LR: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. We are here with all the excitement of Westminster Kennel Club, live at The Piers in New York City. And we welcome Pluis Davern to Pure Dog Talk, Pluis, thank you so much for joining us.
PD: My pleasure
LR: Excellent. Pluis, can you give us just a little bit of a background your time in dogs?
PD: Absolutely. I started in Golden Retrievers back in the mid 60’s, and have bred them. Bred Labradors and segued finally into Sussex Spaniels when I saw the writing on the wall that I wasn’t always going to be as strong as I was at 25.
LR: Yes! That happens to all of us.
PD: And was very passionate about the function of all of those breeds, and have performed with them in hunt test, in field trials, in obedience, and it’s a great life.
LR: And you also judge how many groups now?
PD: I judge sporting group and nine hound breeds. And I’ve loved one of my big things in my life is being to train disaster search and rescue dogs, dogs that were deployed here in New York with 911. Rescuing them, and then turning them into rescuers. So, it’s been a very satisfying life.
LR: Amazing, amazing. So, Pluis, I would like to talk about one of my favorite topics, I met you in the early 80’s. And back in the day, The American Kennel Club did not have a Spaniel hunt test program. There was a working dog certificate from American Spaniel Club, and I know you were very instrumental in creating the Spaniel hunt test program for The American Kennel Club. So, can you talk to us a little bit about that?
PD: Absolutely. Because the Spaniels were not yet doing that, I was running dogs in the Retriever hunt test for them which was the very first one. Very well developed, got off to a great start. And people were talking about Spaniel tests. When they finally came along, they were primarily adjudicated by field trial people who really, quite honestly, hadn’t hunted very much. And your father, Daryl Reeves, and bunch of other guys, Don Kruger in Wisconsin,
LR: Yes, yes. And Ruth Tibacka
PD: Yes, and Ruth Tibacka were so passionate about seeing these dogs doing what they were supposed to do. Not competitively, but again, just standard. And they were the ones, truly, who were very instrumental in getting it off the ground. And then, most importantly, for people like me with a rare Spaniel breed, they modified it so it wasn’t just about it speed, and a “respect”, which is my big word. A respect for differences, because almost all performance events predicated on the fastest breed, and Spaniel breeds are not all alike. And so, a Clumber can find just as many birds as a Springer, or a Sussex or a Cocker, they just do it differently. And my great joy was to see that, your father, when we would talk, how we got that insert into the Spaniel hunt test program so that each judge would look at that and say, this is how this dogs supposed to hunt. It was remarkable.
LR: Ya, I think that is amazing. And they don’t have anything in either the Retriever or the Pointing breed hunt test that’s comparable.
PD: Correct, correct. We margined again, which is always so interesting to me because all of us gravitate towards a breed because it appeals to us.
PD: I like a lot of breeds, but I gravitate to this one. It’s different, so why should we then make it be the same. So, this is one of the great things about the Spaniel hunt test program, that we made it different.
LR: And each breed has its own hunting standard.
PD: Absolutely. And judges, when I run my dogs, judges will say, I read it! I read that insert!
PD: As I come with my little brown dog to go and find birds. So, that was a wonderful thing.
LR: Right. And I know that you were very, very instrumental in helping move that forward, and I’m not entirely sure that folks could have done it without you.
PD: Well, I don’t know about that. But I was the only one with that rare breed, the Sussex Spaniel, and I’m not know for keeping my mouth shut. And so, I let lots of thoughts flow out.
LR: Excellent. Flowing thoughts is good! So, with the Sussex and working in the hunt test, talk to us a little bit about what a Spaniel hunt test involves.
PD: Oh, good thing. From Junior, to Senior to Master, at these different levels, you are looking for dogs that can find birds on the ground, that they flushed them in the air, that they’re shot, and the dog delivers them to hand. And successively for difficult terrain, different cover, and more finesse. Dogs that sit after they’ve flushed a bird, that don’t run after, that’s what you’d expect from a Master dog. And, that they hunt for you, that it’s not a dog who is 200 yards out there flushing birds that you will never be able to shoot. It is a very practical test. They’re also tested in the water, a single retrieval in the water. One of the things that I’ve always been concerned about, because what we tend to do here in America, if something is good then more is better, so the standards for the performance is that it really is a bird that would be shot. That would be flying over the water and die over the water, but it’s not like a Retriever. A long water mark, they’re getting longer.
LR: Are they? Haven’t been to a Spaniel hunt test in years.
