Nat Geo Author Interviews CPT’s Alex Collier and Mark Spivak

(l - r) Mark Spivak, Jenny Holland, Mark Leamer, Reghan Fraley, K9 Officer Brandon DeCosse, John Bobo, and K9 Officer Will Treadwell.

National Geographic author Jenny Holland recently visited CPT to interview CPT’s Alex Collier and Mark Spivak for an upcoming book Jenny is writing about canine cognition.


Day 1:

Jenny Holland’s visit commenced on Monday, August 16, 2021.  The day began by Alex discussing olfactory and cognitive processing pertinent to search and rescue and cadaver search dogs.

Alex- Search and Rescue and Cadaver Search:

Jenny Holland observing Alex Collier's dog Angie trailing the "lost" volunteer. Deep vegetation and streams were never an obstacle.
Jenny Holland observing Alex Collier’s dog Angie trailing the “lost” volunteer. Deep vegetation and streams were never an obstacle.

Alex then demonstrated her Boxer, Angie, a certified search and rescue dog.  Angie accurately followed the hour-old trail of a volunteer who traveled about a mile into the woods.  Through paths, streams, hills, woods, and brush Angie meticulously followed the target scent until locating the volunteer.  Upon completion Alex rewarded Angie with a vigorous game of tug.

Alex next demonstrated the prowess of her Boxer, Darwin, a certified cadaver search dog.  In 2 locations in the woods Alex hid human bones sealed within glass canisters.  She then released Darwin on a long-line to locate the target objects.  Despite Alex making the hides invisible, hidden underneath leaves and inside a log, Darwin quickly located each target.

Mark- Canine Neuroscience and Behavior Modification:

In the afternoon Jenny interviewed Mark regarding the 17 canine neuroscience studies he co-authored and their relevance to practical pet and working dog training.  She also asked questions regarding canine behavior modification processes when resolving cases of severe aggression, anxiety, excitability, and impulsivity.

Mark then demonstrated CPT’s cognitive behavior modification protocols while working with an American Staffordshire Terrier named Butterscotch, who exhibits physical and vocal excitable and impulsive behavior when on-leash and observing unfamiliar dogs.  While incorporating the services of 2 CPT volunteer dogs during various drills, Mark taught Butterscotch’s owner how to effectively walk Butterscotch amidst unfamiliar dogs, without pulling, whining, or barking, and how to calmly introduce Butterscotch to the volunteer dogs.

Day 2:

(l-r) Mark Leamer and Jenny Holland.
(l-r) Mark Leamer and Jenny Holland.

Mark continued hosting Jenny Holland for the next 2 days of her visit.  On, Tuesday, August 17 Mark introduced Jenny to his friend Mark Leamer, an accomplished trainer of police narcotics and apprehension dogs and protection sport dogs.  To provide assistance, Mark Leamer invited some colleagues, John Bobo a retired police officer and current police dog trainer, Officer Brandon DeCosse and K9 Wick of the Conyers Police Department, Officer Will Treadwell and K9 Briscoe of the Conyers Police Department, and Reghan Fraley, a sport dog trainer and protégé of Mark’s.

Narcotics Detection:

Jenny began the session by asking Mark Leamer about effective narcotics dog training, errors common to many programs, general police K9 handling procedures- both while at work and at home, and identification criteria for optimal police dogs.  After the lecture portion we began the action segments.

Mark asked Officer DeCosse to demonstrate the detection prowess of K9 Wick, who quickly located narcotics hidden within an indoor pavilion at the Conyers Horse Park.  Officer Treadwell then conducted a similar presentation with K9 Briscoe, who also rapidly located the target scent and exhibited a clear alert behavior.

What separates Mark’s detection protocol from techniques commonly employed is the lack of physical, verbal, and social handler influence.  Although in most practical contexts for safety reasons K9s are on-leash while searching the exterior of automobiles alongside public roadways, Mark usually trains the dogs off-leash.  This way Mark educates the dogs to make independent decisions whether a target odor is present, rather than relying on communication or confirmation from the handler, which can inappropriately bias searches.

