The Texas Diaries: My Mantrailing Adventure

I’m home nearly two weeks returned from another amazing trip to Texas, and it was quite the journey! From the moment I stepped onto that American Airlines flight, the adventure began.

First off, a massive shoutout to the American Airlines check-in crew for getting me out of a tight spot. A minor mishap with my surname on the ticket threatened to cast a dark cloud over the trip, but thanks to the tenacity of the check in desk crew, a little Irish Patriotism and a bit of luck, everything was sorted without any extra charges. It was a relief to start my journey on a positive note.

Touching down in Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, I was eager to meet up with Liz from AtomicK9 Mantrailing in the UK. I had me Liz at one of Kevin Pirtle’s UK seminars last year. When she said she was coming to Texas this year, I knew the upcoming trip would be epic! We hit the road in our rental car with Peter, ready for the days ahead. Note to self: next time, avoid renting an electric vehicle in Texas; charging facilities are few and far between! 

Liz of Atomic K9

The small town of Ennis, approx. 1 hours outside Dallas, was our base for the next few days. We arrived at the Quality Inn around 10pm and headed straight for bed, looking forward to meeting everyone the next morning. 

Our instructors for the next few days would be:

Kevin Pirtle 

Kevin Pirtle and me

Having worked with Kevin at 4 seminars in 2023, I was really looking forward to meeting him and his wife Chris again. Since I was in first contact with them, they have been incredible mentors to me. The other instructor was Mike Szelc.

Mike Szelc

I hadn’t met him before but was a little nervous about meeting him the following morning. He’ is the Vice President of the International Bloodhound Training Institute (INBTI) and the Lead Instructor of the K9 Unit of Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office. 

Denise Sacca

Denise was an Assistant Instructor on the course. I was really looking forward to chatting with her about the Assistant Instructor path, one I hope to be on soon.

Day 1 – Start Time 8am

The meeting point was at our hotel. I was headed down eagerly to meet Kevin and the puppy I was going to handle for the seminar. Meeting Faoladh, a super cute and energetic 5-month-old Hanoverian x Malinois puppy, was a highlight of the trip. Faoladh is a puppy from a litter belonging to Kevin Pirtle. Kevin picked this pup out for me in the first few days after she was born. I’m planning to bring her back to Ireland this year! We were introduced to the other instructors Mike and Denise and any apprehension I had instantly melted away!


After introductions between all the attendees, the 12 dog teams and spectators were split into two groups. Liz, Peter and I were assigned to Mike and Denise’s Group and we headed in convoy into Ennis Town for urban trails.

Area 1 was in the heart of town and adjacent to a railway track. Mike and Denise just wanted to see each dog team work on something they were comfortable with. After a great morning of getting to know the dogs, we broke for lunch and the relocated to Veterans Park just outside Ennis. This was similar to a rural area with large open fields, Bluebonnets (state flower of Texas) and swampy wooded areas. We were told to watch out for snakes in the Bluebonnets! 

That evening, everyone was invited back to Kevin and Chris Pirtle’s ranch for a delicious meal, drinks and plenty of chat. It was great to have down time with everyone, hear how they felt their dogs did that day, what they learned and would bring back home with them. In my experience, you learn as much at this part of the day than you do at training.

Day 2: Trails and Tribulations

Day 2 kicked off with a 1-hour car trip to Fort Worth Stock Yards. Fort Worth Stockyards is a historic town located in Fort Worth, just outside Dallas. The Stock Yards are a fantastic insight to the history of Texas. It holds a former livestock market which operated under various owners from 1866. Between the 1880’s and 1950’s, the Fort Worth Stockyards grew to become the largest livestock-trading centre in the country. From the 1860’s into the late 1870’s, Fort Worth was the king of the cattle industry and earned its nickname Cowtown. 

These days, Fort Worth is a massive tourist destination reflecting the history of Texas. With cattle drives the streets twice daily, actual cowboys (they’re not just in the movies!) and plenty of great food and shopping.

Here was a tough place to trail. There are literally thousands of tourists, cattle, a petting zoo, shoppers, other dogs, souped up muscle cars etc there. We had access to everywhere both indoors and outdoors. For Faoladh, at only 5 months old, we kept to the quieter areas that we could find. It would have been too big an ask for a young dog. 

It was impressive to see the SAR dog’s work. Some dogs were a little overwhelmed initially in that environment but as the day went on you could see them acclimatising. We stayed at the Stock Yards for the day, took breaks so we could watch the cattle drives of the long horn cattle through the streets. But we ate on the move, and we moved all day. Regardless of how busy it was, the instructors still worked their components with us…high finds, cross trails, split trails etc. 

Mike instructing inside in Fort Worth Stock Yards

Returning to Kevin and Chris Pirtle's house in the evening, fatigue mingled with excitement as we reflected on the day's adventures and shared stories with other attendees.

Day 3: The Final Stretch

The last day of the seminar brought us to a school setting, where we delved deeper into the intricacies of Mantrailing. From observing NSIs (No Scent Indications) to tackling challenging scenarios, it was a day filled with insight and discovery. One of the Police K9 handlers kept us entertained with the impressive array of rifles, shot guns, handguns, tactical vets etc he carries with him in his vehicle!

On this day, discussions about Mantrailing flowed easier now that everyone knew each other a little better. This was one of my favourite parts of the seminar, engaging in discussions about how the dogs work, the nuances of their body language, how every move the make on the trail is giving us information. It was enlightening to be part of these discussions and see experienced handlers engage with each other without egos or assumptions of knowing more than another. 

Day 3 finished up a little earlier as participants had long journeys home. Some had a 2 day car journey ahead and wanted to get home before a snow storm.

On the evening of day 3, Kevin and Chris once again hosted those not travelling home that day. I had very interesting chats with Chris Pirtle and Marykay (from Red Rock SAR) about cadaver dogs. How they train, how they cross train their dogs. We have some very exciting courses coming up in Hounds and Helis this year to do with Cadaver!

The Gang

Reflecting on the trip, I'm reminded of the top tips I gleaned from the seminar:

  • Foundations are key to success in Mantrailing.
  • Experienced handlers are generous with their knowledge and advice.
  • Play is essential for keeping dogs engaged and motivated.
  • Creative problem-solving is a valuable skill on the trail.
  • And of course, never rent an EV in Texas!

One of the standout aspects of the seminar was the emphasis on foundational training and the spirit of collaboration among participants. Discussions about canine behaviour and problem-solving on the trail were as enlightening as they were engaging.

My time in Texas was nothing short of extraordinary. I'm grateful to Kevin and Chris for their hospitality, continued mentorship and the opportunity to learn and grow alongside like-minded individuals. I’m grateful to Mike and Denise for their advice, insights and encouragement. I’m grateful to Liz and Peter for being a super travel buddies and hope we have the opportunity to do this all again next year. And finally, to the other attendees for the laughs, gifts and I do hope I get to meet them all again.

Until next time, the memories of this Mantrailing adventure will continue to inspire and motivate me in my journey with Hounds and Helis.


Hounds and Helis was born from a deep passion & respect for dogs. Founder Éadaoin has worked extensively with dogs as a Puppy Foster Care Supervisor for the AADI and an Operational Search and Rescue Dog Handler Éadaoin is a qualified Mantrailing Instructor and runs regular workshops and seminars specialising in Mantrailing, Airscent and Cadaver Training. 

Follow Éadaoin  and her canine adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

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