PD: Yes, they are. And I keep saying, guys, go by guidelines, go by the standard. It’s not a field trial, which is competitive.
LR: Right. And so, tell us a little bit of the difference, explain for our listeners the difference between a hunt test and a field trial for Spaniels. Also applies for Retrievers and for Pointing breeds.
PD: Correct. In the field trials, it is one dog against another. There are placements, and points are awarded much as they are for confirmation, so those points count towards a field championship, and so it’s one dog beating another.
LR: It is a competitive venue
PD: It’s a competitive thing. And it’s very exciting to watch, and the level of training on those dogs is remarkable and wonderful. It really has nothing to do with hunting anymore, and that’s the difference. And being a purist, I want to see my dogs hunt because that’s what the breed was developed for. So, if we look at field trials for Retrievers, we now see dogs doing 350 yard marks, where the bird goes down 350 yards away. You tell me when you could hit a bird that was that far out! They run blind, amazing blind retrieves, they could be 400 yards long. So, while the training is remarkable, it’s not longer the original function of the dog. Those are not gentleman shooting dogs anymore, they don’t for the gun necessarily. Now, the Retrievers will duck hunt during the year, but they’re not allowed, when they’re being competitive in field trials, they’re not allowed to run on the upper game stuff, because they get to think for themselves.
LR: Which, in Retriever trails, they don’t encourage that!
PD: No, no, listen to what I tell you. Look out there and listen to what I tell you. And it’s a little bit the same, not to quite the extend as the Retriever trails, but you have it with Pointers as well. They run much further, an average man or women hunting over a hunting dog, couldn’t walk 400 yards for a whole day while their dog is pointing out there. They want their dogs being closer in.
LR: And I think that one of the things that we see at least in the pointing breed field trials, is that the horseback field trial dog is often a hunting dog too, but it knows the difference.
LR: You get off that horse, you get on foot, boom, that dogs brings their range in. For the pointing breeds at least, that is something I will say.
PD: Yes. The difference with trials and hunt tests, and real hunting of course, is that you go out and hunt for a day, and in a test, it’s 15 minutes. In a trial it may be longer, 20 minutes, maybe an hour, so the conditioning for a true hunting dog can often be quite a lot. You can’t be just a speed demon and say, ok, I’ve done my 15 minutes! When your owner wants you to keep on going.
LR: Right. So, I think the biggest difference that we see then between the hunt test and the field trials, is that the hunt tests are non-competitive. I like to compare it to obedience for people that aren’t familiar. And that the field trials are competitive, and best dog of the day, more comparable to confirmation.
LR: Ok, very good. So, with that, how did you then decide to go from hunt test work, to search and rescue training. What was the impetus there?
PD: Well it was interesting. I had a client who had a German Shephard that had been abused by another trainer. And she came and asked me if I would help her with this dog, and I said yes. And she said, well your name was given to me because you trained your own search and rescue dog, and now I would like to help you with mine. And I had trained my own search and rescue, but I had a Golden Retriever, he was a champion, he was a utility dog, he was running what was then, we didn’t have hunt tests yet. we were running in club sanctioned field events. And I thought I had this young dog, and I would like to do something for my community. So, the friend of mine who works in search and rescue, she said well goodness knows. We have enough earthquakes in California that you could potentially that would have a dog that would help out. I said ok, so I trained him, people from Switzerland came over and tested dogs, and he became a certified search and rescue dog. But with my field background, I had an edge on all those handlers, they were all amateurs, I was a professional dog trainer. So, this lady came to me and after I had trained her dog, and it was certified with FEMZ, she said, this is not the best dog, is it? I said no, we can make it work, but no. And so, I helped her get a Labrador Retriever from a friend of mine who bred Labs for the field and for the showroom, and train that dog and she was certified. And this lady said she went to Oklahoma City, our first home-breed terrorist attack.
PD: And she came back from that and she said this country needs more search and rescue dogs. There were less than 100 at the stage.
LR: So your client went and worked the Oklahoma City bombing?
PD: Oh yes, she was the handler with that dog.
LR: Oh my goodness
PD: And then she said, I’ve come home to Southern California. My husband and I have talked about this, we’re going to sell a piece of property that we have and we’re going to start a foundation.
PD: And she said, my vision is that we rescue dogs from shelters, train them, and then donate them to Fire Departments, because Fire departments are first responders. Those are the ones who get to go to the disasters long before anybody else. And she said, would you be willing to train for this organization? And I said, in a heartbeat. And so, I started training rescue dogs. We had three Golden Retrievers who were the ones that started us off. One dog that was being euthanized the next day, ended up serving her in New York city, ringing the bell at Dow Jones, being greeting by President Bush. I mean, those dogs did a magnificent job even though the job was not one that they could find anybody, and that was the beginning of it. And it’s going strong, they’ve built a campus now down in Southern California.
