Susan Bulanda literally wrote the book on training the search and rescue dog.
Her book, "READY! Training the Search and Rescue Dog," now in its second edition, is considered the Bible of search and rescue operations, and has been adopted by units throughout the world-even being reprinted in Japanese.
Bulanda, of Penn Forest Township, currently writes and teaches about her favorite subject on how animals behave in their natural conditions. When she has a free moment, she may be helping the local fire district train its search and rescue dog, working with dogs with behavior problems, or traveling the lecture circuit.
"I believe animals can think," Bulanda began. "The pure behavioral model doesn't subscribe to that. Today, we know that they do think. Science has come to understand that."
But when she was growing up in New Jersey, she found that many trainers didn't believe that.
"I studied on my own and I came to the conclusion that the methods they were using were not the way to do it," Bulanda said. "I believed you could use psychology to reach animals rather than coercion, which was the method they used in those days."
Bulanda was self-taught, not unusual for a 10-year-old at a time when animal behavior studies was a fledgling science.
"Being young, no one would mentor me," she said. "The first dog I ever trained was a collie, Lassie. I wanted to teach the dog to do things like shake hands and walk without pulling."
Bulanda's family didn't realize when they got Lassie as a puppy, that she was deaf.
"So, the first dog I trained was a deaf dog," she noted. "With a deaf dog, I couldn't speak a command across the room. She didn't know when I wanted her."
Bulanda learning step by step with Lassie.
"I discovered that dogs could think, they have memories, and they have feelings," she said. "These were foreign concepts in those days. I used a reward-based system to train her rather than by coercion."
She taught Lassie to shake hands.
"Not knowing she was deaf at the time, I had to physically manipulate her to show her what I wanted," said Bulanda who is hearing impaired herself. "She learned to read my body language and my signals. When I put my hand out, she learned that I wanted her paw.
"Today, trainers understand how to work with deaf dogs. People with deaf dogs come to me for training. In the 1960s, it was an alien concept."
After completing her studies with degrees in psychology from William Paterson University and in education from Monmouth University, Bulanda became involved with the training of working dogs. Meanwhile, training dogs in activities such as agility, lure coursing, and hunting created a demand her services. She also trained dogs in drug detection and criminal apprehension.
She really got excited when she and her husband, Larry, joined the Coventry Search & Rescue, now merged with the Phoenixville Fire Department. For 20 years, the Bulandas and their dogs searched and rescued people in places like forests, streams, and even within an ice-sheeted quarry.
She had an early interest in writing, and before the days of the Internet had published The Canine Source Book, a directory of everything related to dogs.
Her merging of interests led to a study on the different types of search dogs.
"I discovered that the most problems were handler training errors," she said. "There are not many legitimate dog trainers involved in search and rescue. There are even less behaviorists."
"The old timers in search and rescue asked me to write a book,. That led to the first edition of Ready! Training the Search and Rescue Dog." The success of the book has led Bulanda to travel to Spain, Canada and England for trainings.
Bulanda recently published "God's Creatures, a Biblical View of Animals," and is finishing her latest book, due out in the spring, about pets of the Holocaust victims.
For additional information or to purchase her books, visit: www.sbulanda.com.