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Fire Investigation Dogs - Week 8

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:44 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 04:55 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 8

Mansell, Geoffrey, Lucy and Millie pose for a photo opportunity during a break in training.

This week marked the last week of training for the dogs, but there was no let up in pace as lots of new areas were searched and questions asked of the dogs as to their suitability to be a fire investigation dog. We were again excellently hosted and guided by Dave Peplow who arranged the working areas for us at Washington Hall, the Lancashire Fire Training and Development Centre in Euxton, near Preston. We were also very fortunate to be able to use the training facilities at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Training and Development Academy, near Liverpool.

The focus this week was to replicate as near as possible the working conditions a fire investigation dog has to deal with on any given operational search. As can be imagined the conditions of a fire damaged building can be very challenging for a dog especially regarding insecure footing, the strong odours of burnt materials, and darkness to name just a few.

Lucy at the entrance of the crawling gallery

In these conditions we are looking for a good positive attitude from the dog as well as the ability to remain focused and provide an indication or alert on any flammable liquid, or accelerant  that may be present in the search area.

Millie remains alert and focused whilst working in the dark and confined conditions of the crawling gallery.

The exercise went well and we were pleased with all of the dogs’ progress and their general attitude when working in the crawling galleries. 

Week 8 Part 2

A photo opportunity at the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Training and Development Academy

Continuing the 8th and last week of training and we were hosted by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service at their Training and Development Academy who allowed us access to the ‘fire house’ which  provided different challenges to that of the crawling gallery by replicating conditions of a fire damaged domestic house.

Millie climbs the steps prior to entering the fire house.

Dave Peplow of Canine Specialist Services, who was our guide and training advisor for the week, explained that the individual rooms and floors of the fire house can be filled with smoke in a controlled manner for fire fighters’ to conduct their training.

Millie is put through her paces


This gave us an excellent opportunity to expose the dogs to the darkened, smoke scented and sooty conditions that they would be confronted with in an operational environment.

Mansell takes centre stage in the gloom of the fire house and gives a great indication on a tricky scent placement


Any doubts that we may have had quickly faded as all the dogs performed well in the challenging conditions.

A precise indication from Millie just prior to being rewarded


In potentially dangerous areas the need for on lead control is essential, demonstrated in this pic as Geoffrey investigates a dark void

The fire house training was the last challenge of the week for the dogs, and the culmination of what had proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and ultimately successful training course. However, this is just the beginning for the dogs as they will be put up for acceptance by the Malaysian Fire Service in the near future as a new life and experiences awaits them in Kuala Lumpur.

On behalf of Vikkas Canine Services I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Lancashire and Merseyside Fire Services for their co-operation in allowing access to their training areas which has proved to be invaluable in the final stages of training. Finally, VCS are indebted to Dave Peplow and Mick Woods of Specialist Canine Services for their time, help, technical advice, and guidance during the last two weeks of training, the successful completion of which would not have been possible without them. Both Dave and Mick have been involved with training and handling fire investigation dogs for many years and they have been very generous in sharing their their depth and wealth of technical knowledge with VCS which has been invaluable to both me and Marcus in the training of Millie, Mansell, Lucy and Geoffrey.

(All pictures from week 8 of training are re-produced by kind permission of Dave Peplow – is there no end to that man’s talents!)


Fire Investigation Dogs - Week 7

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:42 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 04:56 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 7

We were on the road this week taking the trainees (Geoffrey, Millie, Lucy and Mansell) to Preston where we met up with Dave Peplow who hosted us at Washington Hall the International Fire Training and Development Centre in Chorley, Lancashire. The purpose of the visit was to start familiarising the dogs to the types of environments that they will be exposed to as fully trained fire investigation dogs.

One of the first tasks was to expose the dogs to the scent of accelerant amongst burnt materials. Dave explained that when materials such as carpet, different types of styrene and plastics have been burnt the chemical composition changes which is similar to that of accelerants and so posing a challenge to dogs who have to differentiate between scents at a fire scene.


