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TRSAR Dog Team

SAR Conference, Heber 2013
by Susan Starr

Our usual SAR K9 Conference of the last two years in Flagstaff was combined this year with the state SAR conference in Heber. It was somewhat abbreviated from what we were used to - which was four straight days of classes and fieldwork - down to two days. But in conjunction with the statewide conference, it had to be smaller to be part of the overall format.

The only two participants from TRSAR was myself and Wyman Kendall from the Mounted Posse. We had our dogs entered into the same Friday course, "Tracking and Trailing". This was regular and normal stuff for Ringo and Toulouse, but this was going to be very new for Cassie, Mounted Posse's dog. She is trained in air scenting, but Wyman wanted her to learn nose-to-ground trailing.

Our instructor, Vi Brown, was from "Southwest Rescue Dogs", which is the SAR dog organization from Pima County. She started out with two exercises I absolutely was excited to see: they set off colored smoke bombs on the basketball court to show how scent drifts. Greg Reed and I have talked often about how much we wish we could see scent, as if it was colored smoke and we could watch it drift and pool. This was amazing to see what we had been talking about actually done. The other exercise she demonstrated was the "scatter" of the 10,000 raft cells you lose with every step you take. The instructor had spread out multi-colored glitter in about a two foot path and made each one of us humans try to follow that path. It was a visual demonstration for humans of what a dog's nose "sees".

Then we started to work our dogs. Ringo and Toulouse both did a good job on short, clipped tracks, but they are very used to practicing this sort of track. Then it was Wyman's turn with Cassie. She initially ran the track air scenting and did the whole track very quickly. But then we started to redo the whole track asking her to track/trail, not air scent.

Our instructor at this point was Martin Premble, a K9 police officer and instructor from Kent, England. He is here in the states going about to different SAR conferences getting new information to take back to England. Martin gave us quite a bit of new insight into what we were doing.

Martin and several of us were observing Wyman working Cassie on tracking/trailing and it was a struggle for both the dog and the handler, but with Martin's guidance, both Wyman and Cassie worked the trail, and in time, Cassie got her reward. It took about 25 minutes, but that is a good training track time for a dog that hasn't done real nose-to-ground trailing before.

The next day was training only, no tracking/trailing classes so we set up our own tracks for our dogs. I asked if Martin would observe Toulouse and me doing a track. Bill from La Paz County set me a track, which went around a ball field and into a dense forest area. Toulouse had a good start, but then got "stuck" out on the ball field, meaning he could not figure out how to get beyond the fence. Martin kept telling me Quit talking to your dog! leave him quiet to let him make up his own mind. Martin asked me if my dog was still working and I said he is, so Martin had me bring him back to the last good scent, and then Toulouse went around the outside fence, through the scrub and found Bill in a ravine. Martin's evaluation was my dog was doing well but I needed a lot of work, especially on handling the leash. He was right about that.

The last track I did was with Ringo - I had another SRDI handler, Klaus, set a blind track for Ringo. They normally don't do blind, unclipped tracks, but I asked for one for Ringo, that involved one single problem: go up a fire break, make a turn at the top and don't tell me which way you are turning. The problem for Ringo was to make a committed turn to the left or the right. Ringo started well, but about 100 yards into the track he stopped dead and looked at me. As Martin the Englishman had been trying to reinforce in me, I shut up and waited for Ringo to make a decision. Eventually he turned up the fire break at top speed, make a left at the top and found Klaus about fifty yards away. I was very pleased with my dog who did what was requested: He solved the problem.

This K9 conference was not as intense as the last two I have been to, but I met new people with new ideas and learned a lot. I was very proud of Ringo and Toulouse; those two wild and crazy guys make me look good, while all I am doing is hanging onto a 15 foot leash for dear life. Every step on the path of learning is a good step.



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