Monday, February 3, 2014

You Should Be So Lucky, Redux

The next generation of AMRG canine searchers shows how it is done.

If you are lucky enough to be conscious when the search team finds you, this may be what you see just before life gets a whole lot better.


This video shows some of what I look for in an operational SAR dog: a robust understanding of the goals of his work, and an assertive commitment to communicating with his handler. With real understanding -- cognitive mastery -- comes flexibility and robustness. An animal that is simply conditioned to perform a sequence through a stylized stimulus-response chain won't have either.

It takes years of training to develop a dog and handler into partners working towards a shared and mutually-understood goal.

When Nico first came to us, his handler Jennifer had plucked him from a looming death sentence at a local shelter.

Seems he was, you know, dangerous.


What he was, in addition to "a young male working dog locked in a box in a kennel of yapping idiots," was an ignoramus.

A year or so old, of obviously good working breeding, and no one had taught him anything.

He liked to bite rocks.

That pretty much covers his hobbies and interests at that point.

He had no idea how to greet another dog. His approach to Pip -- in her teens, judgey by nature, and, unknown to us, beginning to feel the effects of the cancer that would kill her in a few months -- was to rush straight at her and mouth her on the top of the neck.

And Pip, never a forgiving sort, said "He's just ignorant. He'll learn."

So we said yes to Jennifer, and Jennifer said yes to Nico, and Nico said yes to a mission in life, which is what all the rudeness and rock-obsessing had been about.

But it took about two years of constant training to get there. No fairy tale "ending" because we are never done. The reward for getting there is the continued hard work it takes to stay there.

Once again, you should be so lucky.


  1. I love your blog, and I love the work you and your SAR dogs do. I'm incredibly thankful there are people out there willing to give up their time to do this important job.

  2. This is inspiration for me, to stick with the program with my own ignorant, pushy, high drive pound find. We're a year in and getting better every day.

  3. Wonderful to see, especially hearing of his start. How rewarding for all involved.

  4. What a good dog, what a good team! Watching working dogs of all stripes do their jobs well, with enjoyment of the job and such clear team work can literally bring happy tears to my eyes.

    Not that it just did. That's from allergies, or dust, or something...


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