Meet Charles Wendt: K-9 Trainer, Search and Rescue Team Member, Writer

I had the pleasure of interviewing dog trainer, search and rescue team member, and author, Charles Wendt, about his adventures with Jasta.

Heather: Tell our readers a little about yourself and K-9 Jasta.

Charles: After competing sport performance horses in dressage and eventing for a couple of decades, I was ready for a change of pace. My grandfather had trained dogs for the navy during World War II, and I loved shows like Rin Tin Tin K-9 Cop growing up, but other callings when I was a young professional had kept me from fully engaging with working dog activities. At first I thought I would go do dog sports like Schutzhund, but I had hundreds of horse show ribbons in plastic tubes collecting dust in the basement, and wanted to do something more meaningful than add dog show ribbons to them. When time was finally right about two years ago, I embarked on a path to be a Search and Rescue Dog Volunteer Handler for Live Wilderness Air Scent. Jasta came to me as an eight-week old Belgian Malinois, and we’ve spent the past year training to become operational for searches (only one more year to go!).

Heather: What is a “Live Wilderness Air Scent” dog?

Charles: Unlike a bloodhound which follows scent on the ground, an Air Scent dog finds the person by using the cone of scent emitting from a subject and moving with the air. This is a good discipline for finding someone lost in a 200-acre patch of woods and you don’t know where they walked to start on their trail. Of course the odor you are rewarding the dog for finding is “live human scent.” This works great in the state forest, but in a city park you would find a whole bunch of people who aren’t lost, making your K-9 team a better resource for “wilderness” search tasks.

Heather: What type of training goes into developing a search dog?

Charles: Our search team trains one day of each weekend as a group, mostly at State Parks or State Forests. There is a lecture topic at first light which goes for forty-five minutes or so, and then we do some group dog obedience. After that, we take turns working search problems until it gets dark. We practice in all weather conditions and temperatures, and once every couple of months we do a night training. During the week you need to practice at home to show improvement week to week.

Heather: Wow, with all that how do you find the time to write?

Charles: I think that is one of the most challenging aspects of being a writer these days. Life is busy with relationships and commitments, you really have to learn to juggle different tasks and shoe-horn them in when you can. On the search team, we all have to take turns being “lost” for the dogs to find, leaving you sitting against a tree for a few hours. I like to use that time to develop plots lines and flesh out characters. That way, when I get to be in front of the keyboard, the story seems to flow off the fingertips better.

Heather: How long have you been writing?

Charles: My first book was a self-illustrated story I did in fifth grade about a lion who didn’t have a kingdom even if he was supposed to be king of the jungle. Like most, I enjoyed writing short stories in high school and started attempting novels in college, and later while serving in the military. Especially during that year in Korea. Nothing worthy of pursuing publishing, however. I got married and transitioned to corporate life. Being settled allowed me to pursue seriously competing horses. I didn’t write for a couple of decades! Then, it was time for my last horse to retire, and I didn’t want another. My big-corporate job ended soon after, and I had some time to regroup life. The world had also changed with Amazon’s Kindle and the options to self-publish. New Year’s Day of 2016 found me banging on the computer keys surrounded by sleeping dogs, and it felt good.

Heather: Tell us a little about your current writing project?

Charles: My Kelton Jager series is about an Iraq War veteran who comes home with his ex-military working dog, Azrael, and has trouble finding a job. He walks his dog into a town, makes town a little better than he found it, and then walks his dog down the road to the next town. My vision was for real and gritty, with an imperfect hero, instead of being larger than life or cuddly. I’m preparing to launch the fifth in the series where Kelton feels duty bound to help a small beachside sheriff’s department solve a teen girl’s abduction but is worried law enforcement will discover arrest warrants from his past vigilante deeds before she is rescued. Kelton’s character grows by settling on a life’s path that is right for him and his dog, even if he knows his deceased mother would be disappointed.

Heather What type of relationship do you have with K-9 Jasta and how has it influenced your story writing? I mean, real Jasta and fictional Azrael are both Belgian Malinois?

