We did it again!!

I have been a search and rescue dog handler for 11 years. My first dog was Murphy who worked for me for 9 years retiring in 2014 on medical grounds.  I now have a trainee dog Izzy.  Previously I used to write a blog so to kick off I am going to share some of my previous blogs.  This is what I wrote after one of Murphy’s 2 yearly assessments………………

Before becoming operational a Lowland Search dog and their handler must go through a series of assessments. To begin with their own unit will put them through 2 pre-assessments, one during the day and one at night. If they pass these they are then put forward to the national assessments where the dog and handler are assessed by national assessors. This is undoubtedly one of the most nerve racking days of any dog handlers life, a rite of passage with high stakes. When Murphy and I were assessed for the first time it felt like Murphy and I were on show to the search community and my peers were about to judge us to see if we were good enough to join the operational list. Failing would be such a huge disappointment after many hours work. Lucky for Murph and me we passed first time, during the assessment I had worked Murph so hard making him look under nearly every leaf in the forest. The assessor’s comments at the end of the assessment were, ‘great dog but the handler needs to keep quiet and let him work!!!’

To remain operational search dogs have to be assessed every 2 years and it doesn’t get any easier.  So 4 years on and it’s time to do it again. This is the 3rd time and I am just as scared, more so now, Murph and I have worked on numerous call out and I know he can do the job. Failing and having to come off the call out list would be devastating.

During an assessment assessors can place out 1 to 3 missing people and the handler does not know how many are out there. So off Murphy and I went, 1 hour to search 25 meters either side of a 2km. After searching for about 35 minutes we were well over half way round and we have not found anyone. Doubt starts to creep in - have we missed someone?  

Murphy is a Border collie / Terrier cross so isn’t the biggest of search dogs. As we search the last part of the 2km path there are large amounts of brambles making it almost impossible for Murph to really get in and search.  Nerves really start to kick in now we are nearing the end and have found nobody, I encourage Murph in where I can but I have to trust that if there is someone deep in the undergrowth Murph will pick up from the path and indicate. Then at last a little muddy track appears off to the right “great” I can send Murphy down it and with the wind direction it will give him a good chance of detecting someone in the undergrowth. I send Murph down the path and keep walking listening for his bell, knowing if he goes off the track he has found someone.  The bell doesn’t appear to leave the track but suddenly Murph comes running at full speed at me and jumps up hitting me (his indication he has found). I am so focused on ensuring we search the undergrowth it didn’t occur to me that someone could be hiding on the little muddy track. My first thought is I am over working him, and he is getting frustrated so he has given me a false alter. I turn to tell him to ‘get on’ and see his face the glare he gives me I know he has found. I ask him to ‘show me’ and off he runs leading the way down the path and there he is the first and only misper.  We held our nerve and passed again and this time the comments are not ‘great dog shame about the handler’ but what a ‘great partnership” we are.  Me and my boy have done it again!!  Being a dog handler has led to some of my best and most proud moments.