AIRSCENT MISSION READINESS EXAM

AIRSCENT MISSION READINESS EXAM

I. General Description of the Air Scent Mission Readiness Evaluation

The mission readiness evaluation (MRE) for air scent is designed to demonstrate that a dog/handler team has the ability to find people using an air scent/area search approach. Two types of air scent tests are available: a scent specific format where a dog/handler team searches for a particular subject, and a scent generic format where the dog is asked to find all people present in the search area.

The standard described here is only intended to test the dog/handler team's ability in air scent / area search. Prior to requesting an Air air Scent scent MRE, the handler is expected to have demonstrated general mission readiness according to current Mountain Canine Corps requirements.

This evaluation is specific to a dog and a handler as a unit.  A dog is only mission ready with the handler(s) with whom the dog passes the evaluation.

II. General Format

The test location will be an approved area as designated in Section III. The number of subject(s) and their location(s) will be unknown to both the handler and evaluator. The choice of scent specific or scent generic MRE format for a particular dog/handler team will be based on the team's training and intended function on real search missions.

The Vice President of Mountain Canine Corps serves as the Air Scent MRE Administrator (ASMA) or selects another administrator. The ASMA is responsible for selecting the test area, the evaluator and subject(s), suitable subject entry point(s) and location(s), and the initial meeting location and time for the dog team and evaluator. The ASMA is also responsible for providing the evaluator with appropriate materials, including a clearly marked envelope with subject(s) information, and establishing a communications plan for the subject(s). The ASMA is not expected to be present during the actual evaluation.

The overall structure of the MRE is:

1. Brief of the handler - The handler and the evaluator will meet at the designated location. The evaluator will brief the handler and provide the following:

a) a topographic map of the area,

b) the boundaries of the search area, and,

c) a scent article in a plastic bag (scent specific test only).

Unlike a real mission, subject(s) description(s) is (are) not provided in the handler briefing as the number of subject(s) should be unknown to both the handler and evaluator.

2. Brief from the handler - After the briefing, the handler is given time to develop a search strategy. When the handler is ready, the handler briefs the evaluator on the intended search plan, including:

a) initial overall search strategy,

b) their intended starting point,

c) the expected alert that their dog will give on finding a subject, and,

d) any other information the handler deems pertinent to the search.

3. Search period- The time limit for the search activity of the evaluation is 4 hours, with time beginning upon reaching the starting point of the search area.

4. Debrief from the handler - At completion of the evaluation (i.e., after the time limit elapses or the handler feels that the search has been completed), the hander will debrief the evaluator In the debrief, the handler will:

a) provide written coordinates of the location(s) of the subject(s),

b) mark on a map the location(s) of all finds,

c) if appropriate, give an estimated probability of detection (POD) for the entire search area, including any possible gaps in covered area (with reasons for the gap), and,

d) provide any other information the handler feels appropriate for a debrief on a real search mission.

5. Premature termination of MRE - At all times during the evaluation, all persons involved in the MRE are responsible for safety. The handler, evaluator, or any subject can cancel an evaluation at any time. Cancellation should not be done lightly; however, in cases of personal or canine injury, severe weather such as thunderstorms or extremely heavy snow conditions, or other safety concerns, cancellation is appropriate.

III. Search Location

The search location for a specific evaluation will be an area selected by the ASMA from a pool of locations deemed appropriate by the Air Scent MRE Location Committee. This Committee is chaired by the Vice President and is composed of at least two additional members approved by the Board. Factors considered by the Committee will include terrain, accessibility, size, weather conditions, and safety.

1. Terrain - The location for the evaluation will be of moderate terrain, representative of a real search mission MCC encounters in New Mexico. The area should not be flat or open. The location should not be so topographically challenging as to preclude a complete search by an average, physically fit handler/dog team. Also, the terrain should allow for the subject(s) to get into position from a starting location that is different from the initial meeting location of the handler and evaluator.

2. Area bounds definition - The area bounds must be defined by natural terrain features, such as a cliff wall, or by UTM coordinates, or a combination of natural and UTM coordinate bounds.

3. Area size - The Committee should identify search areas with sizes between 80-120 acres with exact size dependent on vegetation coverage and terrain.

