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We are going to discuss the way we started training our "Arson dogs".You may not agree with it,or you may not do it this way, but it worked well for us since 1987. We are now on our 3rd accelerant detection dog and we basically trained all our dogs the same. The First dog we trained was "Paul" who was my tracking, cadaver,and article search dog at the time.Paul sired a litter and I was playing around training Paul to find accelerants because we had a litter on the ground and was waiting for a "Puppy Profile Test "to be done on the litter and I was going to keep the best dog that scored in the puppy test for an accelerant detection dog.So in this we are going to cover a few things to get you started in starting your own dog. We will cover selecting a dog, what age to start training, how to start them, and how to get them conditioned. With the right dog from start to finish you may have a dog working for you in no time at all.Remember this is what worked for us!!!!!

Selecting The Right Dog

We have used dogs that have taken the "Puppy Profile Test", this is a test that is used on dogs and given on the day when the dogs are 49 days old. It is designed to tell alot about the dog,and what it will be like the rest of his life.I have used this test and have trained 4 accelerant detection dogs. Three of them worked out just fine. One worked fine but if I read all the Puppy test I would have seen a couple things and after the test I wouldn't have wasted my time training her.She was a good dog, very easy to train,and caught on to things very quick,but there was one thing wrong with her. If I read the puppy profile closer I would have paid more attention to the fact that she startled easily. We had this dog for a house pet at first and she was fine, but get her to a scene or around other people and she was very timid. She would work all day if it was just her and I but if any strangers were around .......forget it.Her training never went to waste,because I would use her to check samples,or use her in some capacity if there wasn't alot of people around. She ended up becoming a great article search and cadaver dog.

Ok so what do we look for in this "Puppy Test"?

I look for several things,and they are: Williness to Please---That is the most important test to me.If they don't show that, there is no sense in wasteing your time with it.I want a dog with a "Medium" energy level,and a dog who shows no or very little fear.Another test is the "Social Attraction"This will tell how the dog gets along with strangers.It is best to rely on people who normally perform this test and rely on their Judgement.

I am going to include a link for you to look at the Puppy Test, and also a link written by a Cindy Tittle Moore called"How to Choose A Puppy For Search And Rescue" that covers alot of the information you will need in purchasing a Puppy for working in the field of Accelerant Detection. This webpage will answer just about any question you may have in obtaining your puppy.

Now comes the question do I want a male or female dog?

That will be up to the person as all it is is a preference. For Years Bill Tolhurst and I would joke about who had the better dog. His "Candy" a Chocolate Lab Female or my "Paul" a Black Lab Male Both dogs worked just as good. We always got the same results.Just a preference is all it is. I don't really care what I work as long as it "Puppy Tested" for what I needed. For a breakdown I have had 1 Male and 3 females(including the dog that didn't work out) I think Females are easier to train but that is the only difference I have seen in the sexes.

How old should they be to start training?

This answer varies also. I started "Paul" at a year and a half of age.I started "Margie" (the pup I waited for)at about 9 weeks of age. Right after the puppy test I worked her in obedience for 2 weeks before the accelerant training.Then there was "Tonya" the dog that was so timid, she started at about a year to a year and a half of age. And then There was "Gypsy". I trained her in Narcotics at 4 months of age and she worked her first drug search at 7 months of age. She worked narcotics for about 1 year and as I realized I had to replace "Margie" because of her age I started training "Gypsy" at about 2 years of age for accelerant detection. When she started working fire scenes we stopped all drug work. I don't think I would start a dog over 2 years of age. And never start a dog untill 3 commands for obedience are understood by the dog. They are"Come,"Stay" & "Sit".Steve Reichert started "Ellie Mae" at about 12 weeks of age,but alot depends on the dog. They still have to have their puppy time.

Here is Steve and "Ellie Mae" working a fire in May of 2001. Steve is a Lieutant with the Erie(Pa) Fire Department and also is an Detective with the Erie County(Pa)District Attorneys Office. Steve is also past president of CADA the Canine Accelerant Detection Association.

What Breed should we use?

It really doesn't make any difference as long as the dog has a desire to work and has a high play drive. I have always used Labs. But we have a Border Collie trained in Tracking and Cadaver Recovery and Article Search and he picked up a little bit on the odor of accelerants by watching the labs work. I would say any sporting breed,or Herding breed such as Shepards or Border Collies. But I perfer the Labradors or the Golden Retrievers. Again a matter of preference to the individual.

Here is a link to the Puppy Test I spoke of: This will take you to the Puppy Profile

And this will take you to "How To Choose A Puppy For Search and Rescue" by Cindy Tittle Moore. This is a very informative page and explains alot.

