It’s a dog’s life

It’s been nearly 6 months since I last wrote an article about Megan and my battle to turn her into a search dog. Since that time Megan has grown stronger, quicker and her enjoyment for searching has grown and grown. In comparison, all that’s happened to me is that my hair has thinned and receded further. I am positive that this is more than co-incidental.

When I last wrote, Megan had passed her first major challenges; her registration (obedience) and stock tests. To me this seems like it happened years ago and not the few months it has actually been. Megan’s development has continued at a fairly steady pace. There have been the inevitable two steps’ forward and one step back though. Despite this through perseverance and pig-headedness we have progressed.

Megan now associates her jacket with ‘going to work’ as soon as I put it on her, you can tell she knows exactly what to do. The previous tactic of getting her over excited before searching is no longer required. Indeed, if I do try and wind her up, she doesn’t shy away from giving me a nip on the nose. Megan is now working larger (5 minute areas) without knowing where the bodies are her indication is spontaneous and un-missable and her ability to air-scent has advanced remarkably in the last couple of weeks.

When attending the last national SARDA course I was told that we were ready for an indication test. The indication test marks the next major step in a search dog’s development. The test is designed to identify whether, once a dog has located a body, it will return and indicate to the handler spontaneously. The test is done in such circumstances that the handler is not able to know what the dog is doing once it is off and searching. For my test, four bodies were placed onto the moor in the middle of the night. I was allowed to place a jacket on Megan (so that she knew she was searching) and use a personal head lamp so that I could see where I was going. To say I was nervous wouldn’t quite cover it, I was bricking myself. If Megan were to visit a body and not indicate to me, we would fail and another bad mood would be on the horizon. Megan performed faultlessly, three good finds and three text book indications later we’d passed (even though she did trample a couple of the bodies in the excitement). I didn’t have to go for the fourth body because of the quality of her work.

We’ve now moved up to stage 2 with a whole new set of challenges. The areas grow bigger and longer length wise. Even more challenging is that it’s now my turn to start and learn. Search techniques with a dog and how scent moves across areas being the order of the day. Teaching a dog is one thing, trying to teach me is quite another. I wish the instructors the best of luck.

My thanks again go to Malc Bowyer, Izzy Manning, Ian Bunting and John Coombes who have been there to offer support and give encouragement when things have not gone as I would have liked and Gemma who has given me emotional support and coped with my awful moods when I’ve come home from a particularly bad training session.

I also have to thank those members of the team who have volunteered to come out and body for us on Sunday’s. Bodies are vital to the development and ongoing training of the dogs. I hope to see members continue to volunteer the occasional Sunday morning. For those of you who haven’t been yet, give dogging a go. You never know, you may like it.

Dog handlers: The Peak District is crying out for new dog handlers. If you think you and your family can devote the time, energy and financially support a dog, come and get involved. Ask any of the current handlers for advice/ information.

Dave Mason

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