Today I headed down and met up with Megan and Gabby for some practice in wilderness searches. When first training a 'air scent' dog we do something called 'runaways'. These are short, easy sessions in which a victim runs away with the dog's toy. This is all done in sight of the dog, and at first is very simple. The idea is to get the dog to want to find their toy, and in doing so also find the person. As they progress they start to associate the toy with the scent of a person.
Gradually runaways get harder and harder, forcing the dog to rely more on scent than sight. Today we did a couple simple runaways and then progressed to more difficult searches. Hugo is being trained to do a 're-find'. This means that when he locates a person he will come back to his handler and give an alert. In his case this is a bark alert. When he barks at me I then give him the "show me" command and he will lead me back to the victim. This is very important when searching large areas where the dog may range far ahead or be out of sight due to thick vegetation.
Hugo was doing very nicely with his re-finds with only a little prompting from myself. We also did a blind search where he did not watch the person run away: but he still found them! While we are working in very small areas right now, Hugo is learning important skills that will later be put to the test when searching large areas. What a fun activity that will hopefully lead to a very important job!
At the end of the training session I got to do lunch with Gabby, Megan and Paris! Such a treat especially when Paris heads off for formal training in less than a week. All in all it was a great day!