Walking the Connemara hills with SARDA Ireland
Dedicated to the training and deployment of Air Scenting Search and Rescue Dogs, SARDA Ireland’s objective is to assist in the search and rescue of missing persons on the hills or wherever they may be.
I spent a few hours being their dogsbody, that is, acting as a 'missing person' for the dogs to find. I spoke to Edelle (and Jessie) and Jarlath (and Sid and Shadow) all about the technicalities, difficulties - and fun! - of working with search and rescue dogs.
Learn more about their work here: SARDA Ireland | Search and Rescue Dog Association
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AF: So in January 2020, I made a plan that I would go around Ireland and visit a lot of different animal places and hang out with animal people. Then of course in March 2020 Covid said, no, you're not going anywhere, you're staying at home. So here I am, two years later, and I'm going ahead with it. And I thought, well, if I enjoy doing this maybe other people would enjoy hearing about it. So thank you for joining me.
[Sound of rustling]
AF: So you've never bought a tennis ball in your life?
AF: They just…there’s… [sound of laughing]
Jarlath: Or a dog toy.
AF: These are all found?
Jarlath: These are all found by the dog, yeah. How many's there? Fifteen? Twenty?
AF: For my first adventure I met up with some dog teams from SARDA Ireland, Search and Rescue Dogs Association Ireland. This organisation was set up in 1987 and its members are volunteers. Their activities involve the training, assessment and deployment of search and rescue dogs, to help find missing persons. A dog team is made up of a handler and their dog, and these teams are able to search in many different environments: mountains, woodlands, rural and urban areas, waterways and seashores. On a rainy Sunday morning, in Connemara in Galway, I met up with three of these dog teams.
[Outdoor recording, sounds of rain]
AF: So here I am, we're out in the rain...just as I started recording it started raining heavily, so thanks for that. So here I am with Edelle Doherty.
Edelle: So today we have four dogs here, we have two air-scenting dogs and two trailing dogs. One out of four of these dogs is qualified at the minute so they can go on searches, the other three are in training and are working towards assessment in the next year or two. So we have one beagle, who's a year and a half old, two Labradors that are around seven and five, and a one and half year old Belgian Mally, that's started training recently, so we've a good mix.
AF: Is that Jaeger?
Edelle: Yes, that's Jaeger, yes.
AF: Ah, I met him already.
Edelle: The cute Mally.
AF: [laughing] He's very cute!
AF: The dogs are training to search for people - and find them - so in order to practice this, they need people to find, and that's where the role of a dogsbody comes in. Dogsbody volunteers go out in all types of weather, and lie on the sides of mountains, in ditches, in hedgerows and even up in trees, so the dogs can be trained to hunt and find human airborne scent. SARDA Ireland have recently started training trailing dogs as well, and Edelle explained the difference between air-scenting and trail-scenting dogs.
Edelle: We train two different types of dogs. So, air-scenting is the type of dog-training we've been doing for the longest. So we've been training air-scenting dogs since 1987 so we're well experienced at it at this stage. So for an air-scenting dog, they are used in big, open areas and they're what we call non-scent-specific. So they're not looking for a particular person, they're just looking for any person in an area. So they are very useful for the likes of, you know, missing hill-walkers that might go missing from a group, in kind of big areas or forested areas. They have also been used in searches for people maybe with Alzheimer's or dementia that might have gone wandering from home. We've searched for children in the past, we've kind of covered nearly everything that's happening.
And the way an air-scenting dog works is that they work off-lead and at a distance from the handler so the handler will put on the dog’s working jacket, tell it to go find, and then direct the dog across an area; so it might be the side of a mountain, it may be a forest area, a bog area or even in kind of urban areas if it's very quiet in the morning or late at night when there's not many other people around. And the purpose of an air-scenting dog is to find a person firstly, but also to...in the case where they're searching an area where there is no person, their job is to clear the area (is what we call it). So that's where they are searching an entire area that's determined by the Guards or whoever the search manager is beforehand, and if you don't find anything you can come back and report it to the search manager and say "there's nothing in this area and we're 95% sure of that".
