Team Puzzle Born
on June 23, 2004, Puzzle
(Mystic Writ'n In the Wind) is a light blonde Golden Retriever with a happy,
buoyant personality. Through her handler,
Susannah Charleson, she has worked hard and become certified in
Wilderness, Urban, and Disaster Search and Rescue (as of 2/2007). She is currently the youngster of the
MARK-9 dog team and fully certified
before she was two years old. Puzzle loves her work, exhibiting strong drive
and clear alerts.
But at home Puzzle still plays like a pup -- saying
"woo-woo-wroo" to the family Pomeranians until they chase her around the
yard. Autumn pleasures include hanging out around the backyard firepit,
flushing squirrels from the bird feeder and sharing an ice cream with her
handler. It is good to be The Golden.
For Golden Retriever
enthusiasts, Puzzle is a 2004 pup born of working parents who compete in
Obedience, Agility, Hunt, and Conformation:
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Puzzle is the granddaughter of BIS BISS CH Celestial Sirius Jake CDX JH WC
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dog is a great partner in the search field and out of it. Puzzle's obedience
trainer is Susan Blatz, All Dogs All Day Companion Dog Obedience and
Training, Dallas. We are proud to have Susan as a part of Team Puzzle!
of the Missing is the story of Susannah and Puzzle's adventures together, and of the close relationship they forge as they search for the lost―a
teen gone missing, an Alzheimer's patient wandering in the cold, signs of the
crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. From the
earliest air-scent lessons to her final mastery of whole-body
dialog, Puzzle emerges as a fully collaborative partner in a
noble enterprise that unfolds across the forests, plains, and
cityscapes of the Southwest. Along the way Susannah and Puzzle
learn to read the clues in the field, and in each other, to
accomplish together the critical work neither could do alone and
to unravel the mystery of the human/canine bond.
This April 2010 memoir is
not what you typically expect in a "dog" book; but then, the author is not
simply a "dog" person. Susannah is an also an accomplished broadcast writer and a
trained pilot, no less.
But, underlying all of her abilities is that of
bright and astute observant. Before this book, we have not seen such an
organic, breathing testimony of a dog's intersection with life.
non-fiction account, the book's intriguing mystery type beginning―from Chapter 1:
Gone―pulls you into the scene immediately.
Here's a small taste:
IN THE LONG LIGHT of early morning, Hunter circles what remains of a burned house, his nose low and brow furrowed. The night's thick air has begun to lift, and the German Shepherd's movement catches the emerging sun. He is a shining thing against the black of scorched brick, burned timber, and a nearby tree charred leafless. Hunter inspects the tree: half-fallen, tilting south away from where the fire was, its birds long gone. Quiet here. I can hear his footpads in the wizened grass, the occasional scrape of his nails across debris. The dog moves along the rubble in his characteristic half-crouch, intense and communicative, while his handler, Max, watches.
Hunter rounds the house twice, crosses cautiously through a clear space in the burned pile and returns to Max with a huff of finality.
Nothing, he seems to say. Hunter is not young. There are little flecks of grey about his dark eyes and muzzle, and his body has begun to fail his willing heart, but he knows his job, and he is a proud boy doing it. He leans into his handler and huffs again. Max rubs his ears and turns away.
"She's not in the house," I murmur into the radio, where a colleague and a sheriff's deputy wait for word for us. "Let's go," says Max to Hunter.
Be sure to check out the fascinating interview and video below.
Click above to see a short video with
of the Missing follows the relationship between you and your search dog
from her puppyhood to eighteen months of age and her first search. How does your
relationship now differ from the one you had with her then?
is five and a half now. Though we had several hundred training searches together
in the period covered in the book, we've had easily double that now. I have a
lot more trust in her bond with me. She works pretty much exclusively off lead,
and I no longer wonder if she'd abandon a search, run away from me to chase her
own interests, or anything like that, as I did when she was very young. During
her puppyhood, Puzzle was always interested in search work and joyful about
finding people, but she seemed to regard me as an unnecessary chaperone for a
job she'd do better alone.
