Search & Rescue

Certification Evaluation

I’m not really one to drag things out, so WE PASSED. Yep, all four of us. Kinsey and me, Rook and Tim, found all five victims. It was a long weekend in Indianapolis, with two four hour plane rides, a three hour time change, dog walks and good food. It was my first time visiting the city, and I tried a Waffle House, checked out Garfield Park and White River State Park, and meet a lot of great people. That’s something I love about training dogs, the opportunity to travel to places I’d never see otherwise. On to the real reason we were there…the test…


We were the last two testing teams on the final day. The test was two piles of huge slabs of concrete, with cement vaults, metal pipes, crushed cars and wooden pallets. There are anywhere from four to six victims total, with distractions of food and clothing buried throughout the pile. The tests are timed, twenty minutes for each pile, with multiple evaluators. This test also had ten people learning how to evaluate (shadow evaluators) and platforms for spectators, so there were a number of people watching us work. Not that it stressed me out or anything. :/

I tested first on limited, meaning I stand in a marked area, and cannot leave it until my dog barks three times. It took Kinsey five minutes to alert. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you’re standing in a marked square, unable to move, wondering what your dog is doing up on a pile you’ve never seen, it’s a really really really long time. As soon as she had her third bark, (An alert is not official until the dog barks three times.) I said my dog has an alert and ran up to her. I flagged the victim, and sent her again. She showed interest in a crushed car, but didn’t alert, so I called her back to me and sent her to the opposite side of the pile. There, she had her second alert. I ran across the pile and flagged the second victim, and then sent her back toward the car where she’d shown interest. She went, but came back to me. I was sure there was another victim below the crushed car, so I told her to search again and waved her toward the car with my hand. She turned and looked at me and barked. She was telling me, very clearly, I’m done. I found both victims, no one else is there, and STOP telling me to go back to a place with no victim. So, I asked my evaluator the time, 17:58, and said, “Kinsey is telling me she’s done. I’m calling it.” She said, “Good job reading your dog.”



Pile two, full access, looked HUGE. Like, how am I going to cover that in twenty minutes? I checked the wind with my bottle of baby powder, and sent Kinsey from the corner of the pile, downwind. First thing she did was stop and gaze at the trees across the way, hoping to see a squirrel. I told her to SEARCH in my firm voice, and she got back on task. She went to the far corner of the pile and seemed very interested, but then looked up as Rook alerted on his first victim just across the road at the limited access pile. It took her a second to refocus, but she turned away from Rook, started wagging and alerted. I hustled to her, slipped down a huge slab of concrete, slammed my arm, kept going. I flagged the first victim on pile two, sent her through the meat of the pile, and she had alert number two in less than ten minutes. Then I sent her again, up the middle and she had alert number three. I flagged the victim, told my evaluator that was my fifth alert total, and called the pile at thirteen minutes forty-two seconds.

I went back to sit in the car and wait for Rook and Tim to finish, and just to breathe for a minute. Rook was much faster than Kinsey on the full acess pile, I could hear him barking as I tested, but he struggled with the second victim on the limited access because it was a deep hole and he had a hard time pinpointing the scent. Tim had to recall him and send him back again before he would bark. But he did, with just over a minute left, and Rook had all five too.


After the test, of course, Tim and I tried to figure out if our dogs alerted in the same places. The evaluators don’t tell anyone the results until the last dog runs and they’ve had a chance to meet. Since we ran last, it wasn’t that long of a wait, but a million scenarios ran through my head. Did she have a false alert? Did we miss anyone?  Where did Rook bark? Was it the same place Kinsey barked? I didn’t feel relieved until they called my name and handed me a certificate. Then I had a fleeting sense of euphoria followed by dinner at a diner and a splitting headache.

What a weekend.

What an amazing pair of dogs.



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