Bring Me a Shrubbery!


Jen’s Open Field Test

Wait, does this lady have to take the same test twice?  If you have already read my husband’s blog posting about his Open Field Test, you might be confused.  Search and Rescue dogs are teamed up with a single person, their handler.  They will not work for just anyone.  The dogs and their human partners form a working relationship.  Grom has the challenge of trying to work with two people.  This is like trying to learn two different languages for him.  So, he must be tested for everything twice.  Once with me and once with my husband.

Frankly, I was worried about today’s test.  It was to be humid, with possible thunderstorms and in the mid eighties.  This is not a good set of conditions for a black dog with no tree cover; Grom can overheat quite quickly if I do not watch him closely and keep him cool. I was prepared to take my time with lots of puppy breaks.
I arrived at the meadow thirty minutes early and decided to hit the corner store for some junk food and refreshments.  I know my evaluator likes bottled tea, but could not remember exactly which kind, so I bought four.  I arrived at the scene and let G-man do his business out in the field.  My evaluator called out something I could not quite make out.  Seconds later a pack of small terriers came charging up the dirt road, barking at my poor pup.  Uh oh, is this going to be like my husband’s test with the happy puppy attack half way through? Grom hurried to finish his business and quickly scrambled into his crate. What a wimp!  I made happy noises at the obviously friendly little dogs as their owner came jogging around the corner apologizing as she hurried by.
I gathered my gear and had a pow wow with my evaluator.  Once done with the briefing I was handed a laminated map.  One side had a Google satellite image of the area not to UTM scale and the other side a UTM scaled topographical map of the area.  I grabbed the dog’s toys and suited him up.  He spun around in his crate twice with excitement.
The only way into the search area without climbing a fence was a gateway halfway down the fence line.  I zig-zagged through while Grom inhaled the many horse and doggie smells from last weekend’s steeplechase race. I ask Grom to take a nice relaxing rest in the shade while I gather my wits.  Looking down at my shoes catching sight of my radio, I remember to do a radio check.
“Base, radio check.”
to which my evaluator responds,
“Base wants to know who you are.”
 “Base this is team Alpha, radio check.”
I was reminded to identify myself as my unit number and to tell them how many people are in my group.
“Base this is Unit 25, par two.  Starting task.”
“Base notes unit 25 starting task.”

I cut right to walk down the fence line for my very first sweep of the area, my first mistake.  Since the entrance started in the middle of my fence line I should have turned left first to start my grid.  I left a gap in my search area that included two horse jumps someone easily could have been behind.  Ignorant of my mistake, I went on to the end of the fence and went up to do a 75 meter spaced map

At the end of my first pass I encountered a much larger area.  I decided to split it up into two.  I kept talking so that the evaluator knew what I was thinking, fodder for later.   The stream ran through the lower sector allowing for many opportunities for Grom to cool off, and smell like a swamp.  I checked my surroundings for landmarks and started in the lower section hoping it would be downwind from anyone in the upper section.  The fence line from my past sector divided the area into two, and the flag on top of the observation tower became a long distance landmark to keep my eye on.

Down the hill we went as Grom’s tongue began turning in to a paddle shape and his flybys became more infrequent. Time for a break in the shade. Find out about doggie heat stroke in THIS post.

He drank some water from his red dog print doggie hamster style bottle and plopped down panting.  I began drawing my map on the blank mailing label affixed to the ziplock bag I was carrying the maps in.  While drawing my pretty little picture, I realized it would have been wise to record the distance of each leg of the grid I had made.  Doing so, I would be able to pinpoint exactly where I was at a later time.  Oops!  Grom looked unconcerned.

I restarted Grom with his search word since we had been resting for a while.  I did not want him to forget what he was doing here!  We rounded the stream and found the other side contained a field of tall, unmowed grass.  Grom bounded like a deer up in the air trying to catch scent above the thick grass.  I wanted to get out of this portion of the field as soon as possible before my puppy turns into boiled hotdog.  I kept testing the wind with my powder bottle inadvertently dusting my evaluator like a powdered donut. The would shift sometimes coming more from the west. I stuck with my search strategy because I did not want to chase the shifting winds all over the field.  Across the field and toward the red barn we romped.

search map grid

With my back to a barn I walked toward the flag lazily flapping in the breeze.  Grom was getting tired again, biting at grass stalks as he trotted by rather than speeding around like normal. There really wasn’t any shade in the area for him to enjoy.  I hurried to get him up under a tree for another break.  There, I decided to complete one more pass in the lower section.  We trekked up to the lake so G-man could stand in the cool water and bite at its surface for a bit.

