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May 22, 2014: Dog Training: Learning as WE go along

Tonight, five of us did an informal dog search and rescue training session. The location was behind the Swanson Lake Middle School. This was organized by Stacey Re, after I suggested this. It was last minute, so I rushed out of here, foregoing an early evening horseback ride with Pete and Karen, a neighbor of ours.

I really like the informal practices because there are fewer dogs, so more gets done in a shorter amount of time. There is also a greater sense of intensity. Both things suit me well.

Ryder didn’t disappoint. I am getting increasing more fond of her as she matures. I am beginning to think that she’s a dog who has what Pete and I call “an old soul.” This manifests itself in her more earthly form as a quiet and calm attitude.

The best and more important thing of all is that she’s a wonderful doggie diplomat. Tonight (for example) she was introduced to Stacey Re’s new Australian Shepherd Sally, who is a 10 week old roly poly ball of a puppy. Ryder indicated that yes, she’s like to play by doing play bow and jumping around some – but then she backed off when she saw that the puppy was too young to rough house.

Then, at the evening’s end, Jim Maddry introduced Piper to Ryder. Piper is his new rescue dog. Piper weighs about 30 pounds, is small, black, and has fruit bat ears. She’s fearful, as is indicated by the fact that her tail is usually tucked between her legs. Ryder immediately figured out that Piper has issues. She quietly sniffed butt, then repeatedly went back and forth between Jim and Piper, setting the latter at ease. I was very impressed.

As for practice, Ryder could not have done better. Stacey Re was the subject and Kathy and Jim were support. We did three lengthy problems. Ryder did well – she has become increasingly more confident and self-assured when doing the job at hand. The first two times she trotted nicely along a footpath, and then dove into the brush, and found Stacey, who was off to the side of the path. The second time was a sight find, meaning she followed Stacey with her eyes when she went into hiding. I was pleased with this because it indicated to me that she was focused on the task at hand. The third go-around was tougher. Stacey backtracked in setting the trail, and Ryder had a harder time finding her.

Stacey later apologized, saying that she ought not have made this problem so difficult – my thought was that this was good for Ryder because she really needed this challenge. Again, I saw signs of problem solving – she repeatedly stopped and sniffed the air, and then began checking out the chosen route. And, when she saw Stacey, she bounded over to her. Each time we gave her treats. And each time she readily tugged hard on the come along strap.

I wish I could say that I did as well as Ryder did. Alas, I still have a lot to learn. At first glance it appears as though this search and rescue thing is easy for the handler, but no, it is very exacting. Kathy and Jim, following a proper distance behind me, offered me a lot of useful advice. For instance, the first time, I attempted, while on the run, to let Stacey know we were taking off. Otherwise, I disrupt the dog’s momentum. But as Jim said, this should be the job of the support person. Kathy also reminded me when I forgot, to say search. This is because there are differing commands for the differing activities.

I also need to work on my position in relation to where the dog is, when the dog is doing the search. For example, I need to slow down when the dog slows down, and stop when the dog stops -- otherwise, I might unknowing push the dog past an important turn. Kathy also told me that I don’t need to run. Her rationale is that my support people won’t be able to keep up on a lengthy search.

All of the above makes perfect sense to me.

There is so much to learn about search and rescue. It’s a good thing that I enjoy learning. The challenge for me is to take advice in the spirit in which it’s being offered. In this instance, my support people are assisting me in becoming a better handler. The way I see it, this will in general (and over the long haul) strengthen my bond with Ryder.

Next: 142. 5/23/14: Horse Sense: Forward Thinking