Woodland Park becomes an exploratory area the weekend of Nov. 9 and 10. With at least 18 dogs and handlers from Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado, the city turns into one big search site, with people hiding all over the place in simulated situations.
The exercises are part of certification process hosted by SARDOC, with Woodland Park serving as this session's training ground.
Barbi Atkins is a member of both SARDOC and Teller County Search and Rescue who is training her three-year old Weimaraner Molly. An experienced handler, Atkins shares her skills at the two-day training.
“I love watching the dogs work,” she said. “We send subjects out and send the dog to find them.”
The dogs will be “hunting” for people throughout the community, including the high school, Aspen Valley Ranch, Foxworth-Galbraith, the Woodland Park Community Church and neighborhoods around Memorial Park.
The dogs are not seasoned hunters but rather are learning the ropes in searching for lost people. “It's not hard to train a dog, but it's time-consuming, takes patience,” Atkins said. “Most of us train at least once a week.”
The handlers begin with the “runaway” caper. “If I'm going to be the handler and it's my dog, then I run away because the dog is bonded to me,” Atkins said.
In this initial exercise, another handler attaches a bell and a harness to the dog. From there, the handler hooks the dog up to a long lead. “And then I run away about 25 to 30 feet,” Atkins said.
To begin the search the handler gives the dog a scent along with the command, usually “Find.”
The dogs are clueless in the beginning. “It's really amazing but they do start to put it together,” Atkins said. “Once you think they have it, you run away and hide behind a tree.”
At this point, the dogs learn to put their noses to the ground, to follow the scent. “Once they learn the game, then you are not the subject anymore,” Atkins said.
With the November exercise, the dogs follow a scent that leads to the subject's trail. “We're all like little pig pens running around, with all this scent coming off of us,” she said. “Scent is bacteria growth. Therefore, if a dog can cut a trail; we try to train the dogs to go to the freshest scent.”
On the other hand, Atkins' dog Molly is certified as an air-scent dog and trained to clear an area where the subject may have gotten lost. “The area can be divided into sections,” Atkins said.
Next month's exercise is focused entirely on urban searches. “We're searching more in the city, in buildings,” Atkins said. “Our mission is to get to the person as fast possible,” she said.