So that's very important, that you're able to give someone like the Guards that percentage of certainty so that they know that they don't have to search that area again, whereas if you come back and say, "ya, we don't think there's anything but we're only about 40% sure, they're going to have to do it again. So it saves time if we can be very thorough with our searches and make sure that the area is covered, because, there may be cases where someone, say for instance, a person with dementia, they may wander off in a certain direction but a lot of times they may circle back on themselves four or five times, and they could end up very close to where they actually might have went missing but they could have walked twenty kilometres in the meantime by just, maybe, you know, wandering around areas, so it's very important that you can clear an area as part of a search.
And the other type of dog we train are called trailing dogs. So we've only started this in the last few years so it's a newer experience to us, but SARDA Ireland are part of NSARDA (which is the National Search and Rescue Dogs Association in the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man) and they have been training trailing dogs for a lot longer, so they are our experts and our go-to people. So we have SARDA Wales and some of their members on board to help us with our training for it here.
So what happens with a trailing dog is that they are scent-specific. So instead of just sending them out to an area to find anyone we will give them an article of clothing from the missing person that may be, again, it could be the same type of people - it may be a hill-walker that's gone lost, it may be a child that's wandered off or a person maybe with, like, reduced mental status or maybe something like dementia. And we will give them the article of clothing, take the dog to where the person was last seen, and then put on all of their gear. So a trailing dog will wear a special harness, and they work on a long line, so it's like a ten-metre lead. And what will happen is that the dog will be given the article, given a command to go find and they will search that area around where the person was last seen, and the first thing they will do is either tell you if the person has been there or not.
So, sometimes in the past - and it happens on searches if people go missing - you may get reports of sightings, and you don't really know whether they are actually the missing person or maybe someone that just looks like them. Until you either have a confirmed with CCTV or, you know, confirmed some other way. So trailing dogs are very useful in that because they can confirm that based on the scent of the person. So the dog will either bark to say yes, the person has been in this area and there's a trail that we can follow, or the dog will not do any of that, and it will just come back to the handler and say, there's nothing here...you know, the person hasn't been here or maybe they have been here but their scent is no longer in the area so you know that you're not going to be able to work a dog from that point.
But, when the dog indicates to say, yes, there is a trail here, at least then you know the missing person has been in the area and the dog can tell you what direction of travel they've taken from where they were seen.
AF: To show me how it works, Edelle was the first 'body'. She went off across the hill until we could only see the red jacket in the distance. Connell and Jaeger, the Belgian Malenois, who is only a beginner, went off to find her. It was fantastic to watch. Jaeger covered a vast amount of ground in record time, and then we could hear his triumphant barking when he found her. Then Jarlath and Sid has a go. Sid is a black Labrador and, in meeting him, I could see that I'm conditioned to the idea of 'house' Labradors. They're not fat but they do have a layer of padding compared to Sid, who is just pure muscle, with such a well-defined body - and, again, I was transfixed by how fast and how far he could move. Jarlath is a veteran of the group.
Jarlath: I suppose, I'd be around twenty years at it now. Because this dog that I have now, Sid, he's my second graded search dog. I had a Springer Spaniel before that, and he lived 'til about twelve, but I had to retire him around eight because he got arthritis, you know, so...
AF: You were saying that about rescue dogs...
Jarlath: Well, it's great if you get a rescue dog and you can train him but with rescue dogs you don't know their history and if they have any underlying hereditary conditions, and you put two years into training them and then, if they go lame, or, get injured or anything like that, it could be from an hereditary condition, and, your two years...coz we're training in very hostile environment...it's rugged, it's not like you're training on cricket grounds or football grounds, you're training out in the wilderness and the ground is very unforgiving. We're in forestry, and we're on the side of mountains...rocks [Sound of dog barking] ...shale...scree and all the rest and that's tough enough on the dogs, not to mind the handlers so it's good that if you can get a dog with a healthy background that you can move on and you know that you're going to...if you're going to have spent two years training them [Sound of dogs barking] and then that you'll have them for maybe eight, nine, ten years as a trained search dog...