Let's Get Started

From This Point On What Ever You Do With The Dog In Training Or Working An Actual Case-Write It All Down In A Journal Or Notebook. Explain What,How and When You Have A Training Session. When You Should Start Responding To Fire Calls Record Everything ! Time of Call,Time You Are Enroute,Time Of Arrival, Time You Cleared From The Scene, A Radio Log Number If It Is Availiable. And Of Course What You Found On Entering The Scene. And How The Dog Worked The Scene And The Results.

The first thing you have to do is "make" up some training aids.To do this we have to evaporate some gasoline 50%. The way I do this is place say eight ounces in a old glass measuring cup and set it somewhere the gasoline can evaporate down to 4 ounces. ALWAYS do this where it is safe the gas will not be ignited. I always place it in a garden shed where it won't come in contact with anybody smoking or have to worry about sparks.This will vary with temperature and conditions. Once the gasoline is down to 4 ounces I place it into a glass jar with a screw down lid.I then will put some into a little medicine bottle with an eye dropper and this is what I use to start the dog.While this is evaporating I spend alot of time playing with the dog, working it on obedience,and just building the bond we will have to have for each other.

Ok Now we have the gas down to 50%.

How Do We Introduce it to The Dog?

I like to start with a towel, I will use a small cotton ball or a piece of durafiber(Used in Arts & Crafts for pillow making etc.) and on this place 1 drop of 50% gas. I roll up the towel with this in the center and tie off the ends with string.I will now introduce the towel to the dog and throw it to have him retrieve it for me. As I throw it I will give him a command. This command will be what you will use to get him to know it is time to work. We play with this for no more than 5 minutes and I let him/her carry it back to their kennel.I have also used a Kong Toy. I place a drop of 50% gas on a cotton ball and place it in the kong toy, I then fill the rest of the kong toy with paper towel or a clean piece of rag.I use what ever makes the dog pay the most attention to.And then this may be come his reward after he is introduced to the accelerants.I have used the towel,kong toy, tennis balls and food as rewards. What ever the dog likes the most will become his reward.

I will spend the 1st week with this towel and we will throw the towel and give the command and just have fun.We will do this 3 times a day not more than 5 minutes at a time. We want this dog to realize when he sees the towel it is time to have fun,and make a big deal over the game you two are playing together.

By now he has associated the command to the odor of his towel,and is ready to go on alittle further.Here is where we start to let him/her find his towel on their own. I take his by now filthy,smelly towel and will hide it in high grass,or in a wood pile, or under a bucket anyplace where he has to use his nose to find it.After it is hid for 30 minutes or more I bring the dog out and tell him/her the command. As soon as the dog finds it I get down on the ground with him/her and make a big deal over the find.And that is it for this time. We let them carry the towel around because they are so proud they have found it. We do this 2 more times on this day, but no where close to where it was hid before because we don't want them getting into a scent pool from before and confusing them. If they found it all 3 times great,if not do this for another day.Now don't forget this towel had 1 drop on a piece of cotton and it is over a week old. One thing that is helping the dog is he is able to recognize the smell of the gas ,his saliva, and your scent on this towel.

What I do the next day is I have to decide if I want this dog to be a passive alert dog or and aggressive alert dog. By passive I mean when he/she smells the gas he/she will sit.By Aggressive Alert I mean he will dig and scratch. This will be your alert.I have had both types of alerts and I perfer the passive alert. In 1987 when I first started training "Paul" he was trained to be aggressive,and in fire scenes you always worry about them getting hurt.If they are digging in Glass and nails this can happen. I can say with Paul he only got hurt 2 times in all the fires he worked in a 8 year period.Once he cut a pad and once he slipped and his back leg fell thru the floor and he pulled a muscle. Bill Tolhurst's dog "Candy" was never hurt to my knowledge,and either was "Margie" or "Gypsy".One thing good about passive dogs is you can work the dog thru the crowd of people that gather to watch the fire. If someone has the odor of gas or kerosene on them you can have a pre arranged signal with a law enforcement officer on the scene to come and detain that indivdual.That happened with "Margie" acouple years ago. We got called to check a mobile home fire and she said the fire was set and as we went thru the crowd she alerted to a person in the crowd. Our Deputy fire coordinator saw this and had a uniformed officer put this person in the back of the patrol car. It ended up being the estranged husband of the woman that lived in the mobile home and an hour later he confessed to starting the fire.

Okay so we are going to teach this dog to be passive. What I do is take my medicine bottle and go out and put out 1 drop of 50%evap.gas. Now I take a clean towel and tie off the ends with no gas in it.I give the dog the command and watch him/her work looking for the gas.Once they find the drop you can see an attitude change in the dog,maybe the tail will wag more,or they may claw at the area where the drop is.Whatever the sign is give the dog a stern "SIT" command and as he/she sits give them alot of praise and give them the clean towel but make alot of noise and let them know how good they did.We will do this again in about another hour the same way. It may take a couple days but you will notice your dog will eventually start sitting as soon as they detect the odor of the gas.It is a matter of repitition.We will work the dog this way for about a week.Just one find a day and everytime he makes a find we make a big deal over it.If the towels don't do anything for your dog you can use a tennis ball,a kong toy, or even food rewards. Use whatever your doglikes the most.If I have a dog that likes say a kong toy best well then that becomes his reward and we never use it other than his reward for a find.