4. Weather conditions - The Air Scent MRE Location Committee will make general recommendations on the suitability of locations designated as appropriate with respect to weather conditions. When the Air Scent Administrator selects an MRE location, these recommendations and the weather conditions will be considered. For example, a hot, dry location will be avoided in the middle of summer.

5. Safety - The location should be one that is deemed safe for searching. This factor includes a determination of whether active hunting will be taking place near the location prior to and on the scheduled MRE date.

IV. Subject and Decoy Requirements

1. Subject(s) and decoy qualifications - As far as possible, the subject(s) and, if applicable, decoy(s) selected for a given evaluation by the ASMA should be unfamiliar to the dog, and in no circumstance can they be family members or otherwise highly familiar to the dog. The subject and decoy(s) for the scent specific evaluation should be of equal value to the dog; the subject of the scent article should not be more familiar or more attractive to the dog than the decoy(s) present.

Subject(s) and decoy(s) must have enough wilderness knowledge and equipment to safely reach the recommended hiding location supplied by the ASMA and remain in place either for the duration of the evaluation or until found and released by the handler. If released, the subject should roughly follow his or her track into the search area to leave. In addition, subject(s) and decoys(s) must be capable of following the established communication plan.

2. Number of subject(s) and decoy(s) - Although clearing an area (finding that nobody is present) is an important task on a real mission, at least one subject must be present in the search location in order for the evaluator to have the opportunity to assess the dog's find alert. For both the scent specific and scent generic tests, the exact number of people present should be unknown to the handler and evaluator (the number will be chosen randomly by the ASMA). For the scent generic test, one to three subjects will be within the search area; for the scent specific test, the subject of the scent article and one or two decoy person(s) will be present.

3. Subject and decoy responsibilities - Each subject or decoy will carefully read and understand the information supplied by the ASMA. This information will include the hiding coordinates and suggested entry point into the search area.  Before the day of the MRE, each subject or decoy will verify to the ASMA that his or her hiding location is within the designated search area. Subject(s) and decoy(s) will be as close to the given coordinates as is feasible while choosing a hiding place out of plain sight. The subject(s) and decoy(s) hiding location(s) should not be intentionally difficult or tricky.

Subject(s) and decoy(s) should be in place at least 15 minutes prior to the handler and evaluator meeting time. Subject(s) and decoy(s) should dress inconspicuously and remain quiet and in place during the evaluation. Subject(s) and decoy(s) will remain observant for noises and sightings of the handler or dog and record this information with times and wind conditions noted. If they are found, their observations of the dog/handler team during that time also should be recorded. The subject(s) and decoy(s) should remain as unresponsive as possible during a find until spoken to by the handler. In the event that a subject or decoy determines that an unsafe situation exists, the subject or decoy will follow the communication plan for cancellation of the MRE. Otherwise, the subject(s) and decoy(s) will maintain radio silence unless requested to respond. Subject(s) and decoy(s) will be asked to report observations to the ASMA no later than three days after the evaluation date.

V. Evaluator Requirements

1. Evaluator qualifications - The evaluator must have demonstrated knowledge of the Air Scent Standard and air scent work by:

a)  being a current or prior handler of a mission ready air scent dog, or

b) being a current or prior handler of a mission ready dog and a current handler of a dog in advanced air scent training, or

c) through experience, having knowledge of air scent dogs and deemed qualified by the board.

In the latter two cases, notice will be given to the handler of the potential evaluator and the evaluator's status. At the time of notice, the handler has the right to request a different evaluator.

2. Evaluator responsibilities - The evaluator will carefully read and understand the information provided by the ASMA, and ask any questions regarding the MRE prior to the evaluation. During the initial brief of the handler, the evaluator shall give complete briefing information and answer any of the handler's questions about the information or this Standard.

After performing the duty of the initial brief of the handler, the evaluator should act as a passive observer but need not maintain total silence. When the search period begins, the evaluator will announce over the radio that the search has begun and the starting time. The evaluator should stay with the dog team throughout the test. Upon specific requests from the handler, evaluators may give opinions about such items as boundary landmark definitions and may perform a few simple support tasks, such as providing an occasional UTM coordinate. These requests should be noted in the evaluation but will not be held against the team unless the requests are deemed excessive. Evaluators should not provide continuous assistance, as might be expected on a real mission. The evaluator should not perform support tasks that would prevent continuous observation of the team and should not assume responsibilities such as keeping the team within bounds or ensuring coverage of the area.

