Something delicious, I mean, disturbing happened at last training. Grom became a snack.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Training brought out nearly everyone on our team along with a few relatives and new folks interested in checking K9 Search and Rescue out. We were in a secluded area of the national park; a camp area closed for the winter season. It was a gorgeous crisp morning with just enough nip in the air to encourage a hat and light jacket over a sweater. Grom, my little black Malinois, was happily snuggled up in the corner of his crate surrounded by piles of search gear and boxes of our newly printed team calendar.
Our team training began with several dozen donuts brought by, you guessed it, the cop on our team. Boxes of our team calendars were being offloaded from our truck and ripped open to disgorge freshly printed eye candy goodness. As the calendars disappeared into the vehicles, I began trying on our team’s super reflective luxuriantly warm yellow search coats. My SAR coat is an 8 year old Cahart canvas coat I bought for working outside at the zoo. I look like a farmer that somehow got covered in zebra blood and green paint then dragged by an ostrich. (The zebra needed help giving birth and the ostrich was attempting to steal my dropped watch.)
I began to dream of what I was going to spend my holiday money on when I was urged by my husband to get my fanny back to the truck. He rightly believed I was going to write a check for the coat right then and there.
Turns out my husband was shrugging on his pack to take his land navigation evaluation and would be gone for most of the morning. I was left with the dog to train all by my lonesome. Boy, was it a great training day for Grom. He jumped directly into sniffing and peeing on nearly every rock, tree, bush, and blade of grass for the first 3 minutes.
The little furball followed this up with circling a giraffe legged couple out for a long run in the park and promptly forgot about them as he raced past me. My team mate suggested I do not worry that Grom ignored the joggers this early in the dog’s training. Many dogs will likely ignore people who are not laying in the woods or sitting against a tree in the beginning since that is how we train them. Later on, after the dogs really understand what they are supposed to do we will have the “lost person” walk around and do other things.
I filed the information in the back of my mind and watched Grom as he raced across the field in front of me and back into the woods. The black and orange blur zig zagged the field a few more times before finding the hiding human on the edge of the field. Success in just under ten minutes!
Later on, I had someone hide in the woods just off the trail on the way back to the field again. I wanted to see if Grom would race past him to go back to where he found the last person in the field. I wanted to make sure that he starts searching immediately. The little Mal uses his nose, to pee on things in the beginning. Does he use his nose to start searching right away? Grom raced off into the woods and disappeared, crashing through the underbrush. I ignored him and just started walking down the trail. Just about the time I was beginning to worry, he blazed past me down the trail. Grom quickly found our man and raced back to me to bark his head off, another success!
I spent several hours watching other dogs work and hiding for a few of them. A couple dogs searched inside and under a cabin looking for someone hidden there. Scent moves much differently in and around buildings proving quite a challenge to wilderness dogs. While inside, one of the dogs greeted a mannequin with a nose to the crotch. The statues had no people smell, deduct what you wish from the dog’s decision to try and find the scent there!
My husband wandered back into camp with a silly smile on his face and a head full of leaves. He had passed his test and spent some time napping in the woods while hiding for a few dogs. Now my husband can go on searches with me!
At the end of training, we decided a group picture was in order. The last time we took a picture of the group was nearly eight months ago when G-man was still a little puppy. Everyone took their pups out of the car and began to line up against a nice forested backdrop. I trotted Grom in a space between two happy german shepherds. One of them looked like he could be Grom’s older brother. We were all getting ready, but Grom just would not sit down for more than ten seconds. “What is the deal here?” I thought. He can sit and stay for several minutes near other dogs in obedience class. Maybe he is just excited because he was just running free through the woods looking for a person. I began planning to practice obedience work more often in different places in the future when Grom shot in the air like a jack rabbit. That is when I heard the growling bark and turned around in surprise to see Grom’s back leg in the mouth of another dog. My dog looked just as a dog does when someone is trying to clip the nails on his back foot and the dog wants nothing of it. In a blur, the other dog had somehow let go or Grom pulled free and shot forward.
I got up to run Grom away from all of the other dogs. As I was jogging, I pulled Grom’s tug toy out of my pocket and began making happy play noises, attempting to divert his attention to the toy. I did not want him to think I am upset and continued to make happy noises and gestures while quickly examining his leg. The owner of the other dog was horrified. None of us saw it coming. Especially since the dog that snacked on Grom is known for tolerating nearly anything and has taken several pictures with other dogs.
Grom turned out to be just fine. The other dog bit down only hard enough to hold Grom’s foot up so he could not get away. He turned out to only have a few superficial cuts which I easily cleaned with plain water in a full bathtub. Grom was running and playing with his best doggie friend the next morning.
Just goes to show that people have no idea what dogs are saying to one another, especially when no one is focusing on it. Looking back on it, I should taken the hint when Grom refused to sit. Something was going on and I was so focused on posing for a picture that I failed to look at the body language of the dogs around me. All of the dogs were having conversations behind us, and it took some loud noises before any of us stupid humans took notice. None of the dogs are bad dogs, they are dogs just trying to communicate while on a leash and forced to sit down. I wonder if our dogs feel like I had as a kid when you were trying to get the attention of our parents with important information and promptly ignored so the adults could continue on with their boring conversation. One of these days, I am going to find Grom pulling on my pant leg while I am in a deep conversation about the newest phone app with a team member.
I take it as a learning experience. No one gets good at anything when everything goes right. Things have to go wrong in order to really learn anything.