"Something to think about"


        I have been working on this procedure since 1977. It all started after responding to an officer’s shooting at the Buffalo Airport Holiday Inn. The scene was so badly contaminated not only by outside contamination but also by Law Enforcement and by dog handlers themselves. This case started me looking for different ways to move, control, collect and preserve scent.
( Click here to learn more on Positive Pressure )

When doing this research over the years I found many things that dog trainers and handlers do that don’t make sense to me at all. These are counter productive to our dogs, to the cases we work and to the people we serve sometimes even in life or death situations. Sometimes these procedures are standard policies (and we don’t change policies). So we continue to do them even if the repercussions can be severe.

Let’s take a closer look at just one of these procedures. I picked this one because of the great need this country has for Bomb Dogs today, I’m talking about the practice of constant detailing to find bombs, narcotics or whatever is absolutely ridiculous.

Why do you bring the dog to this scene in the first place? He can smell the target and the handler can’t. So now the handler says to his 4 footed partner, “Look over here stupid, I’ll show you where to look” Why? If the dog gives you a “show of interest” or an attitude change, fine. Now go back and detail the area he picks to detail not the handler. If the dog is properly trained he should be worked free first. The way nature intended him to work. Not stood over and dominated by a handler who doesn’t even know the location of the target. I have seen many handlers concentrate so hard on the detail procedure that if the dog cast upward to a target the handler jerks his head around and says,” get back here and go to work “ calling the dog off the find. This is the handler’s domination over the dog’s ability to find a scent.

Soon the dog yields to constant correction and obeys the command. To “ go back to work” and ignores the target you originally taught him to find. His loyalty to obey will override his drive to make the find. He will follow your finger around if that’s the game you want him to play. He just wants to please. Now you are going to have to make the find. If one is made. His natural will to Hunt is being destroyed. Unbelievable and it’s not the dog’s fault!!


Bill Tolhurst



I believe that one of the very basic talents of search dogs is being lost. It’s also being overlooked or ignored by many dog trainers and handlers.


I have had many handlers’ say to me that a dog looking up is a mark of intelligence. That may be true but I think it is something much more involved.

You don’t have to teach coyotes or fox to look up. The same thing is true of the ranch or farm dog that sleeps outdoors or in the barn that need the ability to protect themselves and/or the property he guards. He retains this gift from nature because he needs it.

Over time as we keep our dogs in kennels or in our houses sleeping by the fire we have retarded this sense of an alert system that nature had provided for them because they have not needed it staying in a secure place free from harm. This is a trait very easily reinstated. A few “high finds” with a lot of praise and reward and usually you are back in business.

Recently we did a testing project you might find interesting We tested several dogs and we found that they had difficulty locating “high” finds of 4ft or higher. We then went into a large meeting hall 120ft x85ft with 10ft ceiling with removable panels. We placed finds above the blocks in each corner of the room. We used narcotics on one corner, accelerant, explosives and cadaver in the other three corners. These we left overnight and worked it the next day.

The results:

  • Narcotic dog missed (pot)
  • Explosive Dog missed (4-oz gunpowder)
  • Accelerant dog Stood on hind legs and barked (diesel fuel)
  • Cadaver dog checked wall and stood up and barked at ceiling (body bone)

    What was our Conclusion?

    Was one dog better than the other? Definitely not

    We concluded the reason the accelerant dog made the find was because diesel fuel fumes being heavier came down enough overnight making it easier for the dog to hit on them.

  • The same was true for the cadaver

    I don’t know about narcotic or explosive odor if it will rise or fall this we are trying to find out. Your input would be appreciated.

    Note: There was No active air system operating in the building at the time of the test.
    The explosive dog handler started working the dog on higher finds. Within a week or so the dog was finding targets approx. 8ft above the floor. I believe that praise and reward for those “high “ find just refreshed natures gift to look up.


    Bill Tolhurst



    Most all dog trainers/handlers know that power of positive conditioning and the great things that can be accomplished by this method. But do we even recognize or consider negative conditioning situations.

    Let me show you one we encountered relating to the two subjects we have already talked about -detailing and looking up.