PD: But when I turned 72, I said I don’t want to be on a rubble pile in the middle of nowhere in New York State, Oklahoma and those places. So, we have a new trainer, three trainers who are doing it. But the wonderful part of that was that we rescue dogs and turned them into rescuers. I got to train the Firefighters, what I bunch of wonderful people they are. The dogs lived with them 24/7, it’s amazing.
LR: That’s incredible. That is such a great story.
PD: Yes. and I have to tell you one quick story. Haiti, the terrible earthquake that they had in Haiti. Our team was deployed. There are two task forces in America, one in Virginia and one in Los Angeles, that are international forces. They’re the only ones that can go to a different country. So, the Los Angles task force were all out, guys and gals, they went down there, very difficult situation. There’s not a lot of infrastructure, they saw a lot of poverty, a lot of agony. Anyway, one day, one morning, we get a phone call over the satellite phone, and this captain in one of the Los Angeles departments, is crying over the telephone. And we can’t even understand him at first, then he says Hunter found somebody. We had a find! Three little girls, 15 feet below the rubble, lying on the bodies of their relatives. This dog found them. And I’m in tears, my daughter and my other fellow trainer, we were in tears because all those years were worth it. Because we made a difference with amazing, fabulous, we were just so excited about that. And then, it ended up, if you can believe this, it ended up that dog was given the ACE award at Eukanuba that year.
LR: Excellent, and well deserved!
PD: And well deserved.
PR: That is such an amazing story! Ok, oh so… slightly emotional there for a minute. I really think that, I love idea that your field work background is being used in the search and rescue years ago.
PR: Years ago I did interviews with narcotics officers using narcotics dog, and they used washed out field trail labs.
PE Yes, that’s it. High drive
LR: Ha, high drive. And so, talk a little bit about the ideal candidate. So, your search and rescue dog, what’s your best dog for search and rescue? What kind of dog are your looking for? And I don’t mean breed necessarily, but mind.
PD: Alright, yes, because while we have pure bred dogs, we also have a lot of mixed breeds. First of all, high drive. High drive by itself is not enough. You have to have a high drive, focus, and trainability.
LR: Tough combination!
PD: And in this day and age, after 911, every agency that needs dogs goes to shelters. Finding shelter dogs is so difficult. Now, when we look at a dog, not only does it have to have those three things, but they have to screen them for joint health, because you can’t have a dog on a rubble pile if he has hip or elbow dysplasia, or a heart condition. So, one of the good things about going into shelters is that you can immediately screen the dog for health, and then you keep your fingers crossed that all the other things hold true. Because one of the things we did discover is that a dog that had all those prerequisites, and was just crazed, the sort of dog I would not want to live with. After about a month at the kennel, suddenly some of those would settle down. Because here they were, they were loved, they were fed, groomed, bathed, trained.
LR: Given a job.
PD: Given a job. And so, they were emotionally satisfied. Well then, the ones that weren’t really high drive, said hey, this is cool! Oh, but I don’t have to do this today! And so, you know, you start defining play drive, and prey drive. Because prey drive is forever, and play drive is just when the mood takes them. So, one of the things that we found, it was sort of funny, but you know you’re investing a lot of money in these dogs before they get ready to get tested. We had a dog that was a Labrador-Coon Hound cross. Darling dog, darling, great bark because they bark when they find somebody, right? Except that on any given day, we didn’t know if it was the Coon Hound that was coming out to play, or the Labrador. And when it was the Coon Hound she’d say, ah, c’mon, let’s do something else, I’m gonna lie in the sun. And then the next day, she’d be a crazed Labrador. Well, since we can’t determine when a disaster strikes, we had to drop her. Now, one of the good things at the organization I work for was, that we had a lifetime care policy, so any dog that we rescued, never had to be rescued again.
LR: Awesome. And so, you guys are working clearly in a very specific situation where you’re doing a lot of good at the same time. With pure bred dogs, specifically, are there organizations that are working directly with breeders? Or doing any of that kind of thing, or finding, or using dogs for breeding programs that are purposely bred for this?
PD: We’re tried it.
PD: Yes. So, we had a litter of seven puppies from a certified search and rescue dog, from a stud dog who had produced service dogs, search and rescue dogs. And, of those seven, two actually made it.