After a week we will try to introduce the dog to a new accelerant. Say Kereosene. We will put a drop out and later as we work the dog they will notice it and be curious about it and as soon as they show some interest I say "Sit".And I then reward the dog. You will find they will take to new accelerants right away. I had "Paul" & "Margie" trained in 15 or 16 different accelerants. But with "Gypsy" I taught her with Gas, Kerosene,Paint Thinner, And Diesel Fuel. She picked up the other ones on her own.

We don't train everyday,we train about 4 times a week, but I may just put a drop out of something and let her find it on her own.Just observe her and watch her body language.I find this is important because if the dog will work it on his own without given a command it tells you he truely loves to work.Also it lets you study his body language and helps you read when he "has" something,and it has his/her attention.

What Do We Do Now?

Here is a few things we probably should have put in the beginning of this.

1) Before you go to the trouble and work of training an accelerant dog you must check with your local Fire Marshall, Coordinator,or area fire investigators to see if they are willing to to use your dog once it is trained.There is no sense in spending all this time working on training a dog if it won't be of any use to anyone.I have been very lucky since 1986 or 1987 and had the help and support of the Niagara County Fire Coordinator,The Niagara County Fire Chiefs Assn. The fire chiefs of the area City Departments. And the biggest help to me has been The Niagara County Sheriff's Department Forensic Lab. To work a successful accelerant dog you must have working relationships with your area Departments and Labs.

2) Taking your dog to expose it to alot of elements like crowds of people, excitement, confusion,other animals etc.Taking it to your area Fire Departments, getting it use to being by Fire Trucks that are running. With "Gypsy" she had a lot of exposeure to people and different enviroments when she was working Narcotics so I eliminated this phase of training except having her around the different Volunteer Fire companies when they had their weekly drills.But as you have started your dog to find accelerants it is best to get it exposed to fire scenes early. Only Do This With Permission With Whoever Is In Charge Of The Scene I do not mean take the dog into the scene itself,but walk him/her around the outside. Do this after the scene is safe and the fire is out.Give the firefighters the room they need and do not enter the fireground 'till you have been cleared to do so. This is good exposure for the dog to witness early in the training. It lets him get use to the trucks running, the pumps,the generators, the odors,all the noises and activities going on. Do Not Work Dog By The Exhaust Of The Fire Trucks,Generators Etc The carbon Monoxide will kill the dogs sense of scent But make sure you clear this with the Top Official in charge of fire scenes in your area. You can also work the dog in the crowd to get him use to the crowds in case there ever is a day you have to be called to scenes to "check the crowd" while a fire is still being fought.The People I work with have a standing order that if I moniter a fire and respond to the scene it has been cleared in advanced by the County Fire Coordinator Jame Volkosh. He wants me to respond to scenes mainly just to make a presence and be known we are there. On Arrival to scenes when I am dispatched or respond on my own I never wear anything to associate me to the Sheriffs Dept. such as a jacket,ballcap etc.If there is an arsonist in the crowd and sees anyone coming toward him in uniform or wearing fire or police identification he may split right then and there.When ever I roll up to the scene I will ask a Sheriff Deputy or Police officer on the scene what they have found out prior to my arrival. If they don't have much info I will grab a firefighter,Identify myself and ask him to get who ever is in charge of the investigation to meet with me.That way if I am to work the dog in the crowd first I haven't been spotted going into the scene and back out again.This could vary with your departments as to their procedures. One thing that I do at fire scenes is forbid anyone from talking to my dogs untill the job is done. I want them to be focused from the time they get in the truck untill the time they are done working. I don't want the firefighters and the crowd of unlookers be a distraction to her. When she is done working then they can pet her and be friendly to her. We usually talk once a year to all the area fire companies so the firemen pretty much know this.It is best your Fire Investigation Unit brief the fire companies in your area once a year.This way the firefighters can have an idea of our proceedures and it doesn't hurt to explain to them about the way the dog works into the investigations. Again a matter of prefernce.

Things To Look For Before Your Dog Enters a Scene

I have been working with the same investigators since 1987 and they know what is safe for the dog before I ever roll up to the scene. They look for broken glass ,nails,sharp metal,holes in the floor,chemicals etc. I usually am told in advance what the scene is like but I always look for myself before putting the dog in there.One fire the only entranceway was thru a sliding patio door that was shattered into a million pieces. The area they wanted checked with the dog was way across that room once inside. The firefighters layed 2 tarps over the glass to get the dog inside. I have even carried a dog into the scene to the "Hot Spot" or the point of origin. So Be careful with your dog at scenes The more scenes you work you will be amazed your dog can walk thru a scene without getting injured.Be carefull he/she is your partner and you are responsable for his/her safety Just use common sense.