    We went back to our large recreation hall where I placed a pulley on the metal ceiling support and hung a narcotic bag full of 4 oz of gunpowder on a cord. I could pull the bag up to the ceiling or lower it down to the floor if I wanted. This was done in the middle of the room away from the walls where tables, chairs etc. were pile and stored. The dog was worked along the walls and located finds easily but when he was brought out in the middle of the room away from the walls where there was nothing but space he appeared to be confused. I could lower the gunpowder down within 12” directly over his back with little or no reaction from the dog. The animal was then taken some distance away from the bag. I place a straight chair in the middle of the room under the bag and raised the bag up over the back of the chair and let it lay there. The dog was worked around the room and when he came back near where the bag had been he went directly and detailed the chair and found the bag. Without the chair being there he could care less about the find.

    What have we as trainer/handlers done to our dogs here?
  • Would working the dog free solve this problem?
  • Or teaching the dog to look up solve this problem?

    I believe either one or even better both would do the job.


    Bill Tolhurst


    As it relates to Police working dogs, Good or Bad

    Does it guarantee what it implies or has it become a cloak to cover deception?

    I started my search for answers with the American Heritage Dictionary copyrighted 1969-1973 Page 220 as follows:

    Certification: The state of being certified

    1. Guaranteed in writing, vouched for, endorsed
    2. Holding a certificate
    3. Committed to a mental institution
    Is number 3 trying to tell me something because I’m asking about certification?

    Many groups and official agencies including Police agencies, Criminal Courts, Judges, Lawyers (prosecuting and defense) ask, “Is the dog in question a certified dog?”

    Usually upon presentation of a CERTIFICATE of certification the dog is accepted without further question.

    Many times these people actually participating in these discussions (80-90% of them) have no idea what is actually involved in the certifying process or how and why some of the decisions are made that determine the success or failure of that test.

    I do not know how many different STANDARDS of certification exist across this country. Certification STANDARDS change not only with each state but also sometimes within the same state. There are some states that don’t require any certification at all.

         I have two certifications from the same state. One certification requires at least one high find. That find can be ANYWHERE from floor level to a height of 8 feet. Note; I am told that the evaluator makes the sole decision where the find is placed.

    The second certification states NO FIND SHALL BE MORE THAN 40 INCHES FROM THE FLOOR. Very close to nose level for most breeds competing in bomb certifications.

    It appears that the word CERTIFICATION has become ABSOLUTE. If you are CERTIFIED you are accepted as qualified. Meaning both dog and handler. Most certifications apply to both dog and handler. If there is a change in either dog or handler, in many cases the certification is null and void.

    How can one word, “certification” mean 8 feet in one place, 40 inches in another? I’m told there are certifications in this country that have no height requirements at all.

  • Some certifications allow the dog to work FREE the way nature intended dogs to work. Dogs will locate HIGH and DISTANCE finds much easier when they are able to move and cast freely using air currents available to them.
  • Other certifications require that they be on lead. This places severe restrictions on the animal and they usually won’t produce the results of a free dog.

    There are dog handlers that self impose this hardship on their animal because they BELIEVE that bomb dogs should NOT work free for officer safety reasons. A free dog could trigger an explosive device. No one can say this couldn’t happen. However I can see no justification to lower the work quality of the dog to justify inadequate training of the dog and handler.

    I am as concerned about Officer Safety as anyone. It should be a serious consideration.

    We train dogs to be STOPPED IN FULL FLIGHT 40 feet away from the handler to BARK and hold by VOICE COMMAND.. We certainly should be able to control a dog walking 6 to 8 feet in front of a handler in a controlled environment by voice control. If not, that dog should not be at a bomb scene.

    Maybe our training methods and handling procedures should be looked at to allow the dog to work more comfortably in a more natural environment. Another troubling practice within the certifying process that has shown up in recent years is the practice of CONSTANT DETAILING.

    Many years ago when DETAILING was first started I believed the process had a lot of merit. At that time THE DOG NOT THE HANDLER chose the place to be detailed. This was done with an attitude change or body English that indicated something had got the dogs attention. The dog handler would then let him recheck that area by the detail procedure or if a dog that were working free showed particular interest in an area without an alert that area would also be reworked by the detail method. Today many dog handlers start the CONSTANT DETAIL procedure the minute the dog is started and continue that process until the search is completed.

    Detailing now has become the dominant part of that search NOT THE GOD GIVEN TALENT OF THE DOG’S NOSE, which this process is compromising, and slowly DESTROYING.

         Recently a find was placed in a room aprox. 100’X80’, left for 24 hours and a certified working dog was asked to work this target as a blind find.

