I have been involved with training and working labrador retrievers since 1991, and commenced training a dog for search and rescue in 2006.
When I started training Liffey for search and rescue I nearly despaired. She was so good at fnding people, and really enjoyed her work, but she would not bark. Fortunately Don suggested that I find another way of indication for her and after considerable research (I discussed alternative indication methods with experienced handlers both here in Ireland and in the UK and read about the ‘bringsel’ method used by search dog handlers in Europe) Liffey and I have together achieved a reliable indication of a find.
Liffey genuinely likes people and will find a person herself, performing her search pattern with little intervention from me. To make sure of good area coverage, I have taught her to respond to directional control away from me and so don’t have to walk so far myself. She ranges long distances and often makes a find many hundreds of yards from me and out of sight. Liffey is a very gentle dog and on finding a person will give them a very quick nuzzle (sometimes they don’t even notice) and then return to me to grab her ball which I carry attached to my clothing. She then leads me back to the ‘body’, returning to me again and again if I don’t keep up with her (though I try to save her legs at this point by following her to the person as quickly as I can).
Why does she do this? Basically she wants her ball game, and having found that her target person has no ball to play with, she comes to get the ball from me and returns to the person proudly carrying her trophy ready for the game. Well, at least that’s what I think she thinks! Anyway, it works.
Liffey has reached the stage now where her indication is never induced by me and I am confident that she will always tell me when she has located a person. This makes training much more interesting for both of us as we are now working large areas with the body locations never known. The new challenges this presents are more related to me the handler now, as I learn how to make sure the area is covered by Liffey. I also have to learn how to keep her motivated for long periods and how to conserve her energy, especially in hot conditions.
Liz is now training Sceilg, aged 3. Sceilg and Liz took the assessment in March 2010 and Sceilg successfully found 13 people over the two days, hunting for a total of 9 hours. Her hunting prowess was superb with strikes of many 100’s of yards, often unseen by her handler. She consistently indicated these to Liz even though Sceilg had had to run back from out of sight. Since Liz is not part of mountain rescue the team did not pass. They are now awaiting the opportunity to take a lowland assessment so that they may assist in locating missing people in the type of terrain that covers most of Ireland.