AF: And sometimes with a search you can be out for many days in a row?
Jarlath: Yes indeed. I was on a search there now for a young chap that was missing since November [sound of dogs barking] and the search went on for the bones of six months. Now, I was out fiftenn days searching - not fifteen days consecutively - but if we got a new...initially I was out maybe for four days and then if you got a new break of information or something like that you would resume searching in wherever area there's a bit of interest in, or something like that. The Guards might ring you and say, will you come back out, and things like that, so that's how...
AF: Are ye sort of willing to go out...it does say on the website, 365 days a year, 24-7...so you could get a call out at any time?
Jarlath: Yes indeed, but having said that, if you're available, and if you're not available...we have, maybe ten dogs on the callout list and you could contact a few more and they might be able to respond. Or if you were then doing three or four days in a row, you might take a break and give the dog a rest and the others would step in, like, you know. And likewise for myself, going to other parts of the country, that we would kind of back each other up.
AF: Swap it around so that nobody gets exhausted?
Jarlath: Exactly, yeah.
AF: And do you train both air-scenting and trail-scenting dogs?
Jarlath: I have a graded air-scenting dog, Sid, he's graded for that last couple of years, but I'm in the middle of also training a scent-specific trailing dog as well so he's getting there, but slowly.
AF: I saw Jarlath and Shadow in action, when they tracked Edelle in a scent-trailing exercise.
Jarlath: [Outdoor recording and sound of a bell ringing] This is Shadow now, right? Now, I've a bell on him as well, right, because he ranges quite a bit, and just so we're...it's not too bad here, you can kinda see him, but it's...just say you were working in scrub now or in forestry, which I was out in Maam Cross there over the last couple of months, you won't see him. But at least you know when he's coming back, where he's been or where he went so...and also, just so we'll keep an eye on each other, you know. [Sound of other man asking for instructions and Jarlath answering that Edelle is doing it] He'll be doing this blind now so...and there again, it's all about reward so this is his toy when he finds somebody. But first of all he has to come back and tell me.
AF: Then it was my turn. Edelle had borrowed my hat, and kept it in a plastic bag to give Jessie the scent. I thought she might need more but, apparently, even a hat is quite smelly enough to a dog.
Edelle: I was asking you for a scent article...
AF: Yeah, and I thought this would be something that I would have had to, at least, be wearing a day so I was quite surprised that you could use a hat.
Edelle: Yes, so it doesn't actually...we get this a lot, so people come and they say "oh, I haven't showered since yesterday" or "I showered this morning, is that okay?" or whatever. Everyone, every human, underestimates how much of a stink they put up for a dog's nose. It's always surprising. So when we start this with the trailing dogs -which are the scent-specific ones - when we start working with human scents, we put a little cotton pad on the person, up near their shoulders, against their skin, and after like 20 minutes, half an hour, there's enough scent on that pad for the dog to be able to pick that person out and follow their trail, or even pick them out of a line-up.
So, it's amazing how quickly your scent can collect on stuff, but if you think about it...the way a trailing dog works is that when they're following a trail, they're walking along a route where the person has also walked through for a split second so it's not like the person has to stand there for ten minutes, take a few steps, and stand there again. The person could have ran through an area and the dog will still be able to find enough human scent to be able to follow it. So we're constantly shedding skin cells and we're constantly stinking up the area around us. And the dogs are super-sensitive to it, so it's not actually that hard to get a scent-article.
So we say anything from the waist up: we don't want, like, socks or trousers; we want something that was like a t-shirt that you wore, or maybe your pyjama top or a scarf or a hat. Any of that is fine, so long as it belongs to you, and you're not after borrowing, you know, your brother's hat or your husband's scarf because that's just a little bit confusing for the dogs - there's two different scent profiles on the same hat. And that's all there is to it, it's quite simple.
But we just have to be very careful in training, especially at the start when we're teaching the dog about human scent, that we're not contaminating it. Because, say for example...there have been searches over in England where trailing dogs were used and, a person went missing from home, say, and the police over there would say to the dog-handlers, "okay, I'll go and get a scent-article from this person's bedroom" or whatever the case may be, and they may go in and take something like the pillowcase or a pyjama top or a t-shirt and they'll bag it up and hand it to the dog-handler.
