The SARDA England winter skills course for Trainee Search Dog Maya
Whilst this may not seem entirely relevant, there have been notable avalanches in the Peak District (In the Chew Valley, at Crowden Brook, and in Winnats Pass), and on Kinder, during a bad winter, it is entirely possible that a lost walker takes shelter behind a wall or in a grough and gets covered in snow overnight. Whilst this is purely for training for now, once Maya has become a graded search dog, both her, and her handler could be asked to deploy anywhere in the country, there could be a chance she’s called on to put her skills to good use and help out at an avalanche in the Lakes or Scotland. Additionally, one of the benefits of teaching a young dog a new skill, is an increase in the drive of the dog, which will help all aspects of future training.
At Maya’s stage in her training, where she currently does not have a return (where she will come back to her handler after making a find to tell him), it is an ideal time to introduce avalanche work, as ideally a dog should dig at the location of the scent that it has found, and not return to their handler, in case it cannot find the potentially very weak smell again. As well as this, the advice and training her handler received in how to care for his dog in harsh winter conditions will be invaluable further down the line.
Initially, it was important to ensure that Maya was happy working in a confined space, so she had the opportunity to play in a plastic tunnel firstly with her handler, and then a body (a volunteer who likes to hide from dogs, and plays with them once they’re found).
Then there was a problem! This year has been really bad for snow in Scotland, and there really wasn’t very much to play with, and certainly very little within a short walk! As a result, the tunnels were carried up to what little snow there was, with the aim of blocking them up with some snow, to encourage the dogs to dig.
Initially, Maya took a little while to figure out how to get to her toy with the body, but with some gentle encouragement she soon sorted herself out!
Whilst the tunnel work was going on, some hardy folk went exploring and some some snow was found up in Corrie na Ciste, a 40 minute walk from the car park, with some partially dug snow holes, which only needed a little work to make usable for dog training.
By now, Maya was fairly proficient at locating the buried bodies, and digging in to get at them and her toy!
Due to the number of handlers on the course, it was decided to split the groups, and luckily more snow was found at Ciste Mhearad, a north facing corrie, 10 minutes walk from the top of the funicular railway. They were exceptionally generous, and offered to take both handlers and their dogs up to the top station!
The course was invaluable to both Maya and her handler, and stands them in good stead for future work.
Maya’s handler would like to thank:
- The bodies! The week wouldn’t have happened without their dedication to laying down in cold dark places to play with a dog.
- SARDA England for organising the course.
- The numerous handlers from SARDA England for providing training and support through the week.
- Dave Howarth from Kendal Team and SARDA Lakes for training and support.
- Cairngorm Funicular Railway for providing transport up to the top of Cairnform.