The Beginning: Joining NZLandSAR Search Dogs and Selecting a Puppy
I’ve always had a love for dogs since I was little, having several family dogs growing up. But my desire to someday train a working dog, specifically in the snow and avalanche world, was sparked on a ski trip to Taos, NM in the US many years ago. Seeing those dogs work, and the bond they shared with their handlers was so impressive and awesome – I knew at that point that someday, when the time was right, it was something I wanted to do.
Fast forward to just over two years ago. That’s when I began the process of working with NZLandSAR dogs to become a member, join a team of hard working, dedicated volunteer handlers and supporters, and go through the vetting steps towards becoming a Trainee Handler. It’s not as easy as just selecting a puppy and then jumping into the training – there’s quite a bit of time, hard work, and learning that happens before you bring a little, furry creature into your life. And rightly so.
Bringing a puppy into your life is a huge step in itself, but an even bigger one when you set your sights on training a working dog and know it will take heaps of dedication, consistent training, and lots and lots of patience.
TAOS Avalanche Dogs... big paws and inspiration for Rosko to live up too...
Finally, just over a year ago, I started to look for puppies. Yet another complex endeavour, and somewhat daunting. Not only because I knew that this little ball of fur would be with me for the next decade or so, but also because I knew I had to accept that no matter how much time I put into the selection process, anything could happen and he or she might just not make it in the working dog world. I invested time into reading and researching puppy selection and litter assessments that could be done to test potential aptitude and temperament. I contacted breeders and talked to other handlers about their experiences and what I should be looking for. I found a litter of puppies that peaked my interest and flew to Auckland to meet them. It was such a different experience playing with puppies and selecting one with this training goal in mind versus picking a puppy to have as a family companion. Gut instincts took over and something about the little one with no coloured ribbon tugged at me, and it was that simple. We were going to go on this journey together.
8 weeks old...
My partner, Brad, and I flew back to Auckland a few weeks later, bounced around names, and then brought Rosko home. It was during these travels Brad and I realised just how lucky we might have been with this pup. In anticipation of restless first nights away from his mum and having go on an airplane and be in a new place, he barely made a peep. He quickly understood we were his new pack and trusted us. And that’s where the foundations of our training path began.
Training an avalanche dog, working dog, or any dog for that matter, starts from the very beginning. But not so much around the work that they eventually are going to do. It’s all about building trust and a solid bond between the pup and handler so that when the training starts to become more complex, there are strong foundations to build on.
Thanks so much to Cait and Rosko for sharing their story… keep tuned for more about training an avalanche rescue dog and Rosko’s adventures through the winters!
Cait Hall is a seasoned ski patroller, recently having worked at Mt Cheeseman and Cardrona in the winters, and spends the summer north in Nelson working for an Outdoor adventure company. Rosko is the main star where ever he goes. He is an Avalanche Rescue dog.