The pots being prepared with material being burnt off

A training session was set up to expose the dogs to burnt materials using cooking pots (very high tech!) and working the dogs over the pots, exposing them in a controlled way to burnt material.

The video clip below shows Lucy being run over the pots on a scent discrimination exercise.

 Next week is week 8 and the last of training, but still with a lot to do. We’ll be up in Preston again and conducting more fire scene familiarisation training.

Fire Investigation Dogs - Week 6

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:41 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 04:57 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 6

The aim of this week was to consolidate the training from week 5 by continuing to expose the dogs to new and varied environments both inside and out which replicate the type of areas they will be searching at fire scenes in Malaysia, such as darkened areas and stairwells. We also made the scent source more challenging by putting scent placements in challenging areas, such as on stairs, and above the height of the dogs head which gave the dogs a challenge in working the scent to source.

Just one or two drops of accelerant can produce a sizeable scent picture for the dog to work out

For the sake of a fire investigation it is important for the dogs to track any scent of an accelerant directly to source in order for a successful forensic process to take place, that’s why during training each indication from the dog must be within a few centimetres of the source. The picture shows just a few drops of petrol being placed onto a cotton bud which is then placed at a location where we want the dogs to be able to give a positive indication.

Just a further point to note, the dogs are worked on a long lead as this is protocol for fire investigation dog handlers in Malaysia which is the dogs destination on completion of training.

The video clip below shows Geoffrey, our Cocker Spaniel, doing a great job of tracking the scent to source. This particular training scenario was set up for the dogs to indicate above the height of their head.


Fire Investigation Dogs - Week 5

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:31 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 04:57 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 5

Week 5 of training for the Fire Investigation dogs at Vikkas Canine Services has been completed and the weather conditions have changed dramatically from the shorts and T shirts of last week to the fleeces and trousers (for me anyway!) of this week’s training. The dramatic temperature change (10-15 degrees) can have a big effect on the scent picture for the dogs. Last week in the heat there would have been a much bigger scent picture which can cause problems for the dogs tracking it in to source, and we did have a few occasions where the dogs were taking longer than usual to track to source, or they were giving an indication on the edge of the scent picture. This week’s cooler air has kept the scent picture smaller, making it easier for the dogs.

This week brought it’s own challenges for the dog’s as we exposed them to different areas to contend with, both inside and out and the scent was placed in many different types of areas and on differing types of materials.

The picture below shows Geoffrey indicating inside a barn area. He has had a really good week’s training and has responded well in all the area’s, demonstrating an enthusiastic and confident attitude towards his work.


In this shot Millie is giving a great indication on a scent placed amongst a pile of bricks. Millie’s week has also gone well, and like Geoffrey has a confident attitude to any area that she is worked in. She is still in need of verbal backing from her handler when she is working the scent to source but we are confident that in time Millie will demonstrate a solid indication.


This pic shows Millie working in a tight, dark area which the dogs will be asked to do on a regular basis once they have completed their training. This type of area is also a challenge for Marcus and I as handlers as control of the long line can prove to be difficult in such tight areas as the dogs work their way around equipment and obstacles and the line pulls on the harness.


Lucy demonstrates her agility and is happy working surfaces with unsteady footing……


We’ve also been consolidating the outdoor work, and in particular working building surrounds. Here Lucy gives a super indication at the base of a building wall. Lucy’s week has gone well, but she is giving slight concern regarding her concentration levels as the length of each search is increased.


Like Lucy, Mansell (below) is prone to lapses in concentration, but progress has been made this week with consolidating his indication. We are getting a more consistent and solid response which is pleasing. As always there is still room for improvement, but there is progress which can be built on. Like all the dogs he has responded well to working in all the new areas.


Fire Investigation Dogs - Week 4

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:28 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 04:59 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 4

Geoffrey ready for action………



Millie – a coiled spring!



