When new people come to the K9 SAR world, they’re all about having their dog search. That’s actually not the hard part. Dogs search for things all the time.
The trick, at least with off-lead air scent work, is teaching the dog what to do when it finds the subject. It has to go back, get the handler, give a specific indication that means “found ’em,” and then lead the handler back to the subject.
Ruger does that just fine, so long as he knows where I am. Ruger is a little more thoughtful than either Sierra or Magnum (my first two dogs). When he finds someone he gently tags them with his paw (very cute, I’m told), turns, goes about 20 feet and stops. Subjects are universally convinced he’s listening for me to come crashing through the bush. They report he’s looking for me, and not fooling around.
To an evaluator, that might look like NOT coming back to get me. The solution? Bell on Bob.
Now that Ruger can hear me, he has no trouble coming back and letting me know “found ’em.” He comes screaming up, veers a little to my left, makes the beginning of a U-turn, drops his butt into a momentary sit right in front of me and then is off to the races before I can say “show me.”
I am hopeful that as Ruger gains experience, and some confidence that I’m not going to leave him, I’ll be able to dispense with the bell. I feel a little like Red Buttons in the Longest Day, hanging from the church tower with the bell going “ding-dong, ding-dong” in his head. But it works.