Operational Test 160: Part Two

(read Operational Test Part One)
The thunder is getting closer.

It’s 92 degrees in the shade and I’m begging for a nice cooling shower to cool things down. If you’re in the sun at all, you’re baking. Grom has been getting breaks about every 15 minutes so he’s not doing too badly. We’re all getting low on water and there’s no question we could all use a little break.

search dog drinking

As my subject goes back to base, she promises to send someone down the road with a big jug of water to replenish our supplies. I give her a big hug and thank her for suffering for my test. She’s been out here a long time. I remind myself again that this is about me and Grom becoming operational, but it takes a team to certify a dog.

We rest in the shade and wait for resupply.

I study the map and look at what I have left to cover in my sector. It is a big chunk of land. It’s got more terrain features and the possibility of moving water.  If there’s no water in the stream beds it’s going to be a long day because Grom is getting hot. He’s taking longer to recover after every break. That’s when I finally feel the first rain drops hitting my hat.

Silently, I make a wish to be really wet.

It’s not happening though. My promised rain storm turns out to be some thunder, a little breeze, and a light misting. I watch steam rise off the woods and wonder if this was really the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

My plan is to work 50 meters into the forest, while following the curve of the road. To accomplish this task, I ask one of my evaluators to walk the road so I can keep track of where I need to be without having to actually be on the road. In theory, Grom will work between me and my walker. Plus, he’ll work away from us, covering more area. The danger is that he will see the walker on the road and think he’s a missing person. Shaking off any doubt, I remind myself that I trust my dog. I’m pleased as he does it just perfectly.

We get to the beginning of a dry stream bed that comes very close to the road.

I’ve had more than enough straight line madness for the day.

My next line will take us down along the bed of this stream, covering the area by following contour lines.

I busy myself by hanging flags and checking my map. The next time I look down, I have to smile. Grom has found the stinkiest puddle of mud in the whole forest. He’s romping around up and down the stream as it turns from mud to water. He’s earned a little mud bath so I give him a couple minutes in the water. He comes back to me covered in muck and looking about as happy as I’ve ever seen a dog. Grom is going to smell awful all the way home, but he’s cooling down and I’m less worried about him overheating.

muddy search dog

Up ahead I think I see something that looks like a shelter so we start to hug the stream bank going down hill away from it. When we’re directly down hill from it, Grom turns his head and give a little start at the smell.

The next thing I know he’s running up the hill. He comes back to face me; his barks are strong and loud.

I let him get to six barks before I finally give in to him and let him lead me back to his new favorite person. This happens to be another of my subjects, but not one of the people I was told should be out here. No, this person was in the area “on a hike.” She happened to have seen my subjects in their fictional paraglider and got lost trying to follow them.

I pull out the radio to call into base with co-ordinates and a request for someone to walk her out to civilization. The problem is the further I get down into this drainage, the worse my radio reception gets. I’m spending more time fighting to be heard on the radio than I am talking to Grom’s new friend. I realize the mistake I’m making when one of my evaluators asks if she’s provided any new clues. Luckily, she’s still here.

I get her little piece of the puzzle.


My lost hiker has pointed me to the area we haven’t covered yet. Which is good, it means I haven’t missed anyone yet; one of my biggest fears right now.

Another consultation with my map tells me that if I work the contours of the stream on the south side, I should come up to the stream head I started at. I’ll be able to work a big flat area to the south. My sector is getting smaller as we work along the hill side.

I’m watching Grom very carefully.

Probably a little too carefully. When we come across an opening in the woods with several trees laying down in a circle, I send him into it twice. I’m just sure that this would be a great place to hide a subject. But after two passes through the pile of downed trees I decide that Grom isn’t picking anyone up because no one is there.

We press on along the side of the hill. I check my watch.

We’re coming up on four hours in this heat and it’s starting to take a toll on everyone.

I reach the drainage that should take me to roughly where I started my last line and turn to follow it. I should see something that I’ve seen before. What I find instead is a little wooden bridge that I’ve never seen before. I’m confused. I turn around to look at my evaluators to see if I can read anything on their faces. The only thing I see on either face is sweat and dust. At this point the most important thing I can think of is figuring out where I am.  I don’t want to miss someone in the hole I’ve created in this sector.

I point my compass at where the road should be, and start walking.

I get to the top of the next hill and find a trail that leads over the bridge I had stumbled onto. More importantly, I can see down into the next drainage where I spot my line of flagging tape. I take a deep breath.

I know where I am now.

As I turn to tell my evaluators that I am now properly oriented, I spot a big piece of fabric that looks suspiciously like a clue. I’m quiet as everyone catches up and I survey the area around me. I’m looking for a likely place to hide a subject.

When I look down at Grom, he’s smiling.

“That’s cute” I think to myself, “he knows we’re close to the end.” But then he looks at the ground, and quickly looks back up at my face. Almost to as if to say, “Hey Dad, Look what I found!” As he looks back at the ground, I follow his eyes to a large pile of scat laying not more than ten feet from our clue.

I can feel the words forming on my lips as he takes a half step back, rears up on his hind legs, twists, and power dives into the pile of poop!

“NO! OFF! LEAVE IT! OFF! NO! ……. Oh for the love of….. GET OUT OF THAT!”

Its too late. He’s rolling in it. I reach down to pull him off the pile he’s so lovingly smeared all over his body. If I thought he was going to smell bad before….

I pull him away from his little pile of joy and take him to the other side of the trail where I can use some of my water to wash him off. While I’m washing him I can hear my evaluators snickering, loudly.

Finally, he’s as clean as he’s going to get. One of my evaluators leans over me and says “I want to see him do a long recall so if you see the subject, steer wide.” I nod a little. I’m still thinking about the two hour drive home with my fragrant dog in the back seat.

I just want this test to be over. Everyone around me looks like they’re thinking the same thing.

I have to work my clue, which means walking a big circle. My subject has to be around here somewhere. We head into the drainage and I see Grom’s ears go straight up in the air.

“Fine,” I think “you want to see him do a long recall, I’ll make sure he has to find her on his own.”

I watch Grom make bigger circles around me working the scent. I start to talk and unstrap my waist belt. My pack hits the ground and I can finally adjust my belt. It’s been creeping down for the last two hours and I see my evaluators both give me a slightly confused look. As if to say,


What I don’t say out loud is I have to be doing something or Grom stops working. When I see him crest the hill to my left I know he’s got something. I Lift my pack back onto my shoulders and make a couple of adjustments to my shoulder straps. Grom charges back to me and looks up at my face.


His barks are just music to me. He’s not faking it, he’s not unsure, he’s not even a little hesitant. If I hadn’t been so hot and tired, I would have done a little dance.

We all had to settle for the “take me there” command and a run up the hill instead. As I cross over the little hill top, I see her. The last and final subject, in the longest, hardest test I’ve done with Grom.

This one is special. You see, this is Grom’s find. He had to find her and lead me back to her all by himself, because I never saw her. For all Grom knows, I am just messing with my gear and getting ready to head off in the opposite direction. He has to convince me otherwise.

Grom the search and rescue dog

Grom is there to save her.

That’s what a Search Dog does, and Grom is now officially a Search Dog.

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