One thing you should invest in is a "Tracking Harness". I will put one on the dog if there is any week spots in a floor and clip my lead to the "D" ring. If he should fall you can catch him and the lead being hooked to the "D" will not choke him.

Also there is commercial boots for your dog, My dogs would never wear them but I never really enforced it either. I am sure with time they can be trained to work with them on.

The Forensic Lab

I can't stress enough about how important your relationship is with the Forensic Lab in your area that will analyze the samples or evidence from the fire scenes you may be asked to check with your dog.

When Bill Tolhurst and I first got involved with accelerant dogs we went to our lab,The Niagara County Sheriffs Department Forensic Lab and talked to the Chemist in charge,Kenny Jonmaire and he bent over backwards to get us pointed in the right direction.Giving us help,advice and some new ideas. After Kenny's retirement Albert Mack took over the lab and he also spent alot of time with us. Al has called me to the lab at times to run the dog on samples from fire scenes. They maybe samples from fires I worked with the dog,or I may never have seen them before. The sample cans are set out and I will run the dog by them,if the dog alerts Al will nod to me yes or no and I can either correct the dog or praise him if an accelerant is present. Al then goes and keeps a record of everytime I work the dog and the dogs responses wether a positive alert or a negative alert and this is all kept on file. Al was a big help to me last year in helping me make alot of samples that contained styrene to teach the dog to leave them alone. Styrenes are found in alot of products and when burnt like acrylic paints and some adhesives,and foams it will cause some dogs to alert. In "Gypsy"s case she was one of the dogs that would alert to the presence of a styrene. With some help from Al and some samples he provided,and some tests he layed out for "Gypsy" she now will leave sytrenes alone.Al is a member of our Fire Investigation Unit and such a help is to have someone of Al's knowledge and expertise on our team.My dogs would never have ended up as good as they did without the help of Kenny and Al.

Public Relations With Your Dog

The interesting part of the job is the Public Relations that goes with it. My Fire Coordinator James Volkosh and our Deputy Fire Coordinator In Charge of Investigations Bill Manth have always given me the support I needed. I can't say enough about these people. Thats why I never mind taking the dog to schools,give demos to groups, or spend all day at the County Fair. Many times we will give talks and demos to the area Volunteer Fire Companies on what is expected of the dogs and what we expect of them.So make sure your dog is well trained around strangers because you'll be asked also to give demos to groups as well.

Last year was "Gypsy"s second year at the County Fair as an Accelerant Detection dog and we were sitting in the Fire Investigation Vechile and as people would look in at "Gypsy" and she would love to be petted by the children. Also an amusing thing I noticed was alot of kids would get real excited at seeing "Gypsy" and holler to their Parents,"There is "Gypsy"!!!! And the parents and kids would remember the dog from before a demo or in some cases they told me they remembered "Gypsy" from "last year".So that is the kind of impression you want, I feel if they can remember the dog,just maybe they remember the things you tell them at these demos and maybe if they remember it will keep them safe.

I hope this will shed some light on the training of an (ADC) Accelerant Detection Canine.If you are reading this out of curiosity I hope this answered any questions you may have had on Accelerant dogs. If you are thinking of training a dog Good Luck. And remember this is what has worked well for us, it may not work well for you. New York State Office of Fire Prevention, and State Farm Insurance Company and the Maine State Police have excellant programs where you can get their help to train you and your dog to become a working team. I will be placing some links at the end of this for you to find more information on this.If any of you out there have an Accelereant Dog and you have found an easier way to do something I have covered or you can think of something I have left out please contact me and I will add it to this.Remember what has worked for me may not work for you.I will try to cover as much as I can here and will add anything you can offer so everyone can get a better idea of doing things.Your imput is welcome

If you have questions feel free to email me,and I will try to help.


For an excellant link on Accelerant Detection Dogs go to:WWW.THEFIREDOG.COM

Here are some Links pertaining to Accelerant Detection Dogs and a few pertaining to dogs in general.

Accelerant Detection Dogs
Bill Tolhursts Page on Scent
Blaze Fire Investigation & Consulting Service
Utilizing an Accelerant Detection Dog (Blaze Fire Investigations)
Captain Mike Gabany & "Ruger"
Extreme Firefighting
FIRE FIND...The Firefighters Search Engine
Fire Logic/Fire Investigations
IAAI International Assoc. Arson Investigators
Jim Fitch's K9 Cop Page
K9 Links
NAPDWA Accelerant Detection Test
N.Y.S. Assoc. of Fire Investigators( IAAI Chapter 23 )
Phillips Command Dogs
The Smokin' Ruins

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