As she matured, Puzzle seemed to recognize that part of her job was to work
with me, to communicate with me, to insist when I'd missed some signal from
her―and she seems to find joy in that part of the job too.
Q: Is your relationship with Puzzle, as depicted in the book, typical
of the kinds of relationships other SAR handlers have with their dogs?
A: Some situations in the book probably resonate with other
handlers―maybe a few make them wince, or laugh at my failings outright―but
Scent of the Missing by no means represents a "standard" dog-and-handler
relationship. It's not a template or a guidebook for best practice. I compare
this book to a memoir about a marriage or raising a child: a portrait of one
relationship over a period of time―ideally magical, meaningful, and worthy of
Q: What are these working dogs like at home as pets? What do they
enjoy doing off duty?
A: Most of them enjoy being pretty typical dogs. They have favorite
toys and games and preferred sleeping spots. They mooch car rides and sneak
drinks from the toilet. Puzzle is a creature of routine. She likes to play bitey-face
with one of the Pomeranians first thing in the morning. She adopted a kitten a
couple of years ago; that kitten is now a cat, and the two of them cuddle and
play quite a bit. Puzzle enjoys playing fetch and tug with humans. On rainy days
she is keen to go outside and find the perfect mud puddle. Puzzle is happiest
when she's absolutely filthy―a good puddle wallow, followed by a roll in the
Q: How long will Puzzle's search career run?
A: Until she shows me she can no longer do the job, or she no longer
wants to do it, or until my own strength forces us to retire from the field.
This work is physically rigorous, and I wouldn't push a dog whose condition was
not up to it.
Nor would I run her if I couldn't do my part of the job. Usually the dogs
grow too frail before they lose their interest, so it's likely the types of
searches she could work would taper off as she ages. Some dogs retire from
disaster or wilderness work, for example, but are still able to work for years
on boat/drowning searches, which don't require running or climbing.
Q: What happens to the dogs when they can no longer work searches?
A: Though there are exceptions with some teams, most search dogs
retire as much-loved family members, living with the handlers they’ve partnered.
Some dogs are so driven to work that they learn new tasks. Puzzle is very
pack-oriented, and though she's not a herder, I think she'd happily learn to
round up the other family pets or to "find" them all in the house on command.
She already enjoys knowing what's what and who's where in the household.
Q: What characteristics give a dog a special aptitude for SAR?
A: This question sparks a lot of debate among handlers and evaluators,
but most agree that a good SAR candidate demonstrates high energy, has natural
curiosity, seems to enjoy scent games―and enjoys them enough to ignore
distractions!―is willing to work on command for a human, and is confident in new
situations. Physically, they need to be athletic and structurally sound, with no
vision issues. While shepherds, retrievers, and hounds are popular breeds in the
field, many breeds can do this work, and mixed breeds can certainly have the
right gifts too.
When you first began working ground searches, was there anything that surprised
A: The dogs surprised me. While I knew that dogs could do this job, I
had no idea how well they communicated complex conditions of scent (for example,
differences between "a little bit of old scent here" and "live scent, right
here, right now" and "human scent here, but not live") and how difficult a job
it is to decode them. The dogs communicate from nose to toes to tail, and they
do it fast, so it's a lot of reading on the run.
I was also surprised by how tough terrain can be even in a city. Urban SAR
can become wilderness SAR pretty quickly. In our area, when a housing
development stops, it stops, and just beyond that wall can be acres and acres of
brutal scrub. I've walked past million-dollar houses and, twenty steps later,
beyond the community gates, had to press through a sector on my hands and knees,
cutting my way through thorns.
Q: What aptitude do humans have to bring to this work?
A: All kinds of stamina, physical, emotional, intellectual. A search
can begin at what is, for search personnel, the end of a long workday. It can
run all night and into the following day or days, in all kinds of weather across
all kinds of terrain and in a state of emergency. Self control and a long fuse
are useful. Physical soundness and a willingness to learn new things are
important. It helps not to be a afraid of snakes, spiders, the dark, or tight
spaces. It's also good not to be squeamish.