But what can happen is when that dog starts working, especially if the police-man or police-woman who collected that scent-article has been in the area they're working, the dog can actually quite easily, "well, actually, I can smell 2 trails here, one from the missing person, one from the police-officer", and the dog may not always pick the right one. So it's making the job very difficult for the dog, so we're almost like CSI Miami, back in the day...we're always very careful when we collect scent-articles from people that we're not contaminating it, or that not too many other people have handled it, because it just makes the job harder for the dog.
AF: I saw this in action for myself. Edelle had sent me off and told me where to stand but while I was waiting I leaned up against a nearby rock - sort of half leaning, half sitting on it. When I saw them coming I moved away a bit so that I could watch them work. Jessie followed the trail straight to the rock, and then she was sniffing around it for a while. I could see Edelle was looking a bit puzzled by this apparent detour off the trail but, as a dogsbody, you can't really react or draw attention until the dog finds you and barks to notify. So while Edelle thought that Jessie was getting distracted, I was bursting to say, "she's being so good, that's where I was standing." Anyway, afterwards I told her, and that's how dogsbodies can also be helpful in giving feedback about the dog's behaviour.
AF: Like what we did today was very much collaborative, everyone's helping each others' dogs.
Jarlath: Yes, indeed, and it's like how I trained. I don't have any qualifications as such but I have trained dogs. And I've picked up from other colleagues back in the day when they were handlers and they graded dogs, so you just kind of move on your knowledge, impart your knowledge to the other people. And they would have 'bodied' for me, when I was training my dogs so now it's payback time.
AF: And obviously you still do dogsbody work?
Jarlath: Arrah, we would, yeah. Now, some training sessions we might have people to body for us but if not we'll just step in and out ourselves and we'll all body for one another, so that's how it works.
AF: Ye are all well used to lying on the side of the mountains.
Jarlath: Arrah, yeah, sure it's fantastic.
AF: Well, I really enjoyed it, I was only out there for 10 or 20 minutes. Even if you were out for an hour, if you're wrapped up...
Jarlath: Well, that's the important thing, that you have the proper clothing. But we have gear that we can give...we have mats that you can lie on, that you're not lying on the cold ground. And we have buffalo bags that you can get into if the day is anyway cold, and groundsheets and all the rest of it, to stop...to keep you from the rain. And it's also important that you have proper boots on so you don't go over on your ankle. As I said to you earlier, the grounds can be very unforgiving and you can go over on your ankle quite quickly, so you just have to be careful.
AF: Are you actually happy for people to say, oh, I'll come along just for one day, or do you prefer people to be more regular?
Edelle: We actually don't really mind. So, the main thing about it is that, for anyone that would be interested in doing it I guess the first thing is to go onto our website - SARDAIreland.com - and have a look at what it's all about and what's required. The main thing that we ask is that people are...like, you're not sent away, as you found out today, you're not sent away for four hours at the top of a mountain on your own. You're generally within sight of someone on the team all the time when you come to body for us but we still want people that are, you know, okay to walk across boggy ground; that have hiking boots, wetpants, rain gear...you know, a flask of tea with them to keep themselves warm. That they're able to kind of do a little bit of hiking; that they don't feel out of their comfort zone to be sitting on the side of a hill for an hour or so.
And it's also very important that people are into dogs. So we have people that say, "oh yeah, no, I like dogs" and then they don't really think about, you know, working dogs, which are kind of a higher drive. And when our dogs find someone they're going to be barking in your face, waiting on their reward to come from the handler so we just prefer if people are actually comfortable in those kind of situations. But yeah, we enjoy having new people all the time, and it's something that even in our organisation, if you want to be involved in the charity, you don't have to be a dog-trainer. You can be a dogsbody, where you just get to come along for the weekends.