    The handler started with the constant detail procedure. At one point the dog was working a little faster than the handler liked. The dog was allowed to travel back of the handler and back detailing and this developed into a kind of a circle process around the handler.
         Every time the dog went back of the handler, his head came up and cast in the direction of the find. This happened several times. Each time he was casting a little longer. Finally the handler jerked the lead and said,"Get Back to Work” completely unaware that the dog had just been pulled off the find. The dog did not make the find until the handler gave him help. I believe if this dog had been allowed to work the room free, he would have found the target with ease.

    Lack of freedom and handler domination will destroy any good dog.
    Let’s look at one more questionable practice of certification.

    Should trainers be allowed to certify or re-certify dogs they have trained? Shouldn’t this be considered a conflict of interest? This practice has a potential to put poorer and even bad dogs in service and keep them there. It’s possible that financial and future business practices could become part of the decision process.

    I’m not implying that all trainers are involved in this kind of business practice. There are many very fine dog trainers whose integrity and credibility are above reproach. BUT THESE THINGS ARE HAPPENING. It’s an example of the bad apple that spoils the barrel situation.

    The two questions asked at the top of this article and those at the end should NOT be taken LIGHTLY or considered ARBRITARY.

    Times have Changed. The wrong answers to these questions TODAY could put hundreds of thousand of Americans in harms way.

    As I look back over these pages I am troubled and ashamed. When certification was started, it was intended to put BETTER QUALITY DOGS AND HANDLERS in service.

    I have not found that the certification procedure has done ANYTHING to help assist or improve the QUALITY of dogs or handlers in any way. It appears it has become a tool that creates confusion, misinformation and an environment for possible manipulation that is not in the best interest of the people we serve.


    Bill Tolhurst




    I know because I have been one for over 40 years

    I would like to share some very serious thoughts and concerns with all Trail and Cadaver Dog Handlers (and others that want to listen).

    I believe that 98% of all Handlers love their dogs or they would not be dog handlers. They see that they are well fed (often over fed), get good medical attention, and sheltered better than some people. What more does this animal need?

    More thought and common sense in the things we handlers ask them to do. We know they will obey our commands even to their death.

    Only you the handler can put them in harms way. It’s being done far too often every day in this Country.

    Many Dog Handlers aren’t listening. Let’s look at a few of these dangers where we have subjected these animals.

    In the mid 70’s one of the training aids recommended was Isobutyric acid which we later learned caused irritation to the dogs nose and with continued use could cause permanent damage to the dog’s nose.

    Cadaverine an Putricine came along and they were considered dangerous and had a very serious environmental impact.

    Then Pseudo Products; Drowned Victim scent, Sigmas Material Safety sheet dated 8/06/1998 also listed this product with hazardous materials.

    In the early 80”s Jan Schofield and I introduced Senate Bill 1415 and Assemble Bill 2070) to our Legislators in order to get body parts used for training cadaver dogs. This was not a pleasant or popular subject for politicians to talk about. THE BILLS NEVER GOT OUT OF COMMITTEE.

    Also in the 80’s many of us learned of another horror to which we were subjecting our dogs. OPEN DUMPS (on ranch, farms and even some cities). Then later Sanitary Land fills as they came into use.

    Why do handlers put their dogs in that kind of environment of poisons, toxins, poison gases where a cut can be infected, disease can be absorbed through the skin or even in the lungs while sniffing these often unknown quantities of cancer producing materials.

    Billy L Smith SR and I did a number of seminars where we tried to get Handlers to stop working these locations. We were seeing far too many dogs dead long before their time. But many DOG HANDLERS WERE NOT LISTENING.

    We also were getting information of physical problems in handlers from working these cases. But many DOG HANDLERS WERE NOT LISTENING.

    Never in all the years that we have used dogs have we ever made enough finds in these environments to justify the use of dogs. This method just doesn’t work. Never has but we continue to use it anyway. This would stop if Handlers would just say NO. But DOG HANDLERS JUST AREN’T LISTENING.

    As late as 9-11-2001 dog handlers fell all over each other rushing to put their Cadaver dogs in harms way at the New York towers looking for small body parts in an environment just as deadly as a land full.

    Robert Shaler, Chief forensic Biologist leading the DNA project said, “The 2000 ID’s expected from DNA was not realistic and that small pieces were degraded and damaged and did not produce useable DNA”. Then what was the value of the mass migration of dogs, handlers and support personal that was dumped on that contaminated crime scene?

    We are still at war with terrorist. The government tells us we could be attacked again at any time. Are Handlers going to make the same mistakes all over again? Cadaver Dog Handlers should make some hard decisions NOW and speak with one mind before another attack.


    I rest my case and leave you with something to think about.


