Scout Trainee Search Dog

Scout at 10 & 12 Weeks Old

Scout has been with us two years now. His training to be a search and rescue dog in Mountain Rescue began when he was 12 weeks old, that’s him coming through the tunnel on his very first day of training.

He has a lovely nature, gentle with people and other dogs. Conversely, he likes to work hard, loves rough terrain and harsh weather does not seem to phase him. Training involves learning to go and find a body by detecting scent then coming to tell me, his handler, and guiding me back to the find spot. His reward is a game of ball, preferably a ball on a string that he can have a good game of tug. His favourite body Paul really gets into the game and Scout loves that, it gives him so much enjoyment, he really likes searching for him.

There have been a couple of milestones along the way. The first is a registration test to actually become a trainee dog. This is basic obedience and a stock test to make sure he does not chase livestock. Pass these and he get’s the coveted trainee badge, it’s all about badges! Next milestone is the indication test, where he has to find a body and come back to tell me, then lead me to the find spot. Scout has completed all these tests.

Now, Scout and I are learning to cover an area efficiently, find multiple bodies in varying situations in the day and at night. Scout now accompanies me on my walks and this builds his stamina and strength as well as increasing the good bond we already have. He is a joy to spend time with and walk with for a day.

The training, the game, has changed over the years, now we are trying to develop some directional control, with some success too, he is a quick learner. Scout has an excellent record of finding bodies, in fact, there have been only two occasions when he has failed and this has been in the same area on Baslow Edge each time, we call it Nemesis now. It’s an area where the wind can do all sorts of things and there are lots of boulders around, so it will be interesting to see how we crack it.

It’s not all training for Scout there are other duties and delights too. He is a big draw at the fundraising events, especially at Sheffield train station, he is also starting to join the team on training exercises and events. He even did some avalanche training a year back and loved being inside the snow holes. But mostly he likes to be out in the countryside with people and other dogs and he likes a good game of tug.

Scout
Scout. Trainee Search and Rescue Dog. Photo Mark Harrison

Scout trainee search and rescue dog

Scout
Scout. Trainee Search and Rescue Dog. Photo Mark Harrison

Its been a bit of a week for Scout my trainee Mountain Rescue search and rescue Border Collie. On a training exercise Monday night, Scout had to find a hidden person, Paul Richmond, a friend who regularly gives up his Monday nights to act as a body for Scout. He set off searching woodland as he normally does, trying to detect any scent from a human in the air and unknown to me, picked up the scent of two people lost in the woods, without a torch and unable to get out to safety.

Scout still has a year of training to do, but he performed, exactly as he should, returning to tell me he had found some people then making multiple runs between them and me guiding me to their location. They were a little scared and desperate to get out of the woods. Scout an I escorted them out and then Scout continued on with his search to find Paul, eventually locating him and bringing me to his position.

It’s a big moment in his development, he did what he had trained to do, without thought or hesitation. I am so proud of him.

Scouts progress in Search and Rescue

Scout training on Eyam Moor, Peak District National Park
Scout training on Eyam Moor, Peak District National Park

Training a SARDA Search and Rescue dog takes time and patience, mainly on the part of the dog, because it is the handler who is most/always at fault. Scout always comes up with the goods, in the way of a find. He worked hard on Eyam Moor this weekend in hard conditions. The bracken is still dense and hard to get through, combined with deep snow, it makes it extra tiring for Scout to get around. He battled his way around to find three hidden bodies, with little scent moving about to guide him, so he really had to work for it. He started to get tired after find number two, I could tell he was needing a break.

Tiredness is something I have been working on with him. Taking him on long moorland walks, he probably runs about three times the distance I walk. It’s good to get him working over rough ground, boulder fields are particularly good, if you have ever tried negotiating a boulder field in summer, think about it under thick slippery snow where you cannot see the gaps.

The other major work is building up the return sequence. This is where he finds a body and returns back to get me then lead me back to the body. It is an important tool, especially when covering large areas effectively. He soon got the hang of the sequence, and then worked out that if he starts returning to me and he can see that I can see him, he doesn’t need to come all the way back, but can just bark his command. Pretty sneaky and clever of him to work that one out. I need him back to me, because we may be out of sight from each other and I need to know for definite that he has a find.

Training is frustrating. Sleepless nights, going over and over what went wrong on the last session and how to correct it. Worrying over whether he will make the grade. But, when it goes right, when he works his socks off and I don’t screw it up, it is the best feeling in the world.

 

 

Scottish Holiday

thumb_IMG_1772_1024August was my first holiday, first time on the beach, first time in the sea, first time in the mountains, first time swimming in mountain pools. It was fantastic.

We went up to Wester Ross which is a long, long drive up to Scotland’s west coast. It’s a beautiful place. We couldn’t do too much mountain walking as my body is still growing and knitting together, so we picked out places where the walking was not too far or there were plenty of stops on the way.

