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Team Search Dogs – Past, Present and Future

Toggle's story

Toggle a blue merle Border Collie came to live with me when she was little more than a ball of fluff in March 1997.

We registered as trainee search dog team with SARDA England (the Search and Rescue Dog Association).We graded as a "Novice Search Dog" team at an assessment in the Lake District in January 2000. After 3 years of training we could now be "Called Out" to search for real. What a way to start a new millennium. When the time came for an upgrade assessment early in 2002 it was clear that she couldn't run up hill as well as she had been doing a year or so earlier. "Mr Veterinary" diagnosed the arthritis that had developed in her hips.

Toggle had a great scenting ability and a very reliable indication. I knew she would always find a way to tell me if she had found someone. When she made a find Toggle would still run back and tell me; as she got older and more experienced she would stand, catch sight of me and bark and bark and bark until I could get to her. Toggle was a bright dog, we could search and we made "finds".

Toggle

Toggle

We continued as a Search Dog team. The press headline "Rescue Dog finds missing. woman/walker/man" became a well-used headline in the local press. I particularly remember a guy who had fallen from a cliff near Sutton Bank, one of those calls in the middle of the night. We found him amidst brambles at the bottom of the crag, hurt but very much alive. It was 20th June, midsummer and we watched the sunrise on mid-summers day as we packed- up the last of the kit. One man (me) and his dog (Toggle) and a great group of Mountain Rescue friends, at the end of a search, a "dog find" and a technical rescue and a mightily relieved family off to comfort the son in hospital, whilst we watched the sunrise. Mountain Rescue probably doesn't get any more rewarding.

Toggle retired in 2007, her arthritis had developed to a point that she was not sufficiently agile to meet the demands of life as a Search Dog. On her retirement she received a "Certificate of Appreciation" from the Cleveland Search and Rescue Team.

Toggle is now very old lady and takes life at a very steady pace. From her bed she can watch me go out, torch and boots in hand in the middle of the night, sometimes she looks up; mostly she will just keep her head down, eyes closed. I wonder what she is dreaming.

Sadly Toggle passed away in late Spring 2013 - she will be missed by all who knew her.

Search Dog Fearn & Graeme White

Being involved with Mountain Rescue for over 20 years and from the start I had my sights set on becoming a graded search dog handler. After many years I was finally in a position to start training a dog to become a mountain rescue search dog. Normally Mountain Rescue members go for Border collie but I decided to do things the hard way and started looking at springer spaniels.

Search Dog Fearn & Graeme

Search Dog Fearn & Graeme

After many weeks of searching I found the dog I wanted, she is called Fern and is liver & white. Training started with Fern when I was still with the Teesdale & Weardale Mountain Rescue team. Working hard and at times finding things difficult, in January of 2010 I successfully graded as a novice search dog team. Our assessment was undertaken in the Lake District in winter conditions again this made things very hard but very enjoyable.

From that time, we have been on many callouts and carried on with our training. In August of 2011 my family and I, made the decision to move from the North East down to North Yorkshire due to a new job I had started. With this move also came a move in Mountain Rescue Teams, I transferred to Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team and again the callouts keep coming as does the training.

In January 2013 as a search dog team, we achieved full search dog status. This assessment was completed in the Lake District in arduous conditions.

Training a Mountain Rescue Search Dog

Dean McMann is a member of Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team and is currently training a two year old Border collie called Bonnie, to be a Search dog.

Training starts from an early age (puppy stage). This early stage is used to get your dog to socialise with other dogs and people and start with basic obedience then we progress on to a higher standard which includes, walk to heel, on and off the lead over rough ground, send away, recall from distance, down on command from a distance, bark on command, down stay - 5 minutes in sight and 5 minutes out of sight.

Dean & Bonnie

Dean & Bonnie

Once this has been observed by the instructors we then move onto the stock test which includes putting your dog in a pen full of sheep with the shepherd watching to see if the puppy will run with or snap at the sheep. Another test is to throw a toy into the flock and make the dog retrieve the toy and bring it back to the handler. Once this has been completed you are able to move up a stage to indication known as stage one.

Bonnie is now in stage one which involves teaching her to find the body using her sense of smell we call this air scenting, once bonnie has found the body she will bark at the body and return to me and bark, she will the run back to the body and bark for her toy, this is her reward for finding the casualty basically it's all a game of hide and seek for the dog.

All the Handlers are members of the Search & Rescue Dogs Association England (SARDA) a link to the website can be found below.

http://www.sardaengland.org.uk/