Week four has come and gone, and it was a week of new experiences for our trainees. We moved them on from indoor work indicating on the blocks (as in the video clips of Snipe and Victor), and started them working outdoors around the perimeters of buildings. The pictures below show Mansell working in the new environment……


……and Lucy giving a great indication…………



The new environment sets the dogs new challenges such as having to deal with outdoor air flow affecting the target scent and differing temperatures which also has an affect on the scent pattern. Conducting this type of exercise  builds in realism for the dogs but as trainers we make sure that each exercise is within the dogs limits of experience. The searches are only lasting a few minutes and within that time the dogs are given 2 or 3 rewards on the scents that  they have already been exposed to in earlier weeks. The amount of scent is still just a few drops and we encourage the dog to indicate to within a few centimetres of the source, as we have been since day one.

The dogs have been giving us a few challenges along the way as they are still developing their indication at this stage. For example Geoffrey on occasion will become impatient when indicating and bark, he has also tried to give a pro-active response by pawing at the hide. As long as he doesn’t get rewarded for this inappropriate behaviour, and only gets rewarded for the behaviour that we are wanting from him (a stand and stare a few centimetres from the scent source) then it will in time subside, and we will get more and more success from him. This is the basic principle for operant conditioning which we remind ourselves of on a daily basis!

Millie is working very well and has made the progression to working outside with ease. Her indication is improving daily and she is looking every inch the search dog that we are hoping for!

Mansell and Lucy are the dogs that are causing us most cause for concern. We are having problems consolidating Mansell’s indication, and his concentration is very erratic within each training exercise. Lucy also has concentration issues, which at this stage isn’t a good indication for their future prospects as search dogs. We are aware that they are both young dogs and we are hoping that as we develop the length of time in harness over the coming weeks that their concentration will improve.

We have also been developing the discipline of working the dogs on a series of carpet squares, as shown in the series of pictures below…..

A controlled position to start….



Concentration and a steady working pace is needed…….. 



A great check step from Millie as she recognises the target scent…….



A super indication, focused and steady before being rewarded. Note that the ball delivery is from close in and not launched from a distance – this is critical in the success of a focused indication……..



The carpet exercise is a great way of discipling the dogs to work with their nose down as well as help consolidate their indication away from the initial block stage of training. It also allows the dogs to work out scent flows and track the scent to source. The last picture above demonstrates a great indication from Millie and shows the proximity the indication in relation to the scent source.

That’s all for now. We are well into week 5 of training with more experiences and challenges for the dogs to deal with, so look out for more news on how the new recruits fair in the coming days……


Fire Detection Dogs - Week 3

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:19 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 05:00 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 3

Another week slips by and we’re already looking towards week 4 for the training of the Vikkas Canine Services Fire Investigation Dogs, who, on completion of training, will be going to the Malaysian Fire Service in Kuala Lumpur.

The focus for week 3 has been to continue to consolidate the dogs’ ‘freeze’ indication, and also to start working the dogs to a search pattern and getting them used to working on a working lead (which I’m reliably told is 93.5 inches long!). The dogs have also been introduced to a new scent.

The dogs have continued to work on the blocks but we have also started putting the scent onto carpet squares. This is the start of building in ‘realism’ for the dogs by introducing the type of material that they will be searching when fully trained as well as weaning them off the blocks which we will be doing slow time over the next two weeks or so. It also gets them used to the drift of scent that occurs and they are encouraged to track the scent to source during each training exercise before they are rewarded. Pateince, patience and more patience is required at this stage of training as the delivery of the reward can be critical for the success of the session as well as helping to consolidate that all important indication. If a dog is rewarded at the wrong time on too many occasions i.e. before the dog ‘freeze’s', or the reward delayed too long and the dog moves away, then the result will be a poor indication which can be very difficult to improve once the dog has been trained.

Of the 5 trainees, Millie, Geoffrey, and Lucy are looking good (or should I say satisfactory!) for the stage of training, but unfortunately Max and Mansell are not quite up to the standard that we are looking for. Max is only 12 months old and does not show the confidence needed. He needs more time for socialisation, exposure to every day life and time to mature into a young adult dog before advancing his training. He will benefit from his time with the other dogs and will probably go through the training process again, starting from day one.

