Friday, 21 September 2018

Search and Rescue Dog training

There's a lot of discussion about headlamps. That's the first thing you notice when you're hanging out with Mountain Rescue people after dark. One gets the feeling that there is a headlamp pecking order, with the number of lumens being key to positioning.

However, what this group of Mountain Rescue volunteers really care about are their dogs. Once a week, Swaledale and Cleveland Mountain Rescue teams meet up on the army training ranges above Hudswell to train their search and rescue dogs. Leaping out of the cars into the rain, all the dogs are super keen: all collies except for one spaniel ("I take my hat off to anybody who can train a spaniel to be a search and rescue dog", says somebody).

It is wet this night. And the gloaming is fast approaching. Hence the headlamps, making the constant rain sparkle in front of people's faces.

Tim Cain with Cassie, and Ian Speirs with Ollie are both from Swaledale Mountain Rescue, and their dogs race about excitedly with the little fluorescent jackets with lights attached ("red for port and green for starboard"). The "dogsbodys" head out into the gathering darkness with their ponchos and roll mats: these people are rather special volunteers, whose job it is to lie in the undergrowth in the dark and the wet and await rescue by eager dogs. In summer such a job might be quite pleasant, but on a grim autumn night like this you have to have some respect for somebody willing to sit outside for a couple of hours.

For those who don't know, search and rescue dogs don't do it because they want to help you: they find you because they think they're playing a game, and they want to please their handler and receive a reward. As efficient and well trained as they might be, it's all just a bit of fun to them, and that was obvious, watching eager little green and red lit collies tearing around the damp moorland.

All the dogs were impressive, and Ollie has managed to find people for real during search operations.

After the training, the team (dogs included) retired to the Holly Hill inn to enjoy some chips. As well trained as all the dogs were, they all still looked up expectantly for errant chips.