Dog learns new tricks to join search and rescue team

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JOHN.COSGROVE@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

Like everything that is good, it often takes time to develop the best in a relationship.
Owaka LandSAR volunteer Adrian Shute knows only too well how much hard work can go into developing that special understanding.
Freshly minted search dog Ice was rewarding his efforts last week.
‘‘It’s taken me three years of hard work with two dogs to get to this stage,’’ Mr Shute said
‘‘Ice has become operational now, so it means whenever we get a call from the police we can head out as a team.’’
The dog teams at LandSAR fell into three categories — tracking, area search and avalanche — and complemented the many other elements of a search and rescue team.
Mr Shute and Ice would now lead the way in any searches for people lost in the Catlins bush.
‘‘We will work in what I think is one of the biggest search areas in New Zealand — the Catlins.
‘‘It’s so big we have to share it with Tokanui.’’
On average, the Catlins LandSAR branch received four long searches and 10 callouts each year.
‘‘Searches are very dynamic
— most finish within a few hours to a few days but some become multiple day searches.
‘‘Those are real hard work.’’
Ice, a young German shepherd, was formerly trained by the police.
‘‘When they offered him to us I was very grateful, as the dog I had been training for two years wasn’t working out.
‘‘Ice came to me six months ago already scent›trained, so we concentrated on communication and developing a working relationship.
‘‘His natural toy drive and focus abilities meant he was more suited to tracking, and he has shown he has a real talent for it.
‘‘At his recent qualification testing at Hanmer Springs he just turned it on, again and again, finding all the scents and people he was tasked with and impressing all with his obedience and attitude.’’
Mr Shute grew up with search and rescue, his father, Dean Shute, also a member of the Owaka group.
‘‘I guess I just grew up with it. Dad was always helping out and, when I could at 15, I joined the Owaka group and later started training dogs.’’
Mr Shute and Ice were part of a team of just 12 operational wilderness dogs and 11 handlers in the country (two in the North Island and nine in the South).
‘‘The dog teams are just one element of LandSAR’s arsenal. There are a great many people working on search and rescue operations and here at Owaka and Tokanui that can number up to 80 people at any one time.’’
The collie Mr Shute started out with was re›homed in the North Island, where he had turned out to be an excellent deer pointer.