Monday, 30 May 2016

The Munchkin and the Piglet

The Munchkin has a friend - a little Munchkin, or a Piglet as she snorts and groans and talks when she is sleeping, playing or cuddling. So now we have the Munchkin and the Piglet. As everyone knows, the Munchkin's purpose is to be a "kick-ass" Search and Rescue (SAR) dog. The Piglet's purpose, on the other hand, is to be a "kick-ass" / awesome snare detection dog.

Why can't the Munchkin be a snare detection dog as well as an SAR dog? Surely it's better to feed one dog rather than 2 dogs? Yes, it is better to feed one dog rather than 2 dogs, but while the training is similar, there is a different end goal. The Munchkin finds people and, therefore, thinks that all people she comes across in the bush / wilderness are friendly and are her victims. She will bark and come and find me and shuttle between the victim and myself until she leads me to the victim. It's known as a "find/refind" technique.

The Piglet, on the other hand, will also use human scent to find animal snares. She will also come back to me, with the aim of leading me to where she has found snares. It is also a "find/refind" process. The difference is that the Piglet is essentially working as an anti-poaching dog and if she finds strangers in the bush, we assume that they are poachers and we get out of the area very quickly while the game rangers/police deal with the people.

Now that we have the differences between the two dogs out of the way, it's time to rush out and train dogs. I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Night training - rain, mist and fun as well as random photos

It was dark, misty and cold outside and it was passed the Munchkin's bedtime. Did you know she goes to bed at 8pm every night? Or, at least wants / tries to... This time, however, she had to stay awake as we went up to Alverstone a couple of months ago to play with some people from Mountain Rescue, KZN.
Part of my brief was also to provide a 20-minute informational lecture on K9 SAR dogs in general. Google is my friend!!! With the help of Google, I managed to put together a power point presentation. After singing the SAR dogs praises, we had to go out, in the dark and mist to find a lost 'victim'. We also attached a glow stick to her collar as it was important for everyone to be able to watch her work. 

The victim ran away to hide and after a while, I told the Munchkin to go and find the "missing person". Off we went. It was dark, cold and very misty so I couldn't see much.  As usual, we found the "missing person before he died of hypothermia; actually, as always it was the Munchkin who did the finding and all I did was walk behind her and watch her work. We also discovered that there were actually 2 wet and cold "missing people." They were very grateful that we found them.

This was an interesting search exercise. I learned a lot. Because of the layout of the land, we had to start our search with the wind behind us at about a 60-degree angle. We should have driven to the other side of the search grid but that was too difficult so we just walked.

While walking down the road the Munchkin turned back to look at the flanker and guests. She circled back to them once so I decided it was time to move off the road into the bush.It was wet, dark knee high grass, and it didn't take long before we were both soaked as well.

The wind was blowing in the wrong direction so my plan was to walk to the end of the search grid and then turn around and walk back. The Munchkin would pick up their scent on the way back. Fortunately, In true Munchkin fashion, she picked up the scent of 2 wet cold victims just as we walked passed where they were hiding.

At the start of the search area, there was a wire run full of turkeys. Oh no, I thought, the Munchkin is going get side tracked by the turkeys. As usual, I was proved wrong (I love being proved wrong), the Munchkin looked at them for a brief moment and decided that finding the human that has her toy is a much better idea...So on we continued....we had a toy to find. Then it's time for a good game of tug-of-war.

The interesting thing that I picked up is that Electra gets frustrated when the search takes too long. She comes back to me and cries. A bit of verbal encouragement usually gets her going again. We have to work on increasing the distance and length of time of the search exercises slowly so she gains confidence in her ability to find the victim and her toy.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Tick Prevention in the bush all over the world

Some of my regular readers must be saying: "Welcome back and we have missed your updates." I must apologize for not posting for ages. I don't even have any valid reasons or excuses - life and training have been continuing as normal. To be honest, I have just not made the time to post.
Much has happened over the last 18 months. The Munchkin has been involved in some real life action over the last 6 months. People go missing, their loved ones worry about them and we get called out to look for them. It sounds very simple... and in essence, it is. In practice, people don't want to be found, or they are deceased or are not where their family thinks they are. But theses are stories for another day.

