Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rock'n the Rubble on October 16

Cooper and I have a date in Tennessee in a couple weeks, to make another attempt at his Type 1/CE for disaster work.  We both fell apart at the last test and that really stung, so I've worked at overcoming that experience.  Cooper knows how to search.  He is good at it.  So, my own feeling of unpreparedness must have gone down the leash to affect him.  To combat that,  we have been practicing training like a test.  I report to the evaluator and cover the checklist.  I have my streamers and puff bottle, my white handkerchief or the vet check.  The victims are deeply buried so that Cooper cannot use his eyes to confirm their visual presence.  I considered that, because we had practiced with victims who could toy reward at the source, when he could not penetrate or see them, he was uncertain.  I call out that my dog has "Focused barking, indicating live human scent."  Reminders of the things I need to do (mark the location, call out to the victim, ask for second dog to confirm and tech rescue) are listed on piece of white tape on my vest. Upside down so that I can read it, of course!  

Cooper barks his alert and I move across the rubble to him.  We play.  I mark the site, verbalize the required statements to the evaluators as well as my deployment plans, considering the wind direction, and send Cooper off to continue his search.  Elizabeth Kreitzler's words echo in my ears, to play more at the source. Make sure that the find is truly rewarding to Cooper.  If I can possibly remember all of this, I should be fine.  I have an incredible team in People and Paws.  They come together to supply victims so that I can prepare, when it is a day that calls for being pretty much anywhere other than buried in a hole covered with concrete and debris.  We have skilled trainers and evaluators who can ensure that the practice is set up to challenge us, and that I can complete my tasks smoothly and confidently.  If it becomes second nature, the only thing I need to do is watch my dog and consider a search strategy.

The final exercise for Cooper was an on-lead perimeter search of a full access pile.  For the police dogs, this is a patrol route exercise.  Cooper knows this well.  We move slowly in heel position as he sniffs, and when he has detected scent, he pulls across my body to prevent further movement.  I should be able to rifle-sight between his ears to his nose and know exactly the source of the odor. What is amazing to me is that, despite safety officers on the pile, he can tell the difference between the buried scent and those safeties.  A dog's nose is truly beyond belief.  Cooper hit that one perfectly.

Today I feel pretty darned good about our test.  I haven't seen the pile in Tennessee and no one I know is familiar with it, but I expect Cooper to search no matter how it presents.  He is a monkey on rubble, balancing and crossing the impassable. We can do this! I have a great dog and a great team.