It's the best role ever, I did it for 5 years. You get to relax, chat with everyone, have fun, you get to nap on the hill during the day and then, you know, we all kind of sit around chatting in the evening after dinner and it's a lovely weekend, so it's a nice way to be involved in something like this, even if you're not interested in training a dog yourself.
AF: It's a fantastic experience because there's no pressure. You're just like, stand over there, go over there, walk over there, we'll see ya in a minute. I loved it.
Edelle: It's the best nap you will ever have.
AF: It was much more interactive than I thought. I did picture myself...I was like, I'm gonna be recording by myself up on the hills...they're not here yet...
AF: Connell, of Connell and Jaeger team, had told me how much he enjoyed being a 'body', to the extent that sometimes he found himself lulled to sleep on the mountainside. I could well imagine it. You're tucked into a cozy buffalo bag, you have snacks and a warm drink, and when else would you get the chance just to lie down and observe nature, all by yourself - watch the clouds, listen to the birds - totally secure in the knowledge that someone is out there looking and their only job is to find you.
AF: You were saying that you have to be a dogsbody for a certain amount of time before you can actually start training a dog as well.
AF: And the whole time you're being a dogsbody you're learning all this stuff as well.
Edelle: Yes, so you'll learn a lot. So we say...we ask people to body for the first six months, and it has a number of purposes but the main one for them is that they get an idea of what's actually involved. So we get a lot of people, especially after we do news articles or anything on mainstream media, we get a lot of people saying, "god, I'd love to do that" and "my dog would be great". And maybe their dog might be great, but if that person isn't able to go up on a mountainside and look after themselves and make sure they come to no harm, and be able to, you know, read maps and understand the weather, then they're not really the person to do this.
So when we have new people join we tell them to take their time for the first six months, not to get too focused on, either buying a dog or training a dog that might already be two, three, four years old and probably getting a little bit too old for the job anyway. And we ask them just to take their time, and they kind of get an idea for what's involved on the dogs; so what kind of dogs are really suitable when you see them on the ground. Because just because it's a Labrador or a German Shephard or whatever, doesn't mean that it will make a good search dog. And then they also get an opportunity to kind of talk with the other handlers and understand what the training involves; how much time is involved. But also talk to the qualified handlers and understand what actually happens on a search.
Like, training a dog for search and rescue is very rewarding and it's amazing fun, and it's kind of a great sense of achievement when you do it but you have to be prepared for what you're going to be searching for at the end. Sadly enough, there can be cases where we might be called on a search and we know that person is already deceased so it's not a case of, you know, we might find them alive if we work quickly. You know they're going to be deceased and you have to be prepared for what you're going to come across in that situation. Because it is just going to be the dog, the dog handler and maybe one other person that arrives. So, you know, you need to have a little bit of knowledge of what to do in that situation; what the protocol is.
And then the same can apply for if you find someone that's alive and well, generally they'll have been sitting there for a few hours so you're thinking about first aid, hypothermia, they may be hungry, they could have something like Alzheimer's, that they're already disorientated and you want to make sure that you don't make them feel any worse than they already are. So you're trying to keep them calm and reassure them that everything's okay. And it just takes a certain type of people to be able to do that. So it's always something that we remind people when they join, that it's amazing fun when you're training a dog but if your dog qualifies then you need to be prepared for what's going to come when you go on a search.
AF: I know you talk about dog teams - so that's the person and the dog - would you ever, like, would you work with another dog or...how important is it that the person knows the dog?
Edelle: So, when we go out on a search we do, as you say, we call it a dog team, and it's the handler and the dog, and they've worked together for years, so we can't swap dogs or swap handlers. Or even, say, if you have a husband and wife that are both involved in SARDA Ireland, only one of those people will work the dog, it's never more than one. And that's important for a number of different reasons, in that, one, the dog understands who its master is and who it should be listening to; but secondly, the most important thing is that the handler can watch the dog's behaviour.
So the handler can tell when the dog is working effectively and not, so it can tell if it's struggling in certain terrain or it can tell if the dog is on-scent (we say), so if it's...you know, close to finding the person or if it's following the correct trail or if the dog is showing interest in any particular area.
