About the articles: a quick background.

This site dedicated to the memory of my mother, Rita Comden.
Rita Comden and search
Radar (GR mix) and Tristan (GSD)

I've been around puppies and working dogs for most of my life. My dad had hunting dogs when I was a youngster and I even tried to hunt with one of them when I was a teenager (but she often got disgusted with me and went home on her own because I was such a lousy shot -- a story for another time). My father also trained a police service K-9 when he was a deputy sheriff and later transferred with the dog to a local police department. During the initial training of Baron I often accompanied my dad to the training sessions and attended numerous demonstrations and trials where I was also able to see other officers handle their dogs. My sister and I raised puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind through 4-H. As you might know, this task is only not delegated to the specific 4-H kid; the entire family gets involved. Each puppy (five total) was with our family for at least a year and we also had quite a bit of interaction and instruction with the school and local trainers/advisors involved with the program. We were able to tour the school on a few occasions and observe their puppy testing program.

Then there are the search dogs I was brought up with. I was able to observe and participate in the training (some more, some less) of five working search dogs before starting with my own. I can't remember how many times I was sent off to hide for all sorts of search dogs in training, both for wilderness and avalanche. Image-Dan found by dad's search dog/K9My parents shared working their first two, but the latter three were all my mom's partners. It seemed as if each successive dog was better than the last. She started working search dogs during the days when it was a relatively new concept in Search and Rescue (SAR), and went on many exciting searches out of the state and even out of the country, to Mexico City for the earthquake disaster in 1985.

Most of what I've learned about training dogs was from my mother. When I was young and headstrong, she would repeatedly and patiently (well, not always!) remind me that consistent commands and even more consistent praise was the key to working with a dog. I can't remember how many times she'd correct me when I would attempt to do simple obedience with any of the dogs we grew up with. Sure it was annoying, especially to a teenager, but it did get the point across! Many times, I'm sure she thought her dogs were smarter than her thickheaded son. Apparently my sister listened much better, as Catherine is now a successful and respected professional dog trainer in Missoula, Montana. I guess the best dog training genes stayed with the female side of the family!

While working with two different canine SAR units and raising and training five search dogs (initially WOOF and later, CARDA), my mother gained a wealth of experience that she shared with other team members as well as her family. She wrote articles on training ideas for the CARDA newsletter and served as a training officer, working with many other teams to develop their skills. These articles are taken from her notes and writing, with some revision and updates from me. Many of my opinions about dogs and dog training spring from the many late nights we spent discussing these issues.

It wasn't until I was finished with college and started life in Seattle that I was settled enough to start working my own search dog. I was fortunate to have my mom as a resource to call and write about issues such as puppy testing, initial training, and even feedback on how the search group which I joined did their training. She was always the first one I called when I got back from a positive training session, and of course when Cooper and I were put on the ready searcher list, and when we made our first find, it was big news back home. Unfortunately Seattle's a long way from Northern California for busy people and my parents weren't able to visit often. We always planned to go out so she could see Cooper and I work but there never seemed to be enough time during their visits.

My mother passed away in December, 1994 after a painful battle with cancer. I still find myself reaching for the phone when I want to share the news about a difficult search or exciting training session. Though I was able to be with her and say good-bye to her before she died, she never did get to see me work with Cooper. These pages are dedicated to you, Mom.

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Text and photos copyright Dan Comden, 1995-2004 Dan Comden
Seattle, WA U.S.A.
Email -- dan*@* (remove the asterisks around the "@" symbol)