Snow training - "are there ticks in the snow Mom? Where's my toy? I want to play!"

Before I get into what has happened and what the plans for the future are, I'd like to mention the importance of regular tick control.It is critical that working dog owners and handlers keep their dogs' tick and flea free. Not only does tick bite fever in all its variants keep the dog from working, long courses of medication are often required to clear up the parasites in the dog's body.

I have just learned of a new form of "tick bite fever." It's known as tick paralysis. In a nutshell, the "toxin [contained in the tick's saliva] directly affects the [dog's] nervous system...caus[ing] lower motor neuron paralysis." Ouch...this is serious. In my opinion, the age-old adage: "Prevention is better than cure", is relevant here. 

Here is a wonderful infographic that explains the ins and outs of tick paralysis. 

Tick Paralysis in Dogs and Cats Infographic
Click here to view bigger image
Courtesy of

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Comrades Weekend.... training goes on

As the whole world probably knows by now, 31 May 2015 was the day the Comrades marathon was run. The race started in Durban and ended in Pietermaritzburg. As we live close to the route, we had to leave Hillcrest before 5:30am to go training. I must be honest.... it was the promise of good coffee that got me up and ready to leave home before 5am. 

We enjoyed hot coffee while we waited until the sun came up at 7am. Training in the dark is boring.... at least it wasn't cold. 

The plan was to lay tracks for some of the dogs, including the Munchkin, and to do Search and Rescue training at another venue later in the morning. 

What's up Mom?
I laid a 400 pace track with a left curve, a right curve and a sharp left turn for the Munchkin. There was an article (toy) between the left curve and the right curve. I also put down food every 5-10 paces. The Munchkin battled with the first leg. She looked at me a couple of times as if to say "What's happening Mom? Why am I looking for food on a lead? I want to run and find my toy?" Once she found the first toy and played with it a bit, she settled down and tracked her way to the end of the track. She was so excited to find her favourite toy at the end of the track. Of course that meant a good game of tug and war all the way back to the car.
Settling down to track
Playtime after a successful track

Our victim, Layban, meandering up the hill to hide
Once we had tracked all the dogs that needed to track, we went on our merry way to the Search and Rescue venue. On arrival we let some of the dogs out to play. The Munchkin wasn't allowed to play and was very upset with us. She told us in no uncertain terms what she thought of the fact that she was stuck in a crate while the other dogs were running around and playing
Griffin racing up the hill

Griffin watching Layban hide

 Once the dogs had burnt off some energy, we sent our victim off to hide for Griffin. As it was the first time Griffin was searching for a victim who he didn't know, he was allowed to watch the victim hide.

The Griff found his victim and was rewarded with his favorite toy. I was waiting back at the truck with a very upset Munchkin. She feels she needs to be in the "thick of things" as it were and gets very upset when she is left in a crate to wait her turn.

Lisette and Griffin came back and I was given the search parameters and told to go and find the "lost victims". There were 2 victims lost in the bush. Mmmmm interesting. How am I going to manage this one? There is always only one way - let the Munchkin go and find them. I need to trust her nose. Anyway.. . off we went. The munchkin quickly indicated that she had picked up a scent. No one there? No problem, must be an older scent. Maybe someone spent the night under that tree. Who knows. Off we went again...up the hill, through the long grass that looked like reeds. "Ooh - what's this?" the Munchkin thought. "Another human? Standing out in the middle of the road. He doesn't look lost... .and he doesn't have my toy!!!!! Can't be the right person." And off she went again. No long afterwards she indicated again that she had picked up a scent. Could this be it? Indeed it was. The Munchkin got a "good girl. Let's go" and off we went again. Not long afterwards she indicated again that she'd picked up scent. "Wait!!!! I know this person. Why is the photographer hiding in the bush? But...  he has my toy. Yippeee". She was very excited and had a good game all the way back to the car. For those that know the Munchkin, a good game all the way back to the car consists of her pulling her toy backwards as I walk forwards. I need to hold the 1 end so she can have a good tug without being pulled off my feet and walking forwards at the same time.

