dog Knows three awards at its 2015 award ceremony — the Dogwise Best Book award; the DWAA Best Reference Book award; and the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award. It made braving the frigid New York City ice and snow worth it. In the meantime, my husband David was down in North Carolina covering bay trees, turning up the heat in the greenhouse to save the lemon trees — and braving the frigid weather here!

A Good Nose Isn’t That Hard to Find

blogdogI’ve long admired Buzz Hoot Roar, a graphics-driven blog that explains science in fewer than 300 words, so when @VerdantEleanor (she’s “Roar) approached me about doing something with artist Christine Fleming, I said yes with alacrity! We decided to focus on the ongoing competition between machines and dogs and other animals, to see which has the best nose, and is the easiest to use. Okay, dog people, I honestly tried to be objective when I did this research, but one of Christine’s marvelous illustrations sums up why dogs rock, and why A Good Nose Isn’t That Hard to Find.

Wilmington Historic Grave Search

Maggie, one of Lisa Higgin's cadaver dogs, alerting during a training.
Maggie, one of Lisa Higgin’s cadaver dogs, alerting during a training.

I am helping organize a historic grave search with cadaver dogs in Eastern North Carolina from Sept. 12 to 14. An African-American church’s graveyard is being relocated because of a road widening project. The church has generously agreed to having the cadaver dog teams on site to see whether they can help confirm or locate unmarked graves.

I am trying to raise some modest funds to cover the expenses of three experienced cadaver-dog handlers — Lisa Higgins, Paul Martin, and Susan Goodhope — who were featured in What the Dog Knows doing this work. Separately and together, they have worked on ancient remains projects across the United States. The link provides just one example of Lisa Higgins working with her dog Dixee on such a project at Dozier School for Boys.

The three handlers, whom I know personally, are bringing their dogs and their handling talents to this project because an environmental review coordinator at the NC State Historic Preservation Office read the chapter in the book on historic remains, called me, and suggested that it might be a great opportunity to both help the church, and to be able to study how accurate dogs trained on detecting ancient remains can be. The state department of transportation will need to move all the graves, marked and unmarked, to another area on the church’s property. The DOT is using GPR and other methods on the site, and will be excavating.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me, cat_warren@icloud.com, or whatthedogknows@gmail.com. Thank you!

Cat Warren

The Accidental Reader

Interesting tale, but too longThank you, dog bloggers and emailers, for letting me be an accidental reader.

Since the book’s publication in October, one of my greatest joys has been subtler than one might think. Yes, Rebecca Skloot’s review in the New York Times was a thrill. Same for the National Geographic Weekend radio coverage.
But the coverage that in some ways has moved me most has been from talented people with small blogs or slightly obscure websites whom I didn’t know at all, and whom the publisher didn’t know either. These are often the reviews that I either stumble upon by accident. Sometimes, it’ll just be an email from someone who says, “I really loved your book, and here’s why.” I love those.
This morning, a photographer from Indiana, Mike Meadows, posted an amazing review of the book on his blog. His website is filled with great photography of dogs and people, and I learned something new just by reading his take on the book.
In November, I found Ranny Green’s review on the Seattle Kennel Club’s website. He’s the former president of the Dog Writers Association of America, a five-time recipient of the DWAA’s columnist of the year award and a six-time winner of the DWAA feature writer of the year for newspapers over 150,000 circulation. He retired from the Seattle Times in 2008.
Then there was Robert Vaughn’s mid-October blog post on the book, which he’d seen by accident in his local library. I didn’t know Robert, and there was something special about that complete lack of connection that made his post special. No advance copies from the publisher, no pleading for a possible review. Since I suffer from probably more than what is a healthy dose of fraud syndrome, Robert’s review, Ranny’s review, Mike’s review — and all of those emails and Facebook messages from strangers help provide me with an extra dose of feeling it was a worthwhile project writing the book.