Park City Blog

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Building an Avalanche Dog

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Training an avalanche dog takes a great deal of time and effort.  Presented in this blog are two of the many training methods we employ.

Swiss Phase 1 – 4 method:  The Swiss method is a progression technique with four levels or phases.  In Phase 1, the handler teases the dog with their toy and then runs into a snow cave leaving the door open.  The dog is released with the command to ‘search’, and finds the handler in the cave, then receives their reward.  Phase 2 is the same as Phase 1, the handler is in the cave and the door is closed with blocks of snow.  The dog must dig his way into the cave in order to receive their reward.  Phase 3 is similar to Phase 2, except the handler is in the cave and ignores the dog, a second person who is also in the cave rewards the dog.  Phase 4, the handler releases the dog on command to ‘search’ for a random person buried in the cave.  Again, the buried person rewards the dog.

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Variations and modifications can enhance the Swiss method to focus on the individual dog’s needs.  The true Swiss technique employs a food reward.  We have found the play reward of ‘tug’ to be very effective.  In the US, play seems to be the most popular reward for the dog.

Article searches are another effective way to encourage a dog to search for human scent buried in the snow.  This technique simply consists of burying wool or fleece garments that have been worn or ‘scented’.  The dog is released with the command ‘search’.  When the dog finds and digs up the article, they are rewarded with the game of tug.

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Stella wanted me to mention how much dogs enjoy pleasing their keepers.  She said all you need to do is show them what you want them to accomplish and they will work hard in that regard.  Sometimes they get confused of your intentions, so try to be patient with them.  When they get it right let them know with exuberant praise.  If they get it wrong, don’t scold or punish, be patient and try another approach.  With time we both guarantee the results will be worth the effort.

We both look forward to seeing you out on the mountain!

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