    Bill Tolhurst



    I believe that searches for missing, lost or abducted persons is desperately in need of major changes. Some new thinking, fresh approaches and common sense could do wonders for the victims of these cases.

    Any search that carries life & death considerations and creates the emotional environment that we always find at these scenes, I believe, need Law Enforcement to take a much stronger proactive approach to missing persons scenes.

    We can no longer allow these missing person scenes to be answered as Assistance Calls and then allow them to lay unprotected for hours while an investigation proceeds to establish it as an abduction scene. By that time valuable time is lost and the scene is badly contaminated. Many times PLS locations are either not found or they are also badly contaminated. Prime evidence is often lost. We then go back to preserve the scene and ask our criminal investigators to try to solve the case by collecting evidence we have already destroyed. It’s being done every day at missing person scenes across this country.

    It is, I believe, the only felony crime scene in America where hundreds even thousands of people are allowed to wander all over the area before the victim has been found.

    We tape off burglary and other home invasions even assaults. Does this imply abductions are less important? These victims and their families deserve better.

    There are four major groups involved in these missions.

    1. Law Enforcement
    2. Search / Rescue/ Recovery
    3. Volunteers
    4. The public at large

    It is crucial that all the active participants are all thinking off the same page if the mission is to be successful. A search that is free of misinformation, confusion and controversy is still on the drawing board. So many of these searches are seriously flawed before they even begin.

    I don’t believe there are many Police Agencies in this county that would even attempt to lead a parade or escort a dignitary without some kind of proactive discussion beforehand. However a Patrol Officer is routinely dispatched to a possible abduction that could be a life & death situation without any proactive instruction on what should be done.

    For the past 10 to 12 years’ searches have gone completely out of control. Somewhere along the line somebody believed that bigger is better. We have gone from searches with 10 to 20 people with a Search Director that produced reasonable results to searches with hundreds of people and some times even thousands of people without any search directors and these are not producing reasonable results at all. That is sad.

    Look at some of the high profile cases such as Sara Woods (as far back as 1993), Elizabeth Short, Elizabeth Smart, Van Dam, Dru Sjodin, Lori Hacking the list goes on and on.

    These cases have used thousands and thousands of people and they never found a thing. DOESN’T THAT TELL YOU SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG? Let’s fix it.

    Let me give you one more example of how crazy these searches have become.


    Dog handlers of my generation (back in the early 1980”s) learned that these environments were killing our dogs and causing sickness to our handlers. We further discovered the fact that we were not producing enough finds at these locations to make it sensible or practical to put our dogs & handlers at risk. Many good dog handlers stopped this procedure. However there are still a few dog handlers willing to try these scenes. Time is still proving that it is not a sensible or practical endeavor.

    Last year (2003) I met with our landfill supervision people and representatives of the New York State DEC to see if a procedure to take GPS readings & Elevations each morning and night at these dump sites could be put in place in the DEC requirements. In a search for a victim this could reduce the tonnage of garbage exposed, handled and searched. It would also reduce the number of searchers required, and the amount of equipment necessary, which would reduce the cost to the counties and fewer people, would be put at risk. I’m told that our NYS DEC is now addressing this procedure and hopefully it will be in place shortly. Other new procedures are also being researched.

    One important fact of life must be address here.

    Just because we can prove that a body is in a landfill there is no guarantee it can be recovered. All departments that attempt these searches should be aware of this fact and that these searches are very risky, expensive, time consuming and carry some great liability considerations.

    I have documentation of a search (in 2003) of a landfill for a murdered 4 year old, 35 pound boy. Police confirmed that a dumpster containing the D&A of this child unloaded at this landfill. Some 800 searchers searched many days (even with dogs) and moved some 180,000 tons of garbage and the body was never found. That is not surprising if you consider the body was in a state of decomposition when it went into the landfill. It was then dumped out of a dump truck, ran over by big equipment (back hoes, bulldozers) and then finally compressed by compactors that weighted 10 to 12 tons that compress the ground so tight that the gases are confined in the landfill unable to escape. Even finding 35 pounds of decomposed tissue in 180,000 tons of garbage are odds a rational mind should reject.

    As our society migrates to the country more and more eyes are on the fields and woods where bodies previously were dumped or buried. I believe we are now going to find an increase of requests for landfill searches in the future

    Please get his information to your departments or units so they can give it some proactive consideration before a case is dropped in their lap.

    I would welcome comments from Law Enforcement, Search/ Rescue/ Recovery and people at large.

    More later.


    Bill Tolhurst

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