Search Dog Gives Handler His Opinion of Her

The dog and I were enjoying a sweltering hot day in the spots of shade under a thin pine tree this past weekend. A black dog and blond girl on antibiotics with a warning to stay out of the sun were just hanging out. Both of us were panting. The temperature was in the nineties and I don’t believe the humidity could be much higher in the Amazon.
Every spot of sun that hit my skin began to itch and burn after only a few minutes. I believe I know what it must be like be a vampire, and not the kind that sparkles.
Lyme disease (or whatever it is that I have) treatment aside, we began training day by hitting the ground running. Our leader for the day laid everything out with military precision. She had everyone beginning the instant we climbed out of our cars. People and dogs began scurrying around like ants just discovered invading a picnic basket; I was loving it.

My pup, Grom, was imprisoned in the shaded car in his crate with all the doors and back opened, battery operated fan going, a full bowl of water, keys on my car seat, and a watchful group of people. I got to go out and have fun without him. Boy, did he hate that.  He could not complain too much, he got a free play session soon after arriving on site.

Our task was to navigate to a set of coordinates and retrieve a backpack hidden there using only map and compass.   Everything had changed about the area since the map was last updated. Ponds and swamps were created, others were drained, and cornfields were planted.  We found the little orange backpack after ignoring everything on the map except for the contour lines following the terrain.  Most maps haven’t been updated in decades.

Grom was ready to train after my little walk out in the woods.  I could barely get his search vest on his little black bouncing body.  He pulled me like a sled dog all the way to the site we chose for training.  Well, except for the three times he decided to pee on something.  How much water can a dog hold anyway?  All three puppies were brought out at the same time to the little trail through the woods.  This was a new distraction for the pups, usually the dogs come out one at a time.  New is good, lots of people hike out in the woods with their dogs.  Last thing I need is a search dog that will not work because there is another dog around; or a clown on a pogo stick for that matter.

I was asked if I would bet my lunch and half my search gear that Grom would bark on command no matter what.  I would bet my lunch of delicious blue cheese, brie, fresh bread, fruit, and meat, but no way was I going to bet my gear.  This woman seemed like the sort that would come up with something incredibly strange like suspending me 20 feet up in a tree or maybe she kept a gorilla suit in her car.  I was not going to risk it.  She asked me to lay face down on the ground and ask him to bark.  Whew!  We had practiced that one a lot.  The little guy paused and then gave me several great barks.

Grom watched as one dog trained in the woods with her jump indication.  My dog was getting excited.  Another pup present who used to bark at nearly every dog he saw, watched on silently.  Things were going well.

Our trainer for the day suggested we all step back to having the subject, or missing person, hold the dog while we call him back to tell us where the person is.  We were just starting to work on him starting at me and finding an easily hidden subject; aka a “runaway.”  Stepping back a step is much better than making the mistake and going forward too quickly.  I figure, if my dog is getting bored with a training step, then I am not introducing enough variables into the equation.  Those could be distance, new place, new person, new time of day, new weather situation, strange things a person is wearing, other dogs, horses, parrots, clowns, noises…

gorilla suits.

G-man did well.  He needed a bit of reminding to bark the first time.  Our trainer suggested giving him his commands on the first run.  Then, immediately do a second run with fewer hints and let him work it out.  We did a speedy four runs letting the dog win his toy on the last one.  We were directed to take the dog’s gear off and let him rest and drink while the other dogs worked. Grom pranced back to our waiting area proudly displaying his toy in his mouth.

Once there, he dropped the toy and sucked 30 ounces of water down like a camel.  Then, promptly plopped down in the shade next to my foot.  That did not last for long.  Another dog barking sent Grom bouncing like a rubber ball.  It took several minutes for him to realize it was not his time to play before he settled down again.

I was standing around, waiting for my turn when someone said, “Grom just peed on you.”

“What?”  I said in a perplexed tone.  Maybe I was going delirious.  Perhaps I was becoming dehydrated and heard that wrong.

“He just lifted his leg on your right pant leg.”  She said with a smile.

I looked down to notice that indeed my right pant leg was soaked from the knee down.   Dogs are such harsh critics.

My car had the last laugh, however.  It needed a jump after I unwittingly left the keys in and the lights running.

That sent me right to a blueberry ice cream sundae on the way home.  So there!

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