My dog started to really perk up near the lake when we headed towards it.  Was he catching scent or just excited by the water and the smell of goose leavings?  I let Grom play around in the water for a bit and suggested that I would start sweeping the upper sector starting with checking the hedges and jumps on the Northeast side of the lake.  I was picked on by my evaluator by my obsession with checking all of the shrubbery in the area.  I watched Grom get really interested with the line of bushes near the water in a Southerly direction and decided to change my strategy.  He is interested in something and the wind is coming from a more southerly direction.  Let’s go that way first then come around and check the other side of the lake on the way back.

Trust the dog.

Down back towards the barn I went, then turning to go South.  Grom started to prance a bit and sticking his nose up in the air.  There was no where to hide out in front of us, what could he be smelling?  Maybe my subject is hidden in a depression or under a camo tarp?  I wrote on the map where Grom alerted to come back to later in case this turned out to be a swan or something and began to walk towards the dog.

search dog find map

This is when he took off in a straight line towards a lone tree about 150 meters away.

“He has it!”

I began walking in his general direction but made sure it was not quite straight to the tree.  His body language showed nothing but confidence as he returned to me.  I watched him run towards me out of the corner of my eye.   Grom bounded towards me, his mouth open ready to bark.  Nothing coming out.  Come on, dog!  If you don’t bark we fail.  He bounced next to me for a few more strides and began to snap at the air.   Then a series of nice loud barks ejected from his big mouth.  One bark, two, three, four, “SAVE!”  Grom went tearing back to the tree, stopped, looking back and waiting for me.  He came trotting back pleading for me to hurry my lazy, out of shape butt.  He kept trotting towards me, bounding with excitement, then bounding towards the tree, slowing and waiting.  Repeating.  Fifty meters from the tree he took off for the tree.  That is when I see her red toenails poking out her her sandle like an extra tree root. I hooked my bounding pup up telling him what a good boy he is.  I have no idea where my evaluator went.

“Are you Jutka?”  Are you ok?  Can you walk?  We have been looking for you!”

Grom got his nice tugging reward while I struggled with the map.

I looked at the maps with my evaluator, I was trying to figure out where I was.  On the topo map there was a large lake.  Oh well that is easy we must be… Wait, I don’t think that lake is where it should be on the map.  I started looking at other land features such as intersections of roads and the stream.  I flipped back and forth between the satellite image and the topographical map doubting nearly everything I see.  A dirt road running north of my sector could be on the property, or it could be another road on the neighboring cattle ranch.  If only I had asked the coordinates of base when I started or at least had figured that out in the beginning.  Doh!  I guessed where we were based on the intersection of roads and a lake on the topo map, but kept saying that I did not think it was right.  My evaluator teased me to hurry up and tell base I found someone.  I told him they could wait a few seconds.  He told me to think of the other teams mucking around in the swamp. I told him they can take it, it builds character.  He said he would remember that the next time he was on a search with me.  He would make sure he was my evaluator on my final evaluation.

Eating my words

search map lake

After giving the evaluator my guess, he gives me a few hints to help me correct it. I look again at the map and measure where the cars must have been parked and figured our distance from them using a grid square and my drawn map.  Good thing I wrote down SOME distances on the thing.  I called in to base and my evaluator says he will be waiting for me in the car.  I could let my dog play in the water while I drew my map.

Jutka threw a stick in the water for my non swimming puppy while I tried to figure which way was up.

My debriefing went well, and I passed.  Here is what I learned

  • Make sure to start searching at one end, not in the middle to make sure you do not create any unsearched areas.
  • It is ok to change your search pattern to favor the wind.
  • Call in to base as soon as you find someone, that way they can get things ready while you figure out where you are.
  • Start out with coordinates of many features to better understand your map, Draw ON your map to clarify things such as missing lakes.
  • Don’t automatically believe what is on your map. It turns out there were two lakes, one on the map, and one that wasn’t.  I would have figured that out if I had used my noggin while comparing the satellite image with the topo.
  • Write the distance of your search legs or your pace count.  I should have simply written down what my hand held clicker said on my map and did the math later.

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