Friday, 22 May 2015

More Adventures with the Munchkin - we continue to have fun together

Wow, it's been a hectic couple of months. I have been away on 4 weekend trips over the last 6 months - 3 have been with Electra. In November 2014 we drove up to a game farm between Bela Bela and Thabazimbi. The Munchkin was only 3 months old and our search and rescue training adventure was only starting. That was an epic trip both from the distance we drove to get to the game farm and what we learnt that weekend.

In March 2015 we went to Swinnburne for some high altitude training. While we sat on the side of a mountain watching the clouds gather over the Drakensberg mountains, my son David was setting out on his Grand Traverse of the Drakensberg. He was climbing the chain ladders above Sentinel car park to get up onto the top of the escapement. Of course I did what good mom's do - I pondered (and tried not to worry) how much mist was swirling around him while climbing the chain ladders. The photo shows how much. David was climbing the chain ladder at the top of the photo. I'm not sure who took these photos - it was one of David's hiking partners.

The next photo is of David standing somewhere on top of the Drakensberg escarpment.

Two weeks later, in April I went down to St Bernard's Peak to collect David at the end of his hike. Unfortunately the Munchkin had to stay at home this time - there was no space in the car for her. However, I organised for the lodge owners to phone me when they have lots of snow - we are going to play in the snow. That should be fun, albeit cold.....

Our latest adventure was a trip to a cattle farm just outside Standerton. I was visiting very close friends. Early Sunday morning we went for a long walk through the farm. The Munchkin flushed a rabbit, quail, guinea fowl, longclaws, pipits and various other small brown birds. I was very pleased to see that she didn't chase any game. I know she doesn't when we are working but it was good to see that she isn't really interested in chasing them when we are out walking. She did decide that it might be a good idea to investigate a cow at close range. Fortunately it didn't take long before she realised that it might not be a wise idea. she ran again. There are a couple of very big, beautiful Beefmaster/Bonsmara cross bulls on the farm. We gave them a wide berth.....

 I sat on a thick branch of a dead tree overlooking this dam. I enjoyed the view and the Munchkin played with sticks in the dam....

The question that most people might be asking is, what has happened to the search and rescue training? The trips away to different parts of the country are a very important part of her training. She needs to be comfortable in any environment, in any part of South Africa, and even possibly the world. So, one of the aims of our trips away are to expose her to all the different environments in our country. We still do our normal SAR training a couple of times a week but that is a story for another time.

In conclusion it should be noted that trips to the beach are considered part of our daily lives. We are fortunate to live just outside Durban.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

High Altitude training - visiting the Drakensberg for the first time

The Munchkin, Griffin, Lisette and I took a slow meander up to Harrismith - we had arranged to meet some friends from Johannesburg and deliver some patchwork quilts, bags and t-shirts to them. In another life we co-own a company called TwigaDudu and hand-dye fabric for patchwork quilts, duvet covers, curtaining etc.

The original reason for the trip to Harrismith was to take my son David and his companions up to the Sentinel car park to start the Grand Traverse (GT). For those not familiar with the GT, it's an epic trek across the top of the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa. The hikers start at the Sentinal Car Park in the North, climb up the chain ladders at Mont Aux Sources and descend either at Bushman's Nek or St Bernard's Peak, 13 - 15 days later. Most of this hike is spent at altitudes of over 3000 metres above sea level.

Enough about the GT...I'm running out of breath just thinking about it. We were only about 1740 metres above sea level and it is a lot harder to run and breathe than it is at sea level (on the Durban beaches).

Our SAR training aim for this weekend was to do some easy finds and get the puppies used to running and playing in different environments and at different altitudes. I also wanted to drive up over Oliviershoek Pass to see what state the road is in and how easy it is to travel along the R74. The road up the pass itself is in good condition. It's just the section that runs past the Sterkfontein Dam that is in terrible condition. There are 2 30 minute stop-go controls as half the road has been dug up. There are no contractors working on the road. All in all, it's a good route to take if you have time, want to enjoy the scenery and are wanting to avoid van Reenen's Pass.

