What do avalanche dogs do in the summer?

Just as most of the human ski patrollers begin to transition into other seasonal jobs for the summer, our canine patrollers are getting ready to change jobs as well. Yesterday we began transitioning our dog teams into some of the skills they will continue to develop over the summer. Our teams had a final training season yesterday aimed at developing a bark indication. An indication is what we call the action a dog is trained to do to indicate the source of human scent under the snow, and for most avalanche rescue dogs this is digging. The combination of energetic digging with repeated barking is an even better indication that aids a handler searching in conditions with diminished visibility from blowing snow, long distances, terrain, or darkness. A bark indication is also a reliable indication for dogs working in other search and rescue disciplines such as; disaster search, wilderness area search, and human remains detection.

Our dog teams continue to cross train through the non winter months with Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs (www.asard.org) in search disciplines that will compliment their winter jobs. This also includes lots of obedience and agility training, socialization, drills to increase ranging (the ability for a dog to work away from the handler), and motivational drills called “runaways” that keep the game of hide and seek going year round.

The following video is a demonstration of a drill called the Bark Barrel. The goal of the drill is to entice the dog with its reward during a runaway much in the same way a dog is taught to indicate human scent by digging in the snow. The hole is closed with a wooden door which a dog can obviously not dig through. The frustration from being kept from the reward leads the dog to bark at the buried subject, thus beginning to indicate the location of human scent behind the door. Ideally next season our dogs will bark while they dig. Barking will also become the primary indication for non-snow disciplines.

Watch a rescue dog at work 

Video by: Brian McGorry. (Some wind noise present in video)

The dogs would like to give a howl out and thanks to all of you who contributed and supported our efforts. This includes Diamond Animal Hospital, Redpaw Dog Food, Orthopedic Physicians of Anchorage, BP, Girdwood Forest Fair Committee, Girdwood Pets, Ruffwear, Chugach Flyer, and of course the Alyeska Resort Management, Ski Patrol, and Snow Safety.

Also a special thanks to our devoted auction buyers who threw down high bids at the Annual Ski Patrol Auction Fundraiser: Macky and Lauri Derrick, Jannet Platt, Heidi Provencher, Shawna Wilson, John Eldred, Debra Reinwand, Natalie Osborne, Christina Anderson, Salley Huntley, Branch Haymans, and Garth McPhie.

We hope to see you all next year at the Ski Patrol Auction on December 7, 2013!


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