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December 29, 2013: Search and Rescue # 3 – Dog People

Today I attended my third K-9 search and rescue training, this one was outside of Mirror Lake. And once again, I learned that no two training sessions are exactly alike. I presumed that the focus would again be on avalanche work because Mirror Lake is a snowy area – but rather, it was (for some) on cadaver training.

Again, I shadowed numerous people, listening mostly to what the Stacey and Stacy and Vicki and Vickie had to say. These, I now realize, are individuals who’ve made the understanding of dogs and people their life’s work. No, they are not focused on one or the other, but rather on both.

I’m not sure if I’m a horse person or a dog person. I suspect not. I just don’t have what it takes to comprehend the psyches of animals or people. I just know that I have a healthy respect for those who do, and I very much enjoy being in their presence.

I continued to ask lots of questions—and I learned a lot of things. For instance, I learned that human scent doesn’t come off one’s boots, but directly off our skin – like the head area – it takes the form of a plume.

I also learned quite a bit more about toy drive, which is the degree of interest in which the dog has in a toy. The way it works is that the dogs find the person or the pieces of the person, then seeks a reward. The reward isn’t the person per say. Rather, it’s that other thing, the other thing being a go-round of tug of war with a favorite toy, or a go around of fetch with a favorite toy. It also might be a treat, if that is what the dog prefers. All dogs are different. You can increase a dog’s toy drive by playing with it – for instance, tug of war – you get the dog to play, then stop while the dog’s still excited about playing. You can also put your dog on a long line and when the dog finds it, encourage the dog to bring the toy to you.

I also learned a great deal about being a search and rescue subject. I found myself taking on this role in working with Cathy and Tara. Cathy instructed me to go a ways down road and hid in the deck area of one of the huts. I (being the overachiever that I am) decided to go further, and walked down road, then up road, behind the hut. This turned out to be an unwise decision. Cathy took Tara up to the deck area – Tara couldn’t find me. I had to be located by voice, making this a failed search. I then understood that I needed to listen carefully when being a subject. The second time around went better because I just jumped off-road, into the waist-deep snow. Tara found me readily. I gave her treats when Cathy touched me, then began lavishing considerable praise on her. As was then (gently pointed out to be) I was too upbeat, with this, a somewhat timid dog. So here I learned to ask the handler beforehand to what degree I should praise the dog.

Yesterday there was a real search – the subject wasn’t found. Donna, who owns Kip, Patty, who owns Abby, and Vicki, who owns Bettles, participated. I later followed Vicki and Bettles – the pair was doing a cadaver search. Cadaver objects are pieces of dead people – they come from a variety of sources. They are kept in containers, in ammo cans. Bettles (a german shepherd) had a harder time with his first search than his second one. The first time around, he looked to his handler for clues. But the second time around she went right to the source, going ahead of Vicki and in this fashion showing that he could do it. After, she was praised and encouraged to play tug of war.

After the session was over, I asked when I might be allowed to go on a search. I was told that I can do this now – my role would be that of a support person. For example, I might accompany a person with a dog, and help them to read their dog. I was rather blown away by this bit of information. I thought that I’d need to be certified and that Ryder would need a few years of training beforehand.

So will I do this? We’ll see. I think that first I’d like to attend more training sessions.

Next: 289: 12/30/13: Rainbow’s Cough