Then I realized that I’d mentioned this to the wrong person. You see, Vicky is known in SAR circles to be the consummate athlete. Her greatest claim to fame is being the only one who a few winters before finished Jeremy Lilly’s navigation course. Apparently, the other participants, when faced with having to continue on the pre-set course, in snowshoes, in waist deep snow, one-by-one begged out. But not Vicky. As she said, she kept going but thought it odd that after a bit she didn’t hear anyone talking on the radio.
So, no surprise, Vicky put out an email message on Sunday evening, saying that an informal training session would be held on Monday afternoon, on Matanuska Lake. Though still tired, I was one of the half-dozen attendees.
Ryder got to go first. We did four short problems. Vicky instructed, and Kathy Day was the subject. I was the handler. Pete came along.
We went to a nearby trail. I put Ryder’s harness and long line in place, and then at the near last minute I moved the long line clip from her collar to her harness. Kathy trotted off calling Ryder’s name, and then 100 yards distant, she half-hid on the left, in the nearby brush. I dropped the scent article Kathy had left behind, had Ryder sniff it, and then yelled “Search!” Ryder then bounded off in search of Kathy.
Ryder put her nose to the ground, and headed in her direction. Alas, she overshot the trail, and kept going past Kathy. I kept going for a bit – behind me, Vicky provided commentary, by noticing what I noticed – Ryder’s nose popped up, meaning that she’d lost the scent. And she shook vigorously, meaning, she was feeling a bit frustrated. “What do I do?” I asked. Vicky then suggested that I cast, mean have Ryder get back on the trail, doing a half circle in the process. This way, she might again pick up the scent.
This is exactly what I did. And Ryder, who returned to the trail, picked up the scent, and in seconds found Kathy. Kathy touched me, pulled forth Cat Burglar, and began playing with Ryder, who too engaged in a vigorous tugging session.
As was further explained to me, the wind was blowing to the left, in Kathy’s direction, making it difficult for Ryder to pick up the scent. Had it been blowing right, past Kathy, and in the direction of the trail, Ryder would have had an easier time of it.
We did three more short training sessions, with Kathy subsequently hiding on the right hand side of the trail. All three times, Ryder located her. However, she hesitated each time, before going directly to her, meaning that she has not yet fully figured out that this particular game involves finding the person who has her toy in hand. In time, I was told, she will get it.
What I learned this time around was that success is often in the mind’s eye. I could, in the end, have focused on the fact that Ryder failed in her initial uptake to find Kathy, but she did quite well in the next three go-arounds. However, I was most pleased with how she did the first time around. For one thing, she was, for the first time, scenting. And for another, she let it be known through the use of her body language that she’d lost the trail. And lastly, with guidance, she again picked up the trail. This is all a far cry from her first few outings, one in which Ryder had no idea at all what she was doing.
I also realized that I should continue to go to the informal as well as the formal training sessions. It would of course be easy to blow off these informal sessions, in part because they’re right now, so short time-wise for Ryder. However, as I saw today, the lessons that both Ryder and I are now learning are quite significant. And too, the more we train together, the sooner we’ll be able to both get certified and to go on real searches.
Next: 50. 2/19/14: What Horses?