When the evaluation is completed, the evaluator will announce over the radio that the evaluation is over and ask for a response from all subject(s). By referring to the subject(s) information provided by the ASMA, the evaluator will account for all subject(s) in the field. The evaluator should maintain radio contact with all subject(s) until all confirm they are safely out of the field and back to their vehicle. In the event that the evaluator determines that an unsafe situation exists anytime during the test, the evaluator will cancel the MRE and end the evaluation as described above. The evaluator issues their report, with their evaluation of the criteria described in Section VIII, to the ASMA no later than four days after the evaluation date.

VI. Handler Requirements

1. Handler prerequisites - Prior to scheduling, the handler must present the ASMA with proof of a consistent history of air scent training of a particular type (scent-generic or scent-specific). This proof may take the form of training logs, mentor verification, or other records. The dog and handler will be tested on the type of air scent training undertaken.

2. Handler responsibilities - The handler will determine a suitable search strategy for the conditions, based on factors such as wind, terrain, and temperature changes. The starting point need not be the initial meeting location and may happen to correspond to the entry point of subject(s).  The handler will brief the evaluator prior to the start of the search period and, throughout the test, is responsible for keeping the evaluator updated on changing search strategies and the reading of the dog. In particular, the handler will notify the evaluator when their dog has done a refind (if applicable) and alerted. Handlers will not prompt their dogs for an alert. If the dog is trained to perform a refind, the handler will also not call their dog away from the subject(s) or otherwise prompt their dog to start performing their refind. If the dog primarily trails or tracks the subject for the entire evaluation, a new test must be scheduled, as the dog did not demonstrate its air scent ability. The handler is also responsible for knowing where their dog has been, the area the team has covered, and providing the debriefing information. In the event that the handler determines that an unsafe situation exists anytime during the evaluation, the handler may ask the evaluator to cancel the MRE.

VII. Scent Specific versus Scent Generic Evaluation Format

This evaluation is intended to be suitable for both scent discriminating dogs and scent generic dogs.

1. Scent generic format - Only a dog trained in a scent generic manner may take the scent generic format test. The dog is expected to alert on the subject(s) and on other people found in the area.  The number of MRE subject(s) can be from one to three people; however, if there are additional people in the area, such as hikers, the dog should indicate them as well.

2. Scent specific format - Only dogs trained in a scent discriminating manner may take the scent specific format test. The dog is expected to find, alert, and, if applicable, re-find on the subject of the scent article and the handler is expected to recognize this alert and inform the evaluator at that time. One to two additional decoy(s) will be present in the search area and act in the same manner as the scent article subject.

VIII. Criteria for Evaluating the Test

Below is a list of criteria against which the team's performance will be evaluated. The evaluator, and subject(s) where appropriate, evaluate the dog/handler team on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being poor and 5 being superior. The Board uses this evaluation in making a final pass/fail decision for the dog/handler team.

Handler misreading of an actual alert as a false alert or the converse will be heavily weighted against the team. A scent specific dog team will not be penalized if the dog finds the decoy(s) and/or other person(s) in the area as long as the dog does not perform their indicated find alert on person(s) other than the subject.

Evaluation criteria include-

1. The handler's ability to:

a)  Maintain safety of humans and canine

b) Form an appropriate search strategy for working the area (testing wind, considering terrain, and other appropriate factors)

c)   Change the search plan as necessary to account for changes in conditions, such as wind, terrain, and/or temperature

d)  Ensure the dog adequately works the search area

e)  Know the team's coverage of the search area, including identifying areas that were not covered, and estimate the POD

f)    Recognize the dog's alert (or a false alert) and indicate the alert to the evaluator

g)  Receive an alert from the dog without prompting the dog for a find

h)  Recognize their dog's needs and have appropriate concern for their dog's comfort

2. Dog's ability to:

a) Work an area

b) Take direction as needed

c) Work as long as asked

d) Not hesitate to go in to appropriate subject(s)

e) Alert in a readable manner to the handler

f) Find and alert on appropriate subject(s), without false alerts and making refinds, if applicable

g) Show no aggression

h) Work in air scent manner (not primarily tracking/trailing)