Disappeared from the face of the earth ...
It is 03.10 at night and I am standing in front of the only illuminated window in an otherwise dark street. Behind the window, hopeful eyes carefully watching my movements. Their hope is based on my expertise, my knowledge and the ability of my dog to find their missing loved ones. Suddenly their mother, sister, daughter and wife who, to their sadness, suddenly seem to have disappeared for no explainable reason.
After the stressful trip to this address, I focuses me. Before starting my work, I check if I everything is okay, my equipment, the flankers and if they know what to do, or not.
If that is the case, we will start our mission with the palpable eyes of those left behind in my back.
Although I have a well-trained dog with me, I know that you can never be prepared for every situation. Every missing person case is unique. Every missing scenario is different.
Now I must have faith in my dog, myself and my team. The first 24 hours are crucial because the dogs are looking for the last scent trail that has left the house.
I clear my head and concentrate fully on the work of my dog. The world around me disappears to background-noise.
In my head comes a balance between automatically responding to my dog, picking up signals from the environment and trying to assist my dog as well as possible without directing the dog: an almost impossible task. I am wel prepaired for that through years of hard work and the strong woking relationship my dog and I have together.
That is the beauty of the mantrailing: always different, always unique, it always requires live problem solving to solutions and that is what I enjoy the most.
I came into contact with this way of working in 1998, when I was further orientating myself in the K9 Search and Rescue work. In the Netherlands, K9 Search & Rescue work was already being used at the time, but people had never heard of mantrailing. I was fascinated by it and it never left me since first being introduced. It has become a way of life.
Although my life initially seemed to go in a different direction. But a horrible event changed everything ...
In 1996 I was busy with my thesis for the Psychology study. I wanted to analyze everything and getting answers to the questions I had about life.
Until our house burned down ... Suddenly we had nothing left.
Our household, furniture, cloths, personal belongings, everything was lost.
Sadly, my puppy and cat died in the fire and only my older dog I was saved.
From that moment on I started to live differently. I decided to radically quit my studies and the realisation grew that dogs were important to me and could really mean something to humans.
Although from that moment on I consciously chose to work with dogs, my learning path was long and a big challenge. With my first dog that came after the fire, I was forced to find my own way because she was challenging and none of the dogschools had answers on how I could fix her problems.
In addition to this pretty difficult dog, my German Shepherd Umbra came after a while, my childhood dream. With her I would do it very differently and make myself useful to society.
Unfortunately, she had very different ideas about it herself. Nothing went smoothly with her and what had to be a joy and pleasure became a frustration. I felt a challenge and a will to get it done, but I wasn't ready for it.
In 1998 trailing came unexpectedly on my path, because someone asked me if I wanted to go to Scotland. Here I was introduced to a special dog trainer and immediately I felt a huge fascination for this profession. It was fascinating and showed me you can really be meaningful with your dog. For the dogs it is a game and in the meantime you can make a difference for missing people and their loved ones.
It takes hundreds if not thousands of hours to practice all facets to actually be able to trace the last odor trail of a missing person. I really wanted to learn and become proficient at this skill.
I decided to experiment a lot, invited experts from abroad and asked a lot of questions. Initially I started with the German Shepherd Umbra with (my dream dog), but unfortunately, she was also totally unsuitable for this.
Somewhat frustrated, I decided that my fantastic Umbra could do what she wanted to do, you can’t force a dog to do some job if they are not interested in it.
So Nutak, an altdeutsche huttehund took her place.
Again not an easy dog. Nutak adored me, wanted to do everything for me, but in his own doggy way!
As a human being, when I first started, I didn't understand much about scent, body language and how a scent trail develops. At that time there were no books on this subject, let alone instructors who could teach me something about it.
Nutak, as a dog, a primordial dog to his toes, body language and scented was very easy for him.
But because always wanted to please me, he wanted to hear from me how he should pick up the scent, because I was his boss. You can imagine that it didn't always work very smoothly, especially with that temperament of him.
But he has made it clear to me all, to the detriment of myself. With him I went to many seminars of "famous" trainers from all over the world. He, my Nutak, then clearly showed me afterwards how he viewed the methods as a dog.
He was my introduction to mantrailing, my teacher, my buddy.
I made so many failures and experimented so much. Poor dog, I have made him totally unsuitable for this work, but, oh, how grateful I am to him.
Through his mirror I discovered the good and the bad sides of a certain method. Through him I learned what motivation is and over the years I filled my toolbox full of knowledge.
I am eternally grateful to him for showing me that you must be and remain honest and sincere towards your dog, even if you still want results so badly.