Sunday, March 16, 2008

Support a Search & Rescue Dog... Get Lost.

(isn't this a gorgeous poetic photo my friend Greg took?)Oscar and I took part in a Search & Rescue dog seminar this weekend. We are very lucky to train at a school that greatly enjoys the company of a spotty class clown and that is maybe two miles down the road from a junk site that is used in training rescue dogs all up and down the East Coast. NYC K9, Miami K9 - all kinds of big-wig K9 units come to teach their dogs how to save lives. And this is why:

A whole lot of every kind of tricky terrain you can think of - natural rocks, sand quarries, heavy brush, broken down vehicles, wooden scrap, and cement piles. Anything that could happen in any disaster, natural or otherwise, can be found here (okay, I don't think they've figured out how to get lava here, but I'm sure that's only because they wouldn't ask their dogs to work in it). So these training groups come here, hide, and ask their dogs to find them. And that's what we started learning to do.

Here's Oscar in his Search & Rescue uniform rescuing someone.
No? Okay, this was actually a dog who works with FEMA, who happened to be there training. Her handlers took her off to play somewhere, the instructor for our seminar hid somewhere in there (this cement pile was easily two stories high, and none of the people knew where she hid). The handlers waited a bit and asked the dog to find her (with no identifying items).
About three minutes later, she'd climbed up to the top of the pile, wandered around just a bit, then started barking here.
And out popped Stephanie. (By "popped" I mean, it only took two FEMA handlers and the dog to pull her up out of the hole she'd gotten herself into) It was amazing.

One of the other cool things they had at the site was the main reason I knew Oscar would excel at SAR work. My boy is an agile little clown. And they had an agility training set up.

Time after time I've seen dogs struggle with these sorts of things. People always say to me "dogs forget they have back feet" and watching most of them try to walk a ladder for the very first time, I believe it. Some dogs really freak out and shake. Some dogs freeze and need to have their handlers pick up their feet and move them. Some need to be coaxed every step of the way.

And some take off at a run, never missing a step, with their handlers dangling along behind them.

Never forgetting their big grins and wagging tails.

There were a lot of fun obstacles that we haven't seen before - we've done a horizontal ladder, but the rungs were very different on these. The poetic photo at the top was a chain link fence suspended between two platforms about five feet off the ground, and the dogs had to walk across it. The bridge below was very floopy and made loud noises. Not enough to slow my friend down, though.

And is it my imagination, or has someone been doing his "Buns of Steel" videos?

One of the times we went through the course, we got towards the end of the line. The dogs in front of us got a little slow. (Oscar and I were very well behaved and neither of us laughed nor called them chicken) (we thought it, though) After waiting a few minutes, Oscar was sitting at one end of the above platform, decided he was bored and would head for another obstacle. The obvious route (to him, anyway) was jumping off the platform, over my head (which tops off at 5'6"), to the ground. It took a few minutes, but my heart is now beating again, thank you.

We don't have pictures of the attempts to get him to retrieve an item or bark, because both of these tasks were embarrassing.

Oscar is motivated by ME first - he wants to be with me, he wants to be praised by me, he wants to be touching me. And then waaaaaayy down the list, he wants food. He does not care one iota for toys. So for the segment of the seminar that involved the dog finding an item in the woods, we made several attempts at getting him excited by a toy, and then decided that I had to be his item. So there I go into the deep grass, hiding much less successfully than the last tennis ball, and he came to get me. I loved the teacher. Oscar was the only dog that completely bombed at this exercise and she said to me "which is more important - that he doesn't want to find a tennis ball or that he really wants to find a person?"

As for barking to alert that he's found that person... well... He doesn't bark. That is, he can, he just chooses not to. He has a big, booming, scare-the-pants-off-of-you security bark that I hear maybe once a month, if that frequently. He has a "theresadogoverthereandireallywanttogoplaycanimacanipleasepleaseplease" yip that sounds a good bit like what I'd imagine a chipmunk orgy would sounds like. I generally only hear this on walks, and and that's pretty rare too, but I thought we might be able to get this out of him. We didn't. We did learn that when I am buried in rubble, including a large chain link fence that is too heavy for me to lift off, he will run back and forth between me and the person on the other end of the leash, licking both of us madly, and then climb the fence. That's actually another method of alert, called "recall refind" so that's what we would use for him, and that's how he found Stephanie in her tunnel.
It's a very intense training, with competition style tests at each level. We won't go far in it (no point - at four-and-a-half years old, by the time Oscar passed all the tests he'd only have a short time "in the field" before retirement) but he loves school so we'll go as far as we can and still have fun. The seminar was based on a fairly new program, called RH (aka Rettungshundtauglichkeitspruefung) started by the IRO (International Rescue dog Organization) to formalize a standard of training, so that all over the world, any time a dog is called in to work a disaster, the people making the calls know what kind of training each dog has had.

Obviously these groups are founded and organized by German Shepherd fans. Oscar and I very graciously choose not to hold it against them that they spend their time with lesser dogs. This was not at all influenced by the fact that we were the only pit bull team and were in places where the question "where should we hide the bodies" had many plausible answers. Some of my favorite moments were when Oscar was being flirty and slutty and lovin' up on the teacher and she looked at me and said "I've never been this close to a pit bull before but this is delightful!" She may or may not have gotten someone else's tongue in her mouth at that moment, I'm not sure. Other times, when Oscar was being flirty and slutty and lovin' up on other people in the class (are you seeing a trend in my dog's behavior?) and I would try to pull him off of someone's lap saying "honey, they don't think you're as cute as I do" - every time I said that, someone (with their shepherd right there, where they could hear!!) said "Yes we do!"
(please note it took three photos for them to get one of Oscar not climbing in my lap or licking the ear of poor Jack next to us. Notice my straight arms - I'm actually pushing him off me)

It was an amazing weekend and I was kinda hoping he'd be tired enough that I'd get extra sleep today, but he's asking to go for a walk now. Since I hurt all over (and have little dog foot sized bruises all over my body) it'll just be a short one today, and then we'll pick up work for the cancer walk tomorrow. Two weeks to go and I'm 68% to the goal!!!


Blogger Erin said...

wow! that sounds like it was a great day for you guys!

12:45 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Oh, that is so cool!

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Lex said...

that looks like it's right up Oscar's alley. I like the pix. Sounds like you both had a great time!

1:28 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

I wish more owners would spend the time and energy with their dogs like you do. Even if the dog doesn't become a search and rescue or whatever expert, the time spent with the owner and the training will always be good for the dog and the owner!

1:48 PM  
Blogger Kadiddly said...


3:20 PM  
Blogger B-More Dog said...

Good for you and Oscar. Great activity for an active dog and owner, thanks for being such a good dog-mom!

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think being a smart, capable, and agile dog is a good thing, no matter how old he is or how high in the certification process he gets.
He's going to live to be 40 or so, isn't he?

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Joy said...

This looks like it was very neat! Sounds like you both had a great time!

8:36 PM  
Blogger Bess said...

He is such a cutie. I loved seeing his smile in the group photo. Nothing like a dog, hmmm?

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Marie said...

Can I please link to your blog? It is FABulous! (I have two blogs actually. I will send you links upon request.)

Please let me know.

7:13 PM  
Blogger weebug said...

what a neat thing for you and oscar to do!

3:04 PM  

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