Handlers also need to really believe in the work of the dogs, to trust
information that we humans can't see―or smell―and be able to let the dog do the
work instead of trying to do it for him.
Q: You began search-and-rescue-related work as a pilot. Are there any
similarities between searching from the air and searching behind a dog?
There are some surprising similarities. When I pass fields or
wilderness areas in my car, I always think about how I'd land a plane on it, if
I had to, or how I'd search it with a dog. Good pilots have an awareness of the
ground they're flying over. In flight training, we sometimes look down at the
terrain beneath us and hypothesize, "If my engine failed right now, where would
I land? How would I set up that approach and that landing?" It's a matter of
where the wind is coming from, how flat or rolling the terrain is, and what's
growing on it. Working search with a dog, I have to take into account many of
the same considerations. "If I had to search that valley, how would I set it up.
Where would I start Puzzle, and which way would we work across it?" Again, it's
a matter of where the wind is coming from, what kind of ground and vegetation
has to be pressed through. Landing an aircraft is not just about managing the
plane, it's about working the plane effectively across an environment. Working
canine SAR is not just about running behind a dog; it's about making it possible
for the dog to work well in an area that is always in a state of change, where
scent is often twisted, lifted, or obstructed.
Flying and dog handling both also require focus, a good deal of self-control,
and the ability to interpret subtle cues from dog or airplane―while either one
is moving quickly!
How will your partnership with Puzzle affect what you will do with
your next search dog?
A: I'd have to learn pretty quickly not to expect the next dog to be
just like Puzzle, even if the two were the same breed. Other handlers on my team
are partnering their second dogs, and though they were experienced handlers when
they got dog number two and were able to sidestep some of the problems a new
handler has to overcome, all agree that every dog is a completely new
conversation, in a new language. Truly back to square one with a nose, four
paws, and a tail.
Puzzle learned very well from watching certified SAR dog role models, and I
expect that if she is able to search and demonstrate the work in training
searches to dog number two early on, it would be good for her―she is a proud
dog―and it would be good for the new dog too.
I have to say that even talking about a next dog is bittersweet. Though I'm a
practical person, dedicated to this work, and know that dogs age and then leave
us, it hurts to think I could ever step into a search field without Puzzle.
actually adore all that Susannah writes, but were tickled
we saw the HUGE list of 91 The Golden Rules, created by Puzzle
Charleson. We begged and
begged, and begged some more, but finally received permission to reprint some of our
personal favorites. And, boy was it torture trying to
whittle it down in number, since we couldn't just copy them
all. Honestly, they are all simply Golden delicious. But,
for us, these are the sweetest of the bunch.
The Golden Rules, by Puzzle Charleson, search dog &
The Golden Rules #2 — Golden Dog must lie crosswise on any bed human also
lies on. Not parallel — crosswise. Belly up. Gaseous. And kick in dog sleep.
The Golden Rules #7 — After a good dinner, cuddle up and gaze at your
human with deep affection: You O Bringer of Kibble, O Filler of Bowl, I
Adore Thee. Lean in, as if to give a little ‘thank you’ kiss on the cheek.
Look deep into your human’s eyes. Belch.
The Golden Rules #8 — Befriend house kittycat. Encourage house kittycat’s
lack of scruples. All that leaping! Clever paws! Praise her ability to knock
foodstuffs from the counter to the floor. Eat it up and practice looking
innocent. When kittycat ignores all scolding and prisses off to bat a bug on
the screen, put your head on your human’s knee and huff a sigh: “I’m so
sorry kittycat is such a trouble. Golden dog would never do that.”
The Golden Rules #11 — Rain puddles bring out your inner tap dancer. Gene
Kelly on his best day would wish he were as good as you. Dance wild, dance
free, oh happy canine. Go out Golden, come in a spotted dog. Genius.
The Golden Rules #13 — You may have a person name, but I think of you as
‘home.’ I would rather be with you than anywhere else.
The Golden Rules #14 — Hello, my person! (Here’s my toy.) Welcome home!
I’ve missed you, my person (Here’s my toy.) It’s been a long day without
you! (Here’s my toy.) And may I say …you … look (here’s my toy) … fabulous?