Charles: While Search dogs and Military dogs aren’t the same thing by a longshot, I sure am learning a lot about the day to day management of working K-9’s from Jasta. My dog loves me, is bonded to me, but even though I love furry snuggles, I can forget it. He wants to fetch or play tug and can be quite assertive in expressing his wishes. We’ve an hour walk before work, and another when I get home, and all of it off leash on the farm so he can run around. Physical stimulation isn’t enough, though. We’re always working on a new obedience exercise or trick for the mental side of things. In short, while he is a wonderful working dog, he’s the absolute worst pet I’ve ever had. Having firsthand knowledge of this dynamic has let me portray the breed realistically in my stories. I want my readers to understand what it’s like to have such a dog for the majority of the time when the dog is not getting to be a hero.

Heather: What are some of the most outrageous things K-9 Jasta has done?

Charles: I could swear in court that he doesn’t have paws in front, but rather hands. He’s turned on the water on the side of the house numerous times. I need to teach him to turn it off when he’s done. He can work doorknobs, and even pull doors open to get through. Our home has several exterior doors, and I will be seeing my fuzzy buddy very shortly after throwing him outside if they aren’t all locked. He will go and check every one of them. High energy problem solvers like him will keep you on your toes.

Heather: Have you always liked books or movies with an animal as a central character?

Charles: My most favorite novel of all time is Richard Adam’s Watership Down, about a warren of rabbits needing to relocate because of a housing development. I experienced the animated film when in the sixth grade and read the novel three times before getting through high school and college. It’s not just about the incredible adventure, but also the drama in the relationships between the characters. I was most saddened to learn of the author’s passing just after I published my first book, K-9 Outlaw, and I note his influence on me. For example, even though my genre is driven by realism instead of fantasy, I always do a scene from the dog’s point of view because animals are characters with goals and motivations like everyone else.

Heather: What are you reading right now?

Charles: I’ve just finished Nelson DeMille’s The Gold Coast, and I enjoyed it so much I went on to its sequel, The Gate House. Its main character is a successful man, about my age, who is nonetheless a little bored. The difference being I pursued joining a K-9 Search and Rescue team, while the tax lawyer character in DeMille’s book takes on a mafia boss as a client even though he has no background in criminal law. Both of us have a wild ride after.

Heather: What advice would you give to new dog owners or folks interested in adopting a new four-legged family member?

Charles: For the love of God, don’t get a Belgian Malinois! No, I’m not kidding. Other than that, I’m a big proponent of forever homes and until death do we part. When people announce they need to rehome their dog because of a new apartment or new job, I’m like, then why did you make such a choice to move? One must understand it’s a long commitment and your moral obligation to follow through on that promise. That being said, hardly any home is perfect but most certainly better than being at the shelter. Make a difference in this fuzzy baby’s life, and I guarantee it will make a positive difference in yours.

Heather: What advice would you give folks for traveling with their dogs?

Charles: I’ve wrestled with that both from driving all over the state for training, as well as the two-day journey to visit my parents. First is the planning aspect of the trip. I don’t just look for a dog friendly motel, but rather such a motel that is near a state park. After driving all day, an hour walk is just as good for me as it is my dog. The scenery is always beautiful, and fees are just a few dollars. Second, I love my Trans-K9 kennel for the “it’s super-hot and I can’t leave the dog in the car, but I have to go inside and use the facilities” conundrum. You tell the company the year, make and model of your vehicle and they provide a dog crate that fits your vehicle’s cargo area which has locks on it. That way you can lock the car with the hatchback open (and sunroof). No one can take your dog or get inside your vehicle, but he’s no warmer than just being outside. The battery powered fans make it even better.

You can find out more about Charles and Jasta at his social media sites:

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An Interview with Lauren H., Puppy Trainer for Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Thanks, Lauren for visiting with Pens, Paws, and Claws this week. We’re excited to have you on our blog. Lauren is a rising college freshman who started training dogs in high school for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I graduated high school this past May and am attending classes at PVCC with the intention to transfer to another college after 2 years. I am most interested in becoming a counselor.

When did you know that you wanted to train dogs?

My mom and I stopped by the grocery store one evening to pick up a few items and saw a group of dogs being trained. I asked a few questions and left there knowing this was something that I desperately wanted to do.

How did you find out about Guiding Eyes for the Blind? 

After a Google search for possible guide/service dog training organizations, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was the only one that wrote back letting me know that they were more than happy to have a teenager join their region. The coordinator that responded let me know that all three of her children raised guide dogs when they were teenagers.

