Aiken bloodhound pups advance in training

Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Aiken County Sheriff's Officer Felton Craig (left) follows Dixie and Lt. Hyler follows Justice as the 9-month-old bloodhounds practice tracking a scent in the woods in Aiken. Dixie and Justice started their training when they were 10 weeks old.
The two were among four pups born Sept. 17 that Aiken County elementary pupils submitted names for in a contest.
The other two -- Smokey and Diesel -- have gone to a law enforcement agency in Orangeburg as part of a departmental agreement.
Dixie and Justice stayed with the Aiken Bloodhound Tracking Team, and officials say they've been doing well in their training.
"They're past their making-it mark," said Aiken County sheriff's Lt. Chad Hyler.
He said they're about 80 percent along in their training.
He said the time it takes for a bloodhound to make the team and then be used in real cases varies, but usually it happens between the ages of 1 year and 18 months.
Lt. Hyler said that 11 more pups were born in December.
Two didn't survive, but four went to SLED, and five are with Aiken.
For Dixie and Justice, training began when they were 10 weeks old, starting with what Lt. Hyler calls "cat and mouse games" that involved "line of sight" techniques.
The pups were taken to a wooded area and challenged to track a handler they could see in the distance.
"We run them in packs. When they're first born, how ever many we've got, we'll run them all at one time so it gives a competition type thing for them, trying to outdo the other. Then as they progress we'll start separating them," he said, adding that those falling behind are paired with a stronger dog.
A couple of months later, they're tracking longer distances and only by smell.
The pups also learn a special one-word command that tells them when it's no longer play time.
Lt. Hyler said tracking by scent comes naturally for bloodhounds, and by the time they're 6 months old it's obvious whether tracking is for them.
"It's either got it or not. You're going to have one out of how ever many, sometimes, that's just 'This ain't for me,'" he said. The few that don't make it are usually adopted out.
The Aiken tracking team has seven pups in training and five other bloodhounds. Expanding the unit is something Lt. Hyler is excited about.
"That was the goal once I took over," he said. "The more we fill them up, you don't have to use the same dog every time. It gives a little more of a break as many calls as we do run."

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