Search and Rescue

Search and rescue training

This weekend, we went to Trondheim (6 hour drive from here) to do search and rescue training with Squid and Pogue. I don’t think there is an equivalent to our s&r working trials in countries outside of Scandinavia, so here’s an explanation. In our search and rescue trials, the dog searches an area (in the woods) that is 100 meters wide and 100-400 meters long (Norway). 400 meters is for the most advanced level. The handler walks through the middle of the area, sending the dog out to each side (50 meters straight out, then the dog turns forward and comes back to the handler about 25 meters further down the line).

The dog has to find three persons hidden in the woods. When the dog finds a person, he is to either bark until the handler comes to him, or retrieve a dowel that hangs from his collar. The retrieve is the most common way for the dog to mark that he has found a person. As he comes back to his handler with dowel in his mouth, the handler puts a leash on the dog and asks him to show the hidden person. In addition to this, the dog has to do an obedience program and search for objects (size of a wallet) in an area that’s 50 meters wide and 50 meters deep.

Squid has done some training at home, but this was her first time training it for real. Training with good people are very important, since other people are rewarding your dog. Squid was a bit reluctant at first and needed good rewards. We did four sessions during the weekend, two each day. Squid made great progress from the first to the third session. At the fourth session, she was a bit tired and got to do easier stuff. When training, we break the challenge down in two four major parts:

– Searching in a specific pattern (50 meters straight out, turning forward för about 25 meters and then coming back to the handler, running past the handlers side and out on the other side)
– Locating hidden persons by scent (not to hard for most dogs, a person smells a lot!)
– Correct indication (Picking up the dowel when in contact with a person, running to the handler to deliver and then show the handler to the hidden person)
– Control (Walking with handler, coming when called, waiting for cue to start etc.)

With Squid, I have worked on the two first parts. We have done some exercises where I walk with her on leash until she scents a person hidden under a camouflage net in the woods. When I can tell she’s found the person I let go of the leash and she can run to the person and play.

This weekend, we mostly worked on the search pattern, starting with her running between two persons that she can see, passing me close by as she goes from one person to the other. While she is playing with one of the persons, I will move ahead and the other person will also move ahead so that she is running in a zig-zag pattern. As she got better, we started to hide the persons more and more and she had some really nice ones where she ran straight out from me and found a person on scent.

This training is so much fun. You have to be very strategic as a handler. You need to place your helpers at the perfect spot, raise criteria gradually, think about the wind and plan everything so that your dog will smell the person when he does exactly as you want. Getting scent from a person is much like a click to the dog. You need to predict where your dog will find that scent and also prevent the dog from finding a person using a method you don’t like (like tracking or just running around). I also love how fast the dog catches on with the methods we’re using. If the reward is right, the dog will learn in very few sessions.