What Makes Mark’s Techniques Exemplary:

(l - r) Mark Spivak, Jenny Holland, Mark Leamer, Reghan Fraley, K9 Officer Brandon DeCosse, John Bobo, and K9 Officer Will Treadwell.
(l – r) Mark Spivak, Jenny Holland, Mark Leamer, Reghan Fraley, K9 Officer Brandon DeCosse, John Bobo, and K9 Officer Will Treadwell.

Mark teaches the handler to provide an initial command for the dog to search and then for the handler to remain outside of the dog’s visual field until the dog alerts to a target scent or until calling the dog back in the event of a “blank run.”  In addition, Mark has the K9 officer run the trials “blind,” where a third party hides the target, the K9 officer remains unaware of the target location or whether the run is blank, a third party communicates accuracy to the handler upon the observation of an alert or a recall, and the handler then rewards the dog if the response is correct.  The method creates a more confident, accurate dog, clearer and more reliable alert behaviors, and a dog that doesn’t feel pressured to manufacture an alert when the correct response is “no alert.”


Then, the action became even more vigorous, as Jenny Holland donned 2 bite sleeves to feel the impact of K9 Wick’s protection work.  And there was literal impact.  Once released, Wick launched at the sleeve, slamming Jenny into a steel door.  Wick maintained a full-bite to apprehend “the suspect” until commanded to “Los” by Officer DeCosse.  To her credit, Jenny remained upright throughout the exhibition.  Yet, she no doubt was left with some colorful bruises.

Consequently, Jenny deferred when it was time for K9 Briscoe to validate his apprehension expertise.  Instead, Officer DeCosse wore the padded equipment as Brisco performed pursuit bites, frontal bites, and releases/outs.

Jenny Holland learned a lot for her book and everyone had a fun time, met some new friends, and spent time with old friends.  CPT’s Mark Spivak and Mark Leamer have been friends for close to 30 years, when Mark L provided valuable insight while Mark S trained his German Shepherd Topper to win the Southeast Schutzhund 3 Regionals and compete in the US KNPV Nationals hosted by Mark Leamer.

Day 3:

Multiple time Schutzhund National Champion Wallace Payne at the conclusion of the retrieve exercise.
Multiple time Schutzhund National Champion Wallace Payne at the conclusion of the retrieve exercise.

On Wednesday, August 18 Mark drove Jenny Holland to the Sharpsburg, GA home of his old friend Wallace Payne, a multiple-time national schutzhund champion and multiple-time placer in the world championships.  Mark and Wallace go way back.  Mark provided helper work key to Wallace preparing Dick, a German Shepherd owned by deserved baseball hall-of-famer Barry Bonds and handled by Wallace, to win a national championship.  Simultaneously Wallace assisted Mark in Topper’s schutzhund training.

Schutzhund Obedience:

Wallace discussed his theories on working dog selection, training, handling, and husbandry.  Next, Wallace presented an outstanding performance of precise competition heeling, flat retrieves, retrieves over the high jump, retrieves over the wall, and go outs.  Jenny, Mark, and Wallace concluded by sharing a nice lunch while discussing Jenny’s book project and working dog training.

Jenny Holland:

Jennifer S. Holland is a science writer, essayist, and a New York Times best-selling author.  She is a contributing author for National Geographic magazine and the author of the “Unlikely” book series, including Unlikely Friendships- 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, Unlikely Friendships Dogs- 37 Stories of Canine Compassion and Courage, Unlikely Heroes- 37 Inspiring Stories of Courage and Heart from the Animal Kingdom, and Unlikely Loves- 43 Heartwarming True Stories from the Animal Kingdom.  Her current project, commissioned by National Geographic, is a book about dog intelligence and cognition.

To order Jenny Holland’s books, which have a rating of between 4.7 – 4.9 on Amazon, with between 187 – 966 reviews per book, please use the links provided in the above paragraph.  We look forward to reading Jenny’s upcoming book featuring Alex and Mark, which should be available for sale in January 2023.

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