So with our air-scenting dogs, the handler will be able to tell when the dog might turn its head in a certain direction into the wind, and you say, well, it's showing interest in something in that area. So you might mark it down on your map and say, we're going to make sure to cover that area maybe extra-carefully when we get to it.
And for a trailing dog, you're doing something similar, but because you're always behind the dog on the lead, you're watching for small changes in behaviour, in the dog, that might indicate that maybe, the person might have got picked up by a taxi along the way, in which case the trail ends, but you'll be able to tell from the dog whether the person hung around in that area for a while first. You'll see the dog maybe turning its head and sniffing a bench where the person might have been sitting or maybe showing a lot of interest in, like, an article of clothing that might be on the ground that you might be able to say, okay, that's likely to be from the missing person.
So the handler is as important as the dog, in that their able to read their own dog's behaviour, but that's very unique to each dog so I couldn't read the behaviour of another person's dog, the same way as they could. So that's why it's always the same dog handler and dog that work together.
AF: It's literally a dog...it's a team.
AF: Teamwork. So, one thing I noticed from my experience here this morning is that you're always trying to give the dogs variety?
Edelle: Yeah. So we would have a lot of different things that we vary. And in no particular order they are: the difficulty of either the search area or the trail; the difficulty of the terrain; the weather; what time of day or night it is; it can also be what person they're searching for. So, for air-scenting it's less important; you can repeat the same people maybe every couple of weeks, you could be finding the same people over and over again and it's okay for the dog because they're just finding any person. But for a trailing dog, you have to try and be extra careful about making sure there's a variety of people because even though people don't fully understand how this works yet, everyone has a unique scent but there's also scent differences between the ages of people. Or maybe certain conditions that they may have. Or the type of food that they eat.
So if you have someone that might eat a lot of spicy food, their sweat or their body scent may smell a little bit different than someone that doesn't eat spicy food. And a more practical application of that is, that older people will generally have a different scent so your scent will change as you age and, if you keep training your dog with young people that are maybe twenty years old, if you go out on a search then to look for someone who's eighty-five and missing, the dog might be okay with it or they may be a little bit hesitant; saying, "well, we don't normally search for someone that smells quite like this". So sometimes they can ignore people just purely based on how they smell. So it's important that we get big variety on it.
And it's the same for terrain, in that, if you're always training in simple grassland and it's easy weather, easy terrain; then the dog will always have an easy time in training. But then when you take it to an actual search you may have to search acres and acres of bog and forestry and mountainside and farmland and everything in between. And if your dog isn't experienced at doing that, it probably won't succeed very well in the job. So it's very important for us that we expose the dog to all the different varieties and conditions in training so that we know when we go on a search that it will be okay.
AF: So, variety in night and day, and the weather...because, as a lay person, I kinda went, oh, a nice sunny day, that'd be easier but Jarlath was saying wind is actually easier...carries the scent. Or do you reach the stage where you're like, it shouldn't make any difference what conditions?
Edelle: It shouldn't make any difference to the dog, eventually, once it's been trained in every different type of weather so you can probably hear at the minute, when we're in this car, it's raining. And what happens in rain is that, the scent that comes off a person will hit the ground quicker because the raindrops are pushing it down. So it doesn't get the same chance to spread or rise up into the air. Now what happens on a warm day is the opposite.
So it's like when you make a cup of tea and you see the steam rising from the cup of tea, that's because there's a difference in temperature between the tea and the air. And the same thing happens with human scent. So if you go out on a January morning and it's four degrees outside, and you get someone to lay a trail - so you get them to walk across a park - what's happening is, as the scent comes off them, if there's no wind, it's hitting the ground very quickly and very close to where the person has been.
If it's cold but windy, the scent will hit the ground fairly quick but it may be blown a couple of metres away from where they've been. On a very windy day, that could be a hundred metres. You know, the wind could really carry the scent a long distance depending on the trail as well. But whereas, on a warm day, because the air is so much warmer, the scent will rise off a person and just keep rising, like the steam out of your tea or the smoke out of a chimney, it will just keep going up and up.
