Filmmaker's Blog

I am a passionate filmmaker, and am inspired by those persons (and dogs!) who give selflessly, courageously.  I am also a professor, and learn as much from my students as I do from my books.

"In the Zone" K9 Handler Shay Cook Interview Feature!


Shay Cook is a member of CARDA, CSST, ALCO and IDDogs.  She has a background as a Veterinary Technician (RVT), K9 First Aid instructor and training group leader for CARDA.  Wilderness area and cadaver certified with K9 partners Bishop and Glacier, Shay is also a dog trainer and obedience instructor since 1985, certified in Schutzhund AD and B.  Shay is a member of the Alameda County SAR team and leader of the Nebay CARDA training group.

Question #1: Can you please describe what inspired you to become a K9 Handler? Was it an event, a moment, a situation?

I was attending school to become a Registered Veterinary Technician in California. I was also raising a puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind, Glacier. When my Guide Dog for the Blind had a 'career change' he was returned to me. One of the other students in my class suggested I come watch their search and rescue dog training. I have always been an outdoors person and she felt it would be a great fit. I went out with my other dog first, Otto ( a German Shepherd), but he did not have the right focus on the job. I brought out Glacier he showed great potential. He was a very methodical and mellow German Shepherd. One of my sponsors had a very mellow dog and was very supportive through the process. It was a challenge to get an extremely obedient Guide Dog to venture away and search. I was training him in Area (Wilderness) work and ended up working in tandem with other dogs to help him learn to range away from me to search for the missing. I have been hooked ever since.

Question #2: What is the most important piece of advice to a dog handler who is working, or considering working with multiple teams, like you do?

Patience and focus. Patience to learn the task at hand well and focus on the task in front of you, don't get distracted. A solid foundation in both your skills and your dog’s skills is critical. Be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. Stretch your strengths and work on your weakness but never misrepresent your capabilities. The missing person, your teammates and Incident Command (IC) deserve your honesty on what you can and can't do at this point in your SAR career. It will change as your progress in SAR. When working on different teams you need to understand your position on each team and do it well. Each role is critical and it is imperative that you function to the best of your abilities in that role, whether it is team lead, IC or K9 unit. Don't mix roles unless necessary (e.g. small scale search/team where you have to wear multiple hats).

Question #3: Who is your mentor and what is the most important lesson that they taught you about working with a dog?

Dick Taylor and Shirley Hammond were my mentors when I started out. I have had several others as I progressed and learned different skills and disciplines. Dick and Shirley both taught me the value of honesty, integrity and character. Their candor on what they saw in both me and my dog could hurt momentarily or feel really good. Reflecting on their words and that their focus was to improve us as a team made me work harder for their approval. The high standards they set made me work harder to meet those expectations. The main lesson with working with the dog is try different things and see what works best for each dog. Look for patterns in the dogs behavior before implementing change. Every dog is different and you can not train all of them the same. Don't compare them to your other dogs or other handlers dogs.

Question #4: Do you have any suggestions for new handlers who are looking to work in multiple disciplines like you do?

Focus on one discipline at a time and make sure the foundation is solid before moving on. Only change one variable at a time when training and be aware of how the changes will impact the other discipline. Are you training your dog to focus grid searching the ground for small source with human remains and then expecting them to switch to finding a live person with air scent? As I stated before, not all dogs can do multiple disciplines, and that is okay. Many people don't want their dogs working multiple disciplines. If you do work multiple disciplines-do evaluations to see if they switch from one to the other dynamically, or will they only do the one you have commanded. Mine are trained to always tell me about human remains no matter what command I give them. When they are given the human remains command they are to only focus on that scent and I will train that way to make sure when they are on human remains they will not indicate on live. It is what I prefer and train for, others have a different opinion on this.

Question #5: What is your favorite quote about dogs?

Probably - “Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”– Orhan Pamuk

My quote on training is "No training is better than a bad training"

I don't really have a favorite website. I go to the Cal OES site ( and NSDA podcast (

Shay’s recommended books, which we will link to the “stuff we love” page!

"Stiff" by Mary Roach

"Death in Yosemite" by Michael Ghiglieri and Charles R "Butch" Farabee, Jr

"What the Dog Knows " by Cat Warren

"How Dogs Love Us" by Gregory Berns

"The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson

"The Intelligence of Dogs" by Stanley Coren

"Search Dog Training" by Sandy Bryson

"Scent" by Milo D. Pearsall and Hugo Verbruggen, M.D.

"Cadaver Dog Handbook" by Andrew Rebmann, Edward David and Marcella H. Song

"Training the Disaster Search Dog" by Shirley Hammond

"Enthusiastic Tracking" by William (Sil) Sanders

"Ready The Training of Search and Rescue Dogs" by Susan Bulanda

"Lost Person Behavior" by Robert J. Koester

"Be Expert With Map and Compass" by Bjorn Hjellstrom