Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Stories from a working dogs life

My two working dogs were Michelle and Mike, both Dobermans. Michelle found two people alive and some not alive. Mike chased a woman for 11 miles. They were search and rescue dogs.

Reader, as you read this, you are dropping about 40,000 dead skin cells every minute. You and I have about five million olfactory cells in our noses, Michelle had more than 200 million.

The part of a dog’s brain that smells is about 40 times larger than that of a human, in relative terms. When a person walks into a room and smells a chocolate cake in the process of making, your dog will sense all of the ingredients in the cake. If your dog smells where another dog has peed, he knows the other dog’s age, gender, and health. When you get home and your dog smells your pants, she’ll know where you have been, who you touched, and what you ate.

It was Mark Twain who said, “If dogs could talk, no one would own them!”

I should also mention what you can hear at 25 meters, your dog can hear at 100 meters.

All of my research has been memorable, but I will only mention the highlights of several. A father of two young children went for a walk in the afternoon and did not come back. When I was called, it was around 10 p.m. The house was full of neighbors trying to help. I needed a clean scented article, something that only Father touched. He was a religious Jew, and the only reliably clean fragrance item was his prayer shawl on top of a cupboard.

I stood right next to the mother and two children so that Michelle could remove them if they had touched the cloth and smelled them on it. She picked up his trail on the doorstep (dropping all those skin cells with every step) and turned right.

I had her on a 40 foot leash attached to a harness. If she pulls hard, that tells me she’s on him. After following him around the suburbs for more than an hour, she got me in the middle of a street and lost track. So I thought he was picked up by a car. I went back to the house and restarted her, left the house but this time I went to the left to smell her air off the leash as the breeze was coming from that direction.

Half an hour later I was in a park when Michelle’s neon light ring, which was on her neck so I could see her movements in the dark, started scurrying around instead of walking.

She had picked up the smell!

A few minutes later she came back and showed me to him. He was lying on his back with a plastic bag over his face. It was now about 4am in November, and between the cold and my exhaustion, I freaked out thinking I was looking at some kind of alien until I noticed it was a plastic bag on his face.
The policeman with me said, “How come you behave so happily and give the dog treats when we have a corpse?”

“We found him because of the dog, she must be heavily rewarded!” Was my answer.

The next thing was the terrible task of telling a wife and two children about the find. Despite my objections, it was classified as a suicide. Who kills themselves with a plastic bag?

Once, during a heavy blizzard in New Jersey, Michelle and a bloodhound became interested in a particular tree, but at that point the conditions were so poor that the search was abandoned until the blizzard subsided. When we came back to continue the search we went to this tree to begin and the missing lady was a suicide hanging high in the tree.

After that, I made sure to hide high in the trees as part of the training

Around 8 p.m. we got a call about a missing lady. She and her husband argued about the route, whereupon the husband said to the woman: “Okay, you are driving!”

When she got out of the car, he drove off (to punish her?) And came back five minutes later to pick her up. But she was nowhere to be found, and the husband swore she had been kidnapped. I sensed Mike from the car seat and he immediately picked up her trail, which resulted in me being dragged 18 miles to her home. The woman was so angry that she was hiding when the man came for her, and then
walked the 11 miles to her house.

At least it had a happy ending … well, a reasonably happy ending!

Cooperstown writer Tom Shelby, also known as the Dog Summoner, answers pet owners’ questions about training their dogs. Email your questions to

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