As the Zurich Regional group had come down for the weekend to work both at Les Epeisses and at Serbeco, they very kindly allowed Jochen and me to work with them on this day, a Sunday. Andrea as usual had everything organised including keys.
Two groups were formed and the site was split into two areas. Each group was detailed to prepare search areas for those teams on the other side who are test candidates at the operational test at the end of October.
Oh my, did the other group with Doris in charge sort out a search for Jochen and me!
The area to be searched was large and I allowed myself to be intimidated. This meant that I again did not really hear what Doris was saying to me, which was quite specific and quite simple. But I missed those cues because my jaw was somewhere on the ground at the size of the area to be searched.
Ok, I made a first sensible decision and decided to search the 'small' building first as that was closest and made sense in respect to wind conditions. However, I had also missed another cue, that all closed doors were to remain closed but any open ones we could go into.
Can you imagine that I did not see this opening? My brain just did not register that this was open and only 'closed' by very heavy strips of plastic.This mean that my management decision created unnecessary energy waste for Jochen.
Jochen had moved between this section and the building and ended up showing so much interest and was about to wind up into a solid alert when Doris asked me to take him into the building. He immediately started scenting up high all along the left side of the building and only marginally on the right.
With some prompting from Doris I moved more towards the centre of the building which helped focus Jochen.
That box is almost directly in line with the box on the outside where he showed initial interest, as depicted in the above photo.
This was the area of the second alert. I remembered this from last year where the dogs had an absolute ball swimming in a sea of loose PET bottles. I had always wondered what Jochen would do if he were ever faced with this. Well, having detected scent, he launched himself straight into that sea of plastic bottles.
However, this is extremely hard going for a dog and is ok for an experience but not ok to let the dog just 'swim' in this stuff and not get anywhere. I woke up and called him back and reset him into a slightly easier area that is, where there were bags of PET bottles. However I did not register that there was still a pile of loose bottles in front and so he still had to struggle. I moved in to help him and he managed to get onto the more solid bags and found the figurant and again alerted really well.
Moral of the story? Pay attention, don't get entranced and save the dog's energy. I got a talking to on that one.
The next find was in another awkward area where Jochen had scent and kept moving up and down this narrow section amongst the machinery. He kept nosing up high and although it was clear that he had scent but did not know how to get closer (he was pretty much blocked off at the far end) and so it required my input.
But I am afraid that I really felt at a loss until Doris again helped me out. Again, it was fascinating how the air currents and wind took the scent into odd places that made it difficult for the dog to more closely locate. The key was really on the handler's interpretation and actions to help the dog out. This was another one of those situations where the handler can make the difference between a pass and a fail.
As I said, with Doris' help, I managed to support Jochen but not without still some stuffing around. He eventually got the 3rd figurant even though I felt as though I was a ball and chain around his legs at times.
The fourth alert was straight forward and that was the search.
The experience of these two days is exactly why I just knew I had to come to Switzerland with my dog and actually get down and dirty, as the saying goes. I found these two training days utterly fascinating, challenging, exhilarating and a most wonderful opportunity to get some serious & worthwhile learning happening. if I had actually heard the cues, the big buildings were to be searched apart from anything else, I would have taken him straight into the closer one, he would have located in that box much more quickly and he would have preserved energy.
Doris and Sandro gave me constructive, useful feedback and my brain was busy yet again with the notes I would be making. This is what I came to Switzerland with my dog for.
I was told that I have a very good dog who has a very fine nose. Indeed.
AUSTRALIAN STANDARD/ AUTHORITIES/ PRIVATE ENTERPRISE
On paper, Australia has a very good national canine USAR standard that some of us worked very hard to establish. BUT... our facilities nationally are so woefully lacking that with the best of intentions, it is very hard to actually implement the standard in the spirit it was written.
Government at whatever level must support this fledgling emergency volunteer service for it to have any real value. Along with two other teams, Jochen and I reached the highest Australian standard in Adelaide in October last year. Dog teams have been taken overseas that have not as yet reached even close to this standard. By comparison to the standard of expertise, training and facilities available in Switzerland, we are still in the kindergarten stage of standard and benchmark.
The complexities that facilities such as Serbeco and Les Epeisses provide help dogs and handlers to learn in ways that we in Australia simply cannot.
WHAT DO AUSTRALIAN USAR DOG TEAMS NEED TO PROGRESS?
1. Government support to create and/or improve those facilities that do exist. They need to be developed in consultation with the canine USAR experts
2. Assistance in forging relationships with organisations such as the Swiss who have over 40 years experience in training, testing and deploying canine USAR teams.
3. Support from private enterprise. Serbeco is a privately owned large scale and very modern recycling centre. REDOG has access to train there after hours without any restrictions that I could see. No doubt they have issued insurance indemnity forms.
4. It is our experience that it is very difficult to get anywhere near the same support in Australia. Insurance/safety fears seem to paralyse private management.
5. Private companies can support by supplying second-hand concrete pipes, prefabricated concrete walls that are not to spec. for a project but would serve our purposes and the like.
6. A site that we can call our own and develop to our needs without fear that we will have to move on in a year or two...
A CHALLENGE FOR AUSTRALIA
Australians rightly pride themselves on best practice and matching it with the best in the world. Unfortunately, in the matter of canine USAR, Australia falls far behind in terms of facilities, support and recognition. Let us together get this incredibly important, volunteer, emergency service of highly trained, reliable volunteer canine USAR teams up to the Australian National Standard.
It should not have to take a private individual and their dog to beg for sponsorship to go overseas for more training to bring back to Australia. I might add that my meagre funds are running out and we are here for another two months.
Australia and Australians are known for innovation and energy. Let us get behind this and raise the Australian canine USAR standard by providing adequate facilities to train on.