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Setting up the runaway problem: the toy hand-off. Edna has made it clear that she prefers her floppy disc over other toys. My husband, David, was that day’s volunteer. (I think he must have spied a squirrel in this shot …)
David runs away, teasing Edna with her toy. I hold Edna, asking her "Where is he? Where did he go?" She is a nimble little thing, and I have to be careful or she pops straight up in the air to escape.
David runs away, teasing Edna with her toy. I hold Edna, asking her “Where is he? Where did he go?” She is a nimble little thing, and I have to be careful or she pops straight up in the air to escape.
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I run with Edna, (holding my pack so it doesn’t slap me to death!) and David plays with her as soon as she arrives. She likes to tug for awhile, and also to retrieve the thrown disc.
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The reward! Fun, fun and more fun.
Volunteer's-eye-view of training a search dog!
Volunteer’s-eye-view of training a search dog!

Now that Edna has a couple of weeks’ worth of puppy runaways behind her, I plan, next week, to teach her the complete, very important runaway/refind package: the recall to me and her “alert” signal, which is a bark — which I taught her to give on command, a few months ago.

The runaway/refind is the most critical part of the wilderness airscent search dog’s training. Pretty much any pet dog can find a human via scent. A certified SAR dog must, in any situation, under any duress, return and “tell” the handler it has just found a person. This often is challenging for several reasons: rough terrain can be tough to power through; also, when the dog is tired after several hours of searching, it can be difficult to remember a trained behavior sequence; and, often the dog must find its handler by scent, because the lost person they just found is out of sight of the handler, and on the downwind side – the “wrong” side.

After “telling” the handler with some sort of signal — a jump, a bark or a sit, for example — the dog must remember how to return to the lost person and lead the handler in, no matter how many times it takes to run back and forth between the two people.

We practice the runaway/refind sequence in every search training session to keep it strong, to assess any weaknesses, and also – because the dogs LOVE them, and it’s part of a great reward system.

— All photos by my son, Jackson, who has been hiding for search dogs for about 17 years! He now is an official member of Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad, and accompanied me, my SAR dog Levi and our team on Jackson’s first actual search this summer (2014) —

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