I really love swimming, especially in mountain pools with waterfalls. Swimming is good for me as it exercises my muscles without stressing my bones. Swimming in the sea is good too, I get the ball every time as I am a stringer swimmer than Olly.

I still practised my obedience lessons on holiday and I am getting pretty good now. But sometimes I just don’t want to do it so I ignore my handler, then I get in trouble and have to do it right. My handler keeps muttering something about it being time to get it done.

I have started training during the week with groups of other SARDA dogs too which is brilliant. The more I train and the more I do with other dogs the better I will get.

I am getting near my registration test, where I show that I can behave and be obedient, once that is done then I will go on to Stage One of learning to be a search and rescue dog.

Having Fun

Two months since the last post and Scout has really grown. He is nearly as big as his two brothers Monty and Olly now.

We have been concentrating on his core obedience skills, socialisation and getting used to lots of different environments.

He is getting good at walking to heel, laying down on command, recall (when not distracted by something, anything else). We have been having problems getting Scout to speak but this turned out to be his handlers fault for not being so animated. The training really is for me, the handler, and not Scout.

A good way of socialisation is for Scout to meet lots of dogs and people. So he walks three times a day up at the common and once at night around his local neighbourhood. He comes with me to team meetings and equipment nights at Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team, but he is too young to take on exercises yet.

Another good socialisation exercise is to take Scout shopping. His favourite place is PetsatHome. There are some really nice assistants who give him lots of attention plus there are all those different smells of food and pets and people. His favourite place in all the store is under the food shelves where all the spilled food collects. There are lots of other dogs there too so he gets to meet and be friendly. He is really good at ignoring dogs that do not want to play and doesn’t let it bother him.

Now he is a little older, 5 months on August 1st, he can take part in SARDA training days. He has been on two weekends now, training in puppy class and won the heart of Jacquie Hall the trainer. He did well too, once again its me who is the problem. Scout has also started training at night and on Sundays locally, which introduces him to more handlers and dogs. All the handlers are so helpful, everyone just wants the dogs to do well. I learned some useful tips along the way, one of the most important was to plan the exercise out first on my own before involving Scout and being exact in what I say to him. Consistency and repetition are the keys here.

Different environments are also important, to increase his confidence in mixed habitats and help him be comfortable overcoming things that are new to him. July saw Scout take his first wild swimming sessions, thankfully he loves the water. He does a wonderful breast stoke, good and strong. The only problem is getting him out of the water, even when he is shivering, which means me going in to get him. We also took him on a wild camp with his brothers and they all loved it, settling straight down for the night even with a river running close by and geese flying overhead.

A good two months for Scout. Lots of fun and lots of learning. He is well on his way now, working towards his first benchmark the obedience test.

Scouts first month

Scout has been with us one month now and has settled in really well. The other two dogs Monty and Olly are gradually accepting him although Olly still remains to be convinced Scout is a keeper. But this does not seem to phase Scout in the slightest. He has a firm personality and a strong character, he refuses to be bullied by the other dogs and is gradually ingratiating himself with them. He is happy to be part of their gang or spend time on his own.

Scout has gradually increased his levels of activity and interest. At first he showed no real interest in toys but now is gathering quite a collection. Still the best toys seem to be toilet rolls and egg boxes, oh and soil, he likes soil. He sleeps through now and is on the way to being house trained, but more work needed on that.

This coming month is a big one for Scout. Tomorrow he will be able to go out for the first time and walk around. So far he has had car journeys and visits to shops and offices and people, all good for him, sights and sounds, smells and touch. He has coped really well and shown no signs of distress. Tomorrow morning he goes for his first walk around the common. Lots of trees and grass and smells. Lots of other dogs too so he can start to join a wider community. Only 15 minutes of walking for him, twice a day to make sure he does not strain his limbs.

Next weekend he attends his first SARDA training camp up in the North Yorkshire Moors. He will attend puppy class, learing obedience, getting ready for his first tests. Walking to heel, staying put and the biggy passing a stock test where he has to ignore a flock of sheep.

Later in the month he takes on his first fund-raising work for his team Woodhead Mountain Rescue. He will be at Sheffield Train Station collecting for team funds. Then a few weeks later he is at Scholes Gala helping raise more funds. A busy time.

SCOUT Search and Rescue Dog

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Well we are finally on the way to becoming a Search and Rescue Dog Handler with the arrival of this little fella on Friday evening. This is Scout a Border Collie puppy dog from Derek Scrimgeour at Killiebrae Sheepdogs. He is pretty neat and full of energy, which includes jumping over steps, falling down staircases and getting under our feet at every opportunity.

At the moment its just a puppy life for him, the real training starts in a little while, but he already respondes to his new name, the original was Killiebrae Jigg. In the months and years to come we both have a huge amount to learn and hopefully put to good use out in the hills and mountains.

He already has a sponsor, Wapentac will be looking after certain aspects of his health and well being which is really nice. I just have to fend for myself.

If you want to know more about SARDA the Search and Rescue Dog Association have a look at their website here at the SARDA website