About 6 weeks ago I started training Hugo in search and rescue. Tom and I are both partnering on this training adventure, and both of us will hopefully be certified to work Hugo in different capacities. Right now I am doing the bulk of the cadaver work while Tom is focusing more on wilderness, with a plan to shift to avalanche once the season starts. However we both attend training sessions and are learning to work with Hugo in every capacity.
Today we went and worked on a pigeon hole board. This is a long sheet of plywood with evenly spaced round holes cut into it. There is a top row, middle row, and bottom row. Behind the holes are short plastic tubes that are open both in the front and the back. The idea here is to bring a dog who has been exposed to cadaver scent and start teaching him that the reward comes from the source. This is to create both a reliable alert and a loyalty to their find. In wilderness training the same principle is applied, but with a live victim it is easier to have their reward waiting for them.
Once the dog understands the principle behind looking for the scent, a helper will move the source and place it in a different hole each round. The handler will stand back and give the dog their search command. Once the dog starts searching it is the helpers job to keep the dog focused on the search and to reward the dog from inside the hole once they alert on the scent. Hugo's alert is a down at the source. Today was only his second time working the pigeon hole board and he was already figuring out his alert!
After a couple successful rounds on the board we took him out into a more natural setting where a source had been placed in a tree low to the ground. It was a very easy set-up, but a very big step for Hugo. This was the moment where we would see if he had truly learned the unique scent and would seek it out. After giving him the search command we waited anxiously as he started to sniff the area. He was working pretty fast when he caught the scent as he went past the tree. His head snapped around and he went right to the source!!! We were very excited and praised Hugo. He did not give an automatic down, but for the first search in a new area he was awesome! We will continue to work on his alerts and search. One of the evaluators said we could possibly test Hugo in his Cadaver 1 certification this fall as well as in Wilderness, with an avalanche certification following early winter.
Can't wait to continue working with Hugo and watching his quick progress!