Looking from above Swinburne towards van Reenen's Pass
Back to the puppies and the purpose of this post.... On Saturday afternoon we took the puppies up the mountain overlooking the Riverview Country Inn and looking towards van Reenen's Pass (see the photo for the stunning view). They loved running through the grass and playing with each other. So many new smells and things to look at. Griffin chased butterflies at the top of the hill/mountain - I'm not sure what it is.

On Sunday morning early we did some fun searches. Lisette hid for the Munchkin and I hid for Griffin. We let the dogs see us hide each time. All in all the training session was a success. The puppies found us and loved working. It's safe to say that we had great fun and THE MUNCHKIN is back. Watch out world - HERE WE COME....

Walking up the side of the mountain. It's a lot easier running/walking at sea level on the beach than up in the mountains.

Griffin, standing next to Lisette, working out out where to find more butterflies to chase

Puppies running through the grass above the tiny village of Swinburne

The Munchkin is tired - its hard work having so much fun

More fun to be had after a short rest. 

We also practised loads of recalls and the puppies came back to us . 

Running down the mountain side toward Lisette. 

Ooh - what can we smell in this bush.
Mom I'm tired but I want to play some more (the Munckin was rolling in the grass under my legs)

Here I was being an over-anxious Mom. David was climbing the chain ladders up the Amphitheater and I was concerned about the level of cloud cover over the Drakensberg as he was climbing. Fortunately the whole party got up safely. The chain ladders can be treacherous in bad weather.  

Looking over Swinburne toward van Reenen's Pass. Watching the cloud cover.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Back in action....

Wow..... time flies when you are having fun. The Munchkin has been back at training for several weeks and I'm only writing about it now. 

We took the puppies out to the Grass Farm at Cato Ridge and played with them. Our first point of order for the day was to do some search and rescue training with both dogs. Lisette hid at the edge of the reeds while the Munchkin watched - she found Lisette easily. Then we decided we would be clever - well, not so clever in hindsight. Lisette hid again and I took the Munchkin further up so she could search across the wind. She disappeared into the reeds. I couldn't see her, just heard her bells jangling as she tried to get through the reeds.  I then decided I needed to zig zag across the wind - all good in theory except that the reeds were taller than I am (and I'm not short). How on earth I expected to be able to walk through the reeds, let alone see the Munchkin at the same time, no one will ever be able to fathom. It was  a comedy of errors - I fell over into a bramble bush, the Munchkin jumped onto me from the back and pushed me over after that etc. She got very frustrated and started crying. However, we persevered and Electra eventually found Lisette. Talk about doing things the hard way. There is actually a bank around the reeds and you can walk the whole way around the big bed of reeds. If we had walked around the bed of reeds, the Munchkin would have found her victim easily (and I wouldn't be pulling bramble thorns out of my hands etc). We've learnt and won't be making that mistake again. 

It was actually Griffin that showed me that running on the bank around the reeds to find people is a good idea. He found Lisette very easily by running along the bank and darting into the reeds just in front of her. 

When the SAR part of the training was done, we did some recalls and some play drive, and a horrible down stay. Poor Munchkin..... it's not fun having to lie down quietly when there is lots of exciting stuff to explore.
In these photos the Munchkin and I are playing with her ball. Ouch, my fingers aren't fast enough :)
The Munchkin and Griffin lying down quietly. As you can see Griffin managed to tangle his lead round his head - he was being a silly :) The Griff has grown so fast that he is now known as "Jack the Giant". 
After all the hard work lying down quietly, the puppies went for a long walk. Guess what, they found a really smelly muddy dam. What's new? The Munchkin has a reputation for diving into any dam. And when Griffin is with her, well.... I'll leave the rest up to your imagination. Needless to say we have learnt to keep towels in the car to dry puppies with

Tired, wet, smelly puppies :)

In conclusion a fun day was had by all. The Grass Farm is an amazing training venue.

The following photos are of the next day - Sunday morning when we went to Pipeline beach, Amanzimtoti. The sea is not quite as calm as it is at some of the Durban beaches. I'm slightly relieved they didn't swim out or try and body surf in the big waves. The Munchkin jumps over the small waves and is learning to body surf back to the beach. These waves were just a tad to big for my liking.