PD: Three had the drive, four didn’t and of the three that had the drive, one of them had hip dysplasia So, then it becomes a huge investment in time and money, and you still have to find people who want the puppies that was definitely higher drive than your average Labrador, but not quite enough. So, I know that guide dogs for the blind, but they don’t. And they take from programs the stud to use, but they’re not looking for the same type of dog.
LR: Not at all.
PD: No. Now in Europe they breed a lot of Malinois, there’s a kennel in New York that breeds German Shepherds and have great success. But to produce them on a scale, you’d have to have a constant supply of dogs to pick the ones from.
LR: Yep. So, ok you’ve got these dogs in a shelter. You go to the shelter and you see one, and you’re like ok, let’s do this. What is your test? Tell me your testing system.
PD: Oh yes, the testing is great. So, you dangle a toy, a tug toy, or a tennis ball at the end of a rope. And you just sort of run it across the front of the cages, and you see a dog that says, hey, ya, ya! Following it. You take it out. You throw it, see if the dog retrieves it. Doesn’t have to bring it back, it just wants to get it. Then you take time, you throw something and them you time it for like a minute, and you turn the dog around and then send them out. You throw it into bushes, you throw it across a difficult hedge, or something like that. Does the dog have enough chutzpa to go and keep on going? Mostly, that’s what we look for. And then we test them on a surface. Because there are dogs who have high prey drive but who don’t like being on rubber. Something that’s as challenging as concrete, and slipping, and rebar and all that sort of stuff. We trained one Golden Retrieve who was quite remarkable, found the victim in a heartbeat, but them would run off the rubble pile and bark up at where he had been saying, it’s up there, that poor person is up there hidden! So, he went on and we moved him on to a Police Force where he became a drug detection dog.
PD: Perfect, right? So, it also has to be a dog that overcomes footing difficulties, because his prey drive is so strong. Shape is important.
LR: Right. Yes!
PD: You can’t have a little, little dog. I had a friend who had a Corgi and she said you are being so awful, and bias against this Corgi. I said that dog can’t make it up, she said well you have a point. So, it has to have some leg length, Border Collie’s of course are great, lightweight, and we’ve had Firefighter’s who’ve come for their second dog saying, could you get us a smaller one? Because if the dog goes down on the pile, they have to carry them off, so that becomes a consideration too. So, 125-pound dog would potentially break down doing the work, and would be impossible to get him off a pile. Medium size.
LR: Right. Ya, so you really have a definite target audience if you will. Target market of dogs.
PD: Athletic dogs. And another factor is that there a lot of bully breeds that are in shelters, and my golly, some of those tested so high. The problem is that Fire Departments don’t want to be sued. And if the dog inadvertently, and I’m saying inadvertently bit somebody, if it was a Golden Retriever, nobody would really think about it. But if it was a Pit Bull cross, that’s a sad reality of it, and so we do DNA screening on every dog that we rescue out of the pound
LR: Wow, that is some really, very cool stuff Pluis.
PD: People don’t thing about it.
LR: Alright, so tell me about where you see the future of the search and rescue work going.
PD: I see it going on if they can keep on getting dogs for it. Because even with the development of mechanical devices, they haven’t found anybody yet by dropping a microphone into a void and finding somebody. So, I think dogs are gonna be around for a long time, because with they can do with their noses, we cannot do with technology.
LR: Interesting. And do you find that there’s an empathy piece, like the dog’s care?
PD: Dogs play games. That’s what they do, but I can tell you what does happen is that even when they’re not finding anybody, they themselves are providing a tremendous amount of sympathy and emotional support for the people whose relatives are under the rubble. And even Firefighters who are not necessarily doing search and rescues. An example is that in California in ’82, my dog was called out in a mud slide where we knew people were buried. And they were digging through that horrible stuff day after day, and the dogs would go in rotation and try and find somebody, and this Fire Captain came over and he said could I pet your dog? And I said of course! And he put his arms around him and started to cry. He’d been out there for days, and so this dog gave him a way of releasing some of that pain, and we found that at Ground Zero as well. That even if they weren’t finding anybody, they were providing tremendous emotional support for number of people.
LR: Right. In a very emotional situation.
PD: Ya, just like they do for us at home. Who hasn’t sat at your dining room table, you’ve had some bad news and suddenly your dog has a head in your lap, just like that.
LR: Amazingly powerful stuff that you’re doing Pluis, I really appreciate you talking with us about that.
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