Paw patrol: Meet Ruby and Telli, Beaver Creek’s newest avalanche dogs in training

The puppies are tackling the first steps of a two-year training program that will allow them to become certified for mountain rescues

16-week-old Ruby getting used to her new work environment.
Beaver Creek Resorts/Courtesy photo

Two new puppies have joined the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol team this summer, and are currently in training to become lifesaving avalanche rescuers on the slopes.

The furry additions are 16-week-old Ruby, a black lab from Pierce, Colorado, and 12-week-old Telli, a golden retriever from New Castle.

The puppies have been with their owners and handlers on the job since they arrived a few weeks ago, and are tackling the first steps of a two-year training program that will allow them to become certified for mountain rescues.

Telli’s owner, Gavin Mastell, is a fourth-year patroller for Beaver Creek and a first-time dog handler and trainer for avalanche rescue. In order to qualify as a dog handler, patrollers are required to have at least three years of experience under their belt, as well as avalanche certification and a proven desire to work with the animals.

The puppies are purchased by and belong to the handlers, who then get to be a part of the patroller’s day-to-day life.

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“You get to bring in the dog with you every day to work, and whenever you have free time we’ll be spending it doing training and digging holes and practicing,” Mastell said. “It’s still the same day in and out things that we usually do, we just have the dog to deal with as well.”

Telli and her owner, fourth-year patroller Gavin Mastell.
Beaver Creek Resort/Courtesy photo

Mastell said that golden retrievers and labrador retrievers are the recommended breeds for such work because of their high drive, trainability and sociable manners.

Right now, the puppies are learning the same socialization skills and obedience commands that any new pet needs to acquire. This fall, they will take the first of two four-day courses with Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment, the state’s leading training program for rescue dogs, and begin acquiring the skills necessary to pass the C-RAD test and validation standards.

Toby Harrison is Ruby’s owner and handler, and said that the training process is like a big game for the dogs.

“It all kind of builds on this concept of rewarding their play for finding the toy,” Harrison said. “We’ll start with having her just sitting, have somebody kind of jazz her up with a toy and then take off, and then have the dog run after them for the toy. Then it just builds up from there.”

Once the winter comes, the puppies will progress to searching for toys held by people who are lightly covered by the snow, and move up to finding people that are fully buried in deep snow caves.

Telli frolics in the mountains.
Beaver Creek/Courtesy photo

In order to become certified, the dogs will have to search a 100-meter by 100-meter site for human scent. There may be zero to three live people buried in the snow, and the dog has 20 minutes to account for all of the people.

“You have 20 minutes for you and your dog to clear the snow, and if that means there’s nobody buried and your dog says there’s nobody buried, then you have to trust that your dog is saying the right thing,” Harrison said.

With the new additions, Beaver Creek will expand its current canine patrol force to five dogs. Patrol dogs typically spend about 5-7 years on the workforce before retiring, and Mastell said that part of the reason he wanted to join the program is because he knows what a great life it provides for the dogs.

“Literally the day after I brought Telli home, she was at work — from puppy life to work immediately, but they love it,” Mastell said. “She loves going to work. She loves getting to hang out with everyone.”

Visitors can’t keep their paws off of the tiny trainees.
Carolyn Paletta/Vail Daily

Socialization and getting the puppies comfortable being around crowds is part of the job. Harrison said that people are welcome to pet and interact with the puppies when they see them around town, but should ask the owner for permission first. After all, as adorable as they are, these puppies are hard at work helping to serve the Beaver Creek community.

“If we’re not doing anything, it’s always yes,” Harrison said. “It becomes really important if you see these dogs working, digging or sniffing, leave them alone, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

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