Oh, and here’s my toy.
The Golden Rules #16 — the fabulous, disgusting thing you find in the
yard is best shared with your person in the early hours of the morning, when
they are most receptive. Put it at the foot of the bed or — best! — in the
middle of a dark hallway leading to the bathroom. Fun for all.
The Golden Rules #18 — Drop Favorite Toy in the bathtub with your person
to make a sort of soup.
The Golden Rules #19 — Baby, it’s hot outside. Take a nice long drink and
then walk through the house with your soft mouth full of water, dribbling on
cats, small dogs, and the slick tile floor alike. A hippo is tidier than you
are with water. Work it.
The Golden Rules #20 — I have no idea how your slipper got in the litter
The Golden Rules #21 — I have no idea who cleaned her pawpad on your new
satin comforter and drooled a wet spot shaped like Idaho.
The Golden Rules #27 — Sometimes when you least expect it, I am so
beautiful I break your heart.
The Golden Rules #28 — That grey, tattered, slobbery, gutless woobie
trailing what’s left of its last leg is my favorite. Will always be my
favorite. Here, let me bring him to you. See how beautiful he is with that
dangly eye and love-worn coat? Let us play a little tug and dismember him
The Golden Rules #39 — A morning drive-by lick of the cheek or the elbow
is a fine way to say “Hello, you’re tasting good this morning. The Golden is
here, let the party begin.”
The Golden Rules #42 — You are sorely mistaken if you think this washed
dog bed smells better than it did when rich with the scent of Goldendog. It
took me weeks to pummel, muddy, and mellow it to my exacting specifications.
‘Lemon Fresh,’ indeed. What am I, a fruit basket?
The Golden Rules #51 — Hot product idea! Glade should create new product
line: ‘Dog House’. Make plug-ins w/the following fragrances: Dirty Clothes
Hamper, Warm Horse Manure, Pan-fried Squirrel. Will sell these ideas for a
small residual. There is $$ in this. 3.2 million retrievers can’t be wrong.
The Golden Rules #56 — You wonder what I think about this dead bird in
the road that we have moved together and carefully buried in the garden. I
think she is dead, my person, and while I scent that great change, I can
still hear the music of her living, which I think you cannot. Trust me on
this. Her song is still there.
The Golden Rules #59 — Important Safety Tip: House kittycat, when
confronted in litterbox, has both ability to multi-task & a strong right
The Golden Rules #61 — There’s a poem on the wind, borne by the man
jogging this way, two blocks down. How much faster he runs today than
yesterday! Each light step shakes a little of him free. I smell bliss,
courage, optimism (you would call them dopamine, norepinephrine and
phenylethylamine, clinical words to frame his passionate heart). Smell
deeply this man in love. Also he had sausage for breakfast. Awesome.
The Golden Rules #62 — Haiku for a squirrel: Hot summer squirrel / On
loose wire over my head / One oops, fuzzbutt’s mine
The Golden Rules #64 — Suitable for dreaming: bury your nose in your
person’s shoe and contemplate journeys past. Where has (s)he gone? What has
(s)he been doing? Action! Adventure! Groceries! Nothing like kicking back
with a little smell-o-vision of an evening.
The Golden Rules #72 — I don’t turn off the TV in the middle of your
movie. Let me sniff across this bush a little longer — last time you said
‘Leave It!’ just when things were getting good.
The Golden Rules #89 — I ignore the toy and prefer your shoe because it
smells like you, my person. O rich, O marvelous, O highly-scented you. Want
me to play with the new fuzzy Pooh-bear? Put it in your armpit for a couple
of hours, and we’ll talk.
By the way, I KNOW that you've now fallen in love with Puzzle's
take on life. And, you'd probably be really excited to learn
that there is a book tour that both Susannah and Puzzle will
be conducting during the months of March and April.
Here's Susannah and Puzzle on Fox &
Friends April 15, 2010.
more about the tour and, of course, experience all 91 "The
Golden Rules" along with Susannah's Blog and Journal