Sunday Morning: Working a Search Dog
I live in the Inland Empire in Southern California, and the summers are hot as Hades. So, if I want to work dogs I have to get up and get going. My goal is to be out of the house before seven, and this Sunday I made it. I loaded up Kinsey, Rook and Quincy and we went out to a local field to practice directional control.
One of the skills a search dog needs is to be able to go to the left, right or back on command. We tell our dog where to search in case there are multiple dogs working a pile or victims are suspected in a specific area. In order to train this skill, we start on platforms. I have three two foot by two foot wooden squares that are raised about six inches off the ground. I start in my backyard with “go out” from a couple of feet away, and as soon as the dog’s rear end hits the platform, I throw the toy. Then I show the dog back, left and right separated by a couple of feet.
When introducing a new skill, I do my best to practice daily, for only ten minutes or so at a time. For dogs, short periods of consistent practice yield best results.
Now, however, we need more space. For Rook to pass the Fundamental Skills Assessment (FSA) he needs to be able to go left, right and back to platforms placed twenty-five yards away from me (Well, Tim actually, since he isn’t my dog.) and twenty-five yards apart, and my backyard isn’t that big. So, it’s off to the field we go.
To make it challenging for both dogs, I put one on a down stay while the other runs from platform to platform. For search dogs, this is the ultimate down stay test. It makes them CRAZY to see another dog working, let alone getting a toy. Both Rook and Kinsey can do it, but OH BOY is it hard.
Since Quincy is spoiled, she gets to hunt ground squirrels and look for food while I make the working dogs, um, work.
At this point, Rook can do all the directions at about twenty feet apart. But, go to a new field, add a couple of feet, and he starts spinning and barking like he has no idea what “over” means. All of a sudden he can’t understand me because the platform was a bit further over!!?? I try not to feel frustrated, and remind myself that we’re in a new place and that makes it a challenge for him as well, but it’s hard when they’re so smart and then you change the tiniest thing and they lose their minds. Dogs. I took a deep breath, stepped closer to the platforms and it clicked for him. He ran over and sat like he knew what I wanted all along.
Kinsey, so crazy to work she was jumping out of her skin and scooting out of her down stay when I wasn’t looking, was up next. She’s easy, knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s my sweet girl.
Then it was free time.