Mansell is very handler conscious,  isn’t quite showing the independence and confidence needed and is quite erratic in performance.  He may well improve, but like Max, he may well benefit from going through the training process again.

I will post some more pics early next week, and hopefully a video(!) to show the dogs progress…..


Fire Detection Dogs - Week 2

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:16 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 05:00 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Training Update Week 2


So, week two of training complete and time to take stock of the progress that the dogs are making. Just a quick mention about the picture on this post which shows Marcus preparing Victor to start a training session. Hopefully the picture explains my previous post about how our training sessions are set up. A few drops of flammable liquid is squeezed onto a cotton bud and placed within one of the blocks prior to each session, leaving a small gap for the scent to filter out. The dogs are worked in a systematic manner being encouraged to investigate each block in turn. When the dog show’s interest or gives a ‘freeze’ indication the handler delivers the ball in a controlled manner and then conducts a play stage with the dog.

We are really pleased with how the dogs are developing, or should I say, satisfactory for this stage of training! All the dogs’ indications are developing well as is their confidence, control and system of work.

A big week next week with lots of new experiences to introduce to the dogs. We’ll be continuing the work on the blocks as that will be used to keep developing the indication – the end result being to build the time between the dog indicating and when the reward is delivered, without the dogs breaking it’s ‘freeze’. But we will also be working the dogs away from the blocks and introducing them to outdoor work (building surrounds) and indicating on carpet.

It’s all exciting stuff, so look out for more pics next week and check out my pics from the past in ‘RAF Days’…….


Fire Detection Dogs - Week 1

posted 3 Jul 2012, 04:12 by Gaff Elliott   [ updated 3 Jul 2012, 05:01 ]

[This post is taken from the personal blog of an employee and all views are their own.  All content is reproduced with permission]

Week 1


Week one has come and gone with the new dogs, and all’s well with the training so far. We have accumulated 7 dogs in total – Mansell (the very attentive English Springer that can be seen in the pic with Marcus, my training partner), Lucy, Millie, Max (all Springers), Geoffrey (Cocker), Snipe (Lab), and Victor (Lab Pointer cross).

We’ve been pleased with the progress of the dogs this week but it hasn’t been without it’s challenges. Victor has had a bit more training than the rest and is looking really good. His indication is starting to look really strong and we are getting some consistency, although he does try and throw in a few ‘false’ indication s from time to time! We are really pleased with Geoffrey’s progress especially his indication. 


 Geoffrey (pictured above – he does need a hair cut!) thinks he’s a bigger dog than he really is as he is always telling the other dogs off when we are out free exercising them all. Fortunately none of the other dogs take any notice of him! Lucy and Millie (both black and white colouring) are two little whirlwinds and have loads of enthusiasm and drive so we don’t have any concerns with them. However Mansell and Snipe are causing us to rethink our approach to their conditioning at the moment.



Mansell (picture above – what a handsome lad!) comes from a gun dog background and is very handler conscious and visual, so we have had to cut out any visual incentives that we usually give at this stage. We had some progress on Friday, so we think that we’re on the right lines with him now.

Snipe is just a bit slow on the uptake! He is needing so much more consolidation at each stage of the process. Again, we had some progress by Friday – but it is painfully slow with him. He’s a great dog with bags of energy and enthusiasm and loves the play stage, but the poor lad is a bit ‘special needs’!

So, that was week one! I’ll post more pics of the other dogs and keep updating next week.


Potential Sniffer Dogs Wanted

posted 17 Apr 2012, 01:41 by Gaff Elliott

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Dog Food available

posted 9 Feb 2012, 00:13 by Gaff Elliott

We now stock a range of dog foods, all at exceptional value.  Brands include Arden Grange, Bakers, Burns, Chappie, Eukanuba, James Wellbeloved, Pedigree Complete, Purina Beta, and Royal Canin.

Please visit our shop for the latest prices by clicking here

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