And that can be a problem for the dogs because they're looking for the scent that is at their nose level, so they're looking for the scent that's hitting the ground or in the air around them. But if it's a warm day and all that scent is going straight up it's going to be harder for that dog to search.
So that's why it's important for us to take account of all this in training, but also then, on real searches, we will be careful about things like the wind and the air temperature. Because if you had someone missing, say, on the side of a mountain range; depending on the time of day, the scent of the person will move differently. So if you have a person that's maybe broken their leg and they're sitting in one spot on the mountain, maybe, half way up the side; in the morning the sun will be hitting the ground and warming the ground, and it will do the same to the scent. So the scent at that stage will blow up the mountain...so this gets very complicated, very quick [laughing]...so it'll blow up towards the top of the mountain, just because of thermal currents and wind and heat.
So what a search dog team will do is they will start their search at the top of the ridge so that they know that any scent down below is being blown up towards them and the dog has a better chance of picking it up. But the opposite happens in the evening time. So as the sun goes down, the ground begins to cool and the scent will start to travel downwards.
So if you started the same search with the exact same conditions - it could even be the same person that's still missing from the morning - you would actually start at the bottom of the ridge and work your way up because, again, you know that's where the scent is blowing. And that's only on a simple mountainside where it may be one continuous slope and one continuous type of ground. If you think about a trailing dog that works maybe through a city centre or through a park, it has to cover grass, it may have to go through a playground, it may have to walk along tarmac that would be extra hot on warm days...so we're always aware of how the scent is going to move in that area depending on whether it's grass or whether it's street, whether it's warm or cold, whether it's windy or not windy, whether it's an open area where the scent can move around or whether it's like a little tunnel or a little gap between two buildings.
We'll also take into account things like how heavily trafficked the area is before we search. So if we search on the side of a mountain it's likely that there's not been many other people there (unless there have been other people searching for a long time). But if you take a dog to an urban place like a park or a playground again, there's going to be plenty of people around there, and even though the dog is trained to ignore - a trailing dog is trained to ignore the scent that doesn't match - the dog still has to be able to decide, every time that it meets a new scent, whether it's the right person or the wrong person. And be able to understand all that, and work through it all. So it can get really interesting when you think about all the different factors that the dog has to think about. And it just does this naturally because it's a hunting instinct that every dog can do. So it's something that they can all do naturally in the blink of an eye, without having to think about it too much.
AF: You may have noticed Edelle getting a bit short of breath at times. She's just recovering from Covid, so, making her talk for extended periods of time was probably not ideal. But, I made her do it anyway. Now, back to Jarlath.
AF: Do you find a difference...do you find one type of training harder than the other? Or, it's all training and work?
Jarlath: More or less, yes, it's all training. They are slightly different. The scent-specific dog is more scientific, where you have scent to give to the dog so that he'll lock onto it when he goes searching whereas the air-scenting dog, I would let him off on the hill and he will...he nearly knows better now than I do.
AF: Do you work in the city as well, or is it all mostly country?
Jarlath: Not really in the city, because...you'd be working on the outskirts of the cities. In most cities now you'll find there's cameras everywhere, right? And now we have dash-cams and all the rest. On the outskirts of cities or maybe where an elderly person that has the onsets of Alzheimer's or something but still walking...someone like that you could be called to look for or an Alzheimer's patient who walked out of a nursing home or things like that, you would be looking for them. If they got lost in the woods.
AF: My grandmother had Alzheimer's and all she wanted to do was get out and go off down the road.
Jarlath: It brings them back to their youth, probably, you know, areas of...
AF: She said, I have to go milk the cows and...
Jarlath: Yes, yes indeed. One of the finds I had with my last dog, the Springer Spaniel, was from a patient who walked out of the psychiatric unit, and he had a troubled mind and the dog found him after, maybe, five days but unfortunately he was deceased. But at least the dog found him and, ah, they could move on...and people have a grave to go to too.
AF: You know what's happened.
Jarlath: So, you would be on the outskirts of the cities but not in the cities per se.