Could you tell us a little about the organization? And what kind of training did you have to go through to start?

Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides dogs free of charge to blind people. They breed the puppies themselves and then foster them out to puppy raisers for approximately 13-14 months. At that point, they return to the New York facility for more intensive training before being paired with a blind handler.

To become a raiser, I attended three, two-hour training sessions and did a 5 day in home trial with a 6 month old puppy that had been going through training in the area. Once we received the puppy, we attended a once a week training class with the puppy for 12 weeks and then big dog training classes every two weeks after that.

Did you get to name the puppies?

No, Guiding Eyes names the puppies. They have the puppies that are a part of a litter all start with the same letter.

How old were they when they started their training?

Depends on the puppy. I have seen them anywhere between 7 weeks to 10 weeks.

Tell us about Wheat your first dog and where he ended up? 

Not all dogs end up being a good match for a blind person. Guiding Eyes has other organizations/career possibilities for when that happens. Wheat let it be known that she was more interested in sniffing down and finding items. The Connecticut State Police showed a strong interest in her, so she now is in their training program. She is due to graduate in December at which point she will wear a vest, a badge, and will be referred to as Detective Wheat.

What breed is she?

She is a Yellow Labrador

Tell us about Nirvana. How long has she been with you? 

We picked up Nirvana on the way home from the New York facility. While we will always have a place in our hearts for Wheat, it was very nice to be able to immediately put all the work and training we had done to use on another dog. We have her for about a month now, and she is definitely a different personality. She is a very gentle soul.  You can almost see her thinking about what you have said and is processing all of the information.

What’s the breed?

She is a black Labrador

Do you have any other family pets? 

We have a 7 yr olds dog that is a beagle mix and a 6yr old Norwegian Forest Cat.

If so, how do they get along with the pups you train?

In general, they like the dogs. There were times that Wheat’s energy level would be a bit much. At those times, they would escape to a private area. Being that Nirvana is a little slower going, the cat has actually been seen cuddling up to her.

How do you socialize the dogs to be in crowds or around people?

They teach you to start out small. In the beginning, it may be good enough to just walk in the door, sit there for a few minutes and go back out again. From there, it’s baby steps.  As the dog is more comfortable, extend the amount of time and start walking around. As far as around people, there are two approaches. When walking past people, you call the dog’s name as you are passing by someone and have a “puppy party” when they focus on you instead of the people. A “puppy party” consists of a few treats while very excitedly praising her for being such a good girl. When people ask to greet her, we have them pet her while we feed her several treats. This helps teach her to pay attention to her handler no matter what.

What is a typical day like when you are training the dogs?

That can really change with age and what the individual dog needs to work on.  House manners, walking while checking in with their handler, and socialization are some of the more common things worked on.

How do you juggle training, volunteer work with school and your other activities?

Thankfully, my family has helped me by seeing to her needs while I am at school or if I need to be out of town. It is actually very good for her so that she remains flexible as to who is working with her. The Richmond Region also has a great network of Puppy sitters that help out when our family happens to go on a trip where we can’t take dogs with us.

How much time do you spend with the dog each day?

Again, it depends on the age. A younger puppy needs much more sleep, so training times are shorter. As the grow, they can handle a little longer. It can also depend on the state of mind of the dog. Training classes help teach you to read the signs of whether a dog is in a state of mind where they are receptive of learning or not.

Congratulations on your recent award! Could you tell us a little about that?

Thank you!  The award is the President’s Volunteer Service Award.  Honestly, I knew nothing about it. Jodi, our regional manager applied for it for myself and a few other teenagers in the Prince William area. I was speechless and very honored when she presented the award.

What two dog training tips would you give to pet owners?

1) Making sure your puppy has 10 minutes, three times a day of chew time on an appropriate dog toy will help to significantly reduce the chance of the pup chewing on other items.

2) Make sure whatever you allow your puppy do, that you will still be okay with them doing that same thing when they are full grown. Stopping what may be unwanted behaviors or habits upfront may save a lot of stress and extra work later.

Thanks, Lauren for visiting with us and telling us about your work with the puppies and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. And congratulations again on your President’s Volunteer Service Award!

Lauren and Wheat

 

 

 

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