by Sonia Evers
I have started meeting the neighbours around Warrington (the ones with the larger tracts of land at least!), as I knock on their doors and ask to use their land to train my dog Badger on.
I am training Badger as a tracking/trailing dog for Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR). If we are successful in our training, when someone becomes lost Badger and I will go to the place where they were last seen, pick up their trail and follow it until we find them. Like all good things, this training takes time -- search dogs usually take between18 months and three years to train. When dog and handler are trained, both must pass rigorous tests before the dog and handler team is deemed 'operational' and allowed to go on searches. We have three operational search dog teams in Dunedin at the moment, and each has found at least one person.
A tracking or trailing dog locates the lost person (called a 'subject') by following scent left on the ground. The smells that the dog follows are made up of human scent, which is left by the 40,000 skin cells (called 'rafts') that a person sheds every minute, and also by ground scent, which is composed of the crushed vegetation, earth, bugs, etc. where someone has walked, and the transference of smell from one area to another as a person walks. A tracking dog keeps its nose in the prints and follows the person footstep by footstep, whereas a trailing dog follows the overall scent of the track, so may work in the track, or to one side of it. Another kind of search dog is an air-scent dog. They use the smell of the skin rafts in the air to locate the subject; the three Dunedin dog teams are air-scenters.
Badger is 3/4 labrador, 1/4 springer spaniel. He is a real joy to live with (as long as he's had exercise!). He is an energetic wee thing (he climbed a five-foot gate today, so he could play fetch with me!), who loves tracking, fetch, tug-of-war, snuggles on the couch and long walks on the beach. He's about nine and a half months old now, and we've been training since he was seven weeks old. At the moment, we are doing 100-200 metre long tracks in ankle-length or shorter grass. We are ready to make the tracks longer, but need some larger areas to train in, hence the aforementioned door knocking. If you have a paddock or two that we could use some time, please give me a ring at 482-1780 or 022-6241055. We'd both really appreciate it.