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January 25, 2014: Ryder and Helicopter Training

The day dawned clear. It was the first time we’ve seen sun in weeks. Temperatures were in the high thirties. It was slightly breezy. As I thought early this morning, it was a good day for Ryder’s first official day of search and rescue training.

It was trial by fire. If things could have gone as I’d have liked them to, I’d have had her involved in search and rescue training for a few months prior to this event. This way she’d know the dogs and the people, and this event would be just a part of her search and rescue work day. I’d also have preferred access to a state trooper helicopter for a month and practiced what they call “cold loading,” which is loading up with the engine off and the rotors still, and “hot loading,” which is loading with the engine on and the rotors moving. Then, and only then, would I have had the pilot in waiting take us for a ride.

As it was, we were at the behest of the state troopers, who had a schedule to adhere to, so helicopter training was limited to just a few hours.

I presumed that all we’d do today would be cold loading the dogs, and then call it good. And I was okay with this. It turned out to be a far more extensive session than I envisioned. We were first briefed;

Alys and Ryder by Helicopter

Alys and Ryder loading up before flight

that is, we were told exactly what we’d be doing, and where to put ourselves in relation to the helicopter. We were next paired up. I was to cold load with Aaron, who owns Duke the St. Bernard. I think that this was because Ryder and I were the smallest person and dog, and Aaron and Duke were the largest person and dog.

We were first shown the cargo area on the right hand side of the plane, and then told to go around to the front, and load up on the left side. I went around the helicopter, and then as I approached, I scooped Ryder up into my arms. We went maybe about five yards, to the craft. She saw the flat surface inside and then scrambled up onto it. I followed, and pulled myself up into the seat. Aaron, who was at my heels, followed. I was futzing with my seatbelt when Duke stuck his huge, slobbering head into my lap. If Ryder was at all concerned about this, she did not show it. Aaron and I then unbuckled our seatbelts and climbed out of the helicopter.

The second time around (this was for the hot load), Stacie Burkhardt paired me with Vickie Gross, at the same time asking me if my dog was okay with an aggressive German Shepherd. I said she was just fine, for the way I figured it, right now her track record is good. Ryder has never (to my knowledge) picked a fight with another dog, and I don’t think she intends to do so.

Déjà vu all over again – when Vickie and my turn rolled around, I trotted in the direction of the running helicopter, hunched over, with Ryder at my heels. I was maybe 15 yards from the copter when I got this distinct feeling that she wasn’t going to go any further without putting up some resistance. So I scooped her up into my arms, carried her to copter, placed her in it, and before she could do anything else, crawled up onto the seat, and pulled her up next to me. Vickie, with Tyra, followed. I again futzed around with the seatbelt. Ryder settled into my lap with her head facing in the direction of the window.

Up we then went – it was a beautiful, sunny day. I could see the town below – the Palmer water tower was to my right I don’t think that Ryder was fearful, for she wasn’t shaking. In fact, she seemed to me to be interested in the landscape outside the window.

I really do hate flying, but this flight (at least in my estimation) ended far too soon. I wanted to keep going, maybe go over to Hatcher Pass and check out the avalanche workshop. But we soon headed back for the other nine or so dog/human teams were waiting their turn. We landed very softly, and unloaded, me holding Vickie’s dog’s leash while she disembarked.

During the next hour, the helicopter went up and down another half-dozen times. Ryder, who by now had had enough of all this, attempted to pull me in the other direction, but seeing as this was futile, she ended up lying down on the concrete sidewalk and waited it out. I repeatedly held her and told her how good she’d done. Oddly enough, as the helicopter went up, she followed it with her amber eyes. Could it be that she equated the helicopter in the air with the one on the ground? I believe so.

In general, I think that it’s good to do such things with one’s dog, for it raises their level of confidence. More and more, I think that Ryder is a dog who thinks things out before taking action. Hence, this is a front for what appears to be a very calm demeanor.

Next: 26. 1/26/14: Dog Training: Agility Class #3