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April 27, 2014: Dog Training: A Tail of Two Search and Rescue Trainings

I have learned that you just don’t know how a search and rescue dog training session is going to go. I suspect, although I don’t know for sure, that this depends on numerous variables, including the weather conditions – hot, cold, windy, precipitous, etc. Distractions also figure in. And how a dog does also depends on how they’re feeling about working on a given day. Dog experience and maturity also play a key role. Self-perceptions are perhaps the most subjective element.

For sure, there are training sessions in which dogs and trainers do well, and one’s in which they do not. For example, last Thursday’s informal training session seemed to me (at first) to be less than stellar. But now in looking at it in relation to today’s training session, I realize that it was a good one for Ryder in that she was doing first grade work. So Sunday’s kindergarten session was a breeze

for her. And so, if we had not tried something harder, that which was easier would have been more difficult for her.

Thursday’s training was behind Wasilla High School. Temps in the high 40s, slightly overcast, breezy. Lisa was Ryder’s subject – Vicky Parks was the support person. We decided to first challenge Ryder by giving her a tough problem. Lisa went and hid a ways off in the woods, so Ryder couldn’t see her. Ryder took off slowly – was focused on the scent one minute, then less so the next. She finally located Lisa, who engaged in a vigorous tug session with her. Vicky (who knows about such things) later observed that Ryder had to deal with a lot of distractions – Pete was at the distance, the wind was blowing sideways, and a dip in the terrain made it hard for Ryder to see Lisa. Sessions 2-4 – these runaways (this is what they’re called) were okay but not spectacular. Ryder did some crittering, was clearly interested in roving further afield.

Session #5 – this one was a bit better. Lisa walked across a grass straightway. Ryder saw her go – was interested in the martial arts guy cruising past, was interested in Tara and Kathy at the distance, did consider running off and joining Pete and Jim. We waited a long time for the area to clear, me holding onto her vest handle. While we waited, Vicky said to me to think of the early take-offs as being like a funnel – you focus on the task at hand, speak softly, even whisper into the dog’s ear – envision what you want the dog to do. Later, you might start the dog in the reverse direction, but not during the onset of training.

Ryder ambled off and found Lisa, but needed to be urged to play.

In my estimation, this was a day in which we pushed Ryder a bit too far. Also, the runs need to be shorter. The subject was very enthused when Ryder found her. But I realized that I need to encourage the handlers to also act excited when Ryder finds the subject.

The more formal training session was held today. It took place and was at the same time as the Boy Scout Scout-O-Rama, which is held annually at the Palmer Agricultural Experiment Station. The plan was to have both the SAR activities and dog training take place simultaneously. Some subsequently opted to do the publicity-related stuff, and others opted to train dogs. I decided to hang out in the dog training area. I decided to do three short sessions with Ryder because I felt as though she’d been pushed a bit too hard on Thursday. This turned out to be a wise decision.

The regular trainers were all busy, so I was on my own. I chose Bethany (a newcomer) to be the subject, and had Lisa be my support person. The first two runs were behind the machine area, at a pasture’s edge. Temps were in the high forties, and it was just a bit breezy. The first two times Ryder, who had a clear view of Bethany, bounded over to her with considerable enthusiasm. But the third time was her absolute best. I told Bethany to hide behind some large, wrapped hay bales. It was a straight shot to the bales, but from there things got a bit more complicated. Ryder had to go between and around bales to find the subject. At the same time she also had to deal with the competing smell of silage. Ryder entered the area where the bales were, wove around, and found Bethany. And Ryder encouraged Bethany, who does not yet know about the importance of toy drive, to play tug with her. I wisely then called it quits when Ryder was still in play mode.

Lastly, a good number of people had wandered up the hill because they wanted to check out the National Guard tank. Some of course then drifted over to where Jim, the day’s training coordinator, had set up base camp. I introduced many of them to Ryder, who clearly enjoyed all the attention. I have not seen any signs of aggression as this relates to people or dogs.

I’d have to say that I was as proud of her as I was the other day, of Hrimmi.

Next: 117. 4/27/14: The Bee Launching: Spring Rite of Passage