Search and rescue expert talks to kids at Bookworm event
EDWARDS — Did you know that Colorado has 104,427 square miles of terrain, 40 percent of which is mountainous? These mountains are fun to explore, beautiful to hike and exciting to ski, but what happens if you wander off from your group? What if you were stuck in an avalanche or veered off a hiking trail or ski run?
The heroes of search and rescue operations come to your aid — both human and canine. Janie Hodge, of Copper Mountain Search and Rescue, comes to The Bookworm of Edwards to talk to local children about the importance of search and rescue to our community, with the help of the book “When You Wander,” by Margarita Engle, and rescue dogs Copper, Rocky and Cascade.
Hodge took the time to chat with the Vail daily and gave readers a peek at some of the topics she’ll be discussing at the event.
Vail Daily: How are the dogs trained?
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Janie Hodge: The dogs are sometimes trained several times a week, sometimes every day. We use very basic techniques, similar to that of babies. We like basic hide-and-seek when they are puppies. The game keeps the dogs excited for a reward of tug, food or praise.
Most dogs are easily trained with repetition. We don’t focus much on discipline. We want the dogs to be independent enough to let us know when we are on the wrong track — going the wrong way. As the dogs progress in their training, we add in a game of run away. Someone goes off to hide. First we start with 20 yards, then 50 yards and progress to a mile. At this point, the dogs don’t see the person leaving. They are told to “search,” and off they go.
VD: When are the dogs ready to search?
JH: The dogs go through a very rigorous process of testing. There are several organizations with guidelines and rules. Some of these organizations are Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (Dogs), of Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties; Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado; and FEMA. When the dogs are ready to go out, we are a team. The dogs are always trained by their handler. They are a team.
VD: Can any dog be a search and rescue dog?
JH: Probably not. There is a specific set of behaviors that a working dog exhibits, and you want a puppy that has those characteristics. Curious. High drive. Expressive. Loves to dig. Aggressive — but not overly so. All dogs can be trained, but to get a dog to be successful and find a person in the woods takes a certain set of characteristics. Some breeds are better than others, and even within those breeds are breeders that are search and rescue dog specific.
VD: How long have you been involved with search and rescue, and what is the best rescue you have ever made?
JH: I have been involved since 2007. I am pretty new. But some of the folks and their dogs coming to the event — such as John Alfond, of the Vail Ski Patrol, and his dog Rocky or Chris Sutton and his dog Cascade — have been around a lot longer! My dog is Copper, and he will be coming with me. As for the rescue, I have never been on a rescue where we found someone. Copper thinks we do it all the time, so he is happy!