AF: And have you...do you go all over the country then...or try and stay mostly around here? Are you from Galway?
Jarlath: I am, I'm a local, yeah. Jarlath. My mother was from Tuam so that was where I got that handle. Mainly around Galway, Connemara, the Burren...but if there's a shout in other parts of the country and it goes on for a few days, you'd respond as well. If they were still looking for the missing person, you would.
AF: And you're moving quite fast, I noticed, well, we were watching, was it the first dog, Sid, when he was running back and forth and you were trying to follow him. You actually have to be quite fit...
Jarlath: Yes indeed. Yes, there is a certain level because the search could go on for a couple of hours, you know? Normally, you'd search for 2 and half hours, then you take a break and give the dog a break. And then resume and maybe do another 2 and half hours in the afternoon. And you're going to be going up and down hills and all the rest, so...
AF: And would ye train, once a week, or...?
Jarlath: Yes, and if you're living close by, you could do a session mid-week, you know, in the evenings. Sometimes we would train in the darkness because often, you're going to be called out at night time as well, so it's good that the dog is used to working in the darkness. And yourself…you will have a head-torch on and maybe a light on the dog as well so that you have an idea where is he and you don't fall over him, like in my case, because my dog is black [both people laughing].
AF: I was about to say, how do you...if you send the dog off he would have to have a little torch on him as well coz otherwise he's gone and you're like...
Jarlath: Yeah, and there's a bell on him as well, but you would, if you were searching you'd have your map and you'd have an idea where you're going. My dog is also trained to the whistle so I can bring him back if I want him, which is important you know. He mightn't hear, if you're shouting at him in the wind, if you're downwind of the dog, you're not going to hear but he'll have a better chance of hearing the whistle.
AF: And the only time that you want him to bark is when he has found...
Jarlath: When he has found...yeah.
AF: I like what you were saying about the steps...
Jarlath: Yeah, our training is structured, right, so we have structures and we go from one step to the other, as the dog progresses, and if the dog is finding a difficulty with the next step, you move back slightly and maybe break down the step into two or three little bits and then it'll...you can make them come together.
AF: It's all about making it easy for the dog.
Jarlath: Exactly. It's kind of...how would you say...structured training that's kind of faultless, you know, you make it easy for the dog so you don't put too many impediments in the dog's way. You don't want the dog to fail, so you make the steps as incremental as possible and as easy as possible. And it's all about the dog enjoying it, at the end of his find he's going to get his reward.
AF: There's one thing you really notice today, they're all having such a good time out there.
Jarlath: Yeah, they're happy aren't they? Yeah, it's what they're into, like, this is their game. They're kind of looking forward to this all week I think, their Sunday mornings out here. Flying around, you know.
AF: And so the rest of the time...I know with sort of, with specially trained companion dogs and that sort of thing, sometimes you're not allowed to pet them or guide dogs...
Jarlath: Yeah, because they're working. There's a lady lives beside me now, and she has a high-vis on and she says, this dog is working, please do not interfere. But my dog, if I'm working...if he's working on the hill he's not going to bother with anyone, he's just looking for that scent. You know, they're just driven, so they are really, because they enjoy it so much.
AF: So the rest of the week you just treat him like a normal dog.
Jarlath: Yeah, they're pets at home like, you know. But they still have to be exercised.
AF: Yeah [laughing].
Jarlath: Because you want to keep them fit, you know, because it's the dog that's covering most of the ground. If you have control over him you can send him north, south, east or west, up or down, you know. And the more ground that the dog covers, it's the less that I have to cover [both people laughing]. I live near the sea, and I've a lake near me as well so, bring a tennis ball and feck it into the sea and you get 4 or 5 retrieves and he's happy out. And it's good for their bones as well. I must show you the back of my van...I've never bought a tennis ball...
AF: [laughing] Do you find them?
Jarlath: The dog finds them.
[Sound of both people moving to back of van and rustling noises as Jarlath shows tennis balls and dog toys]
Jarlath: How many is there? Fifteen? Twenty?
AF: [laughing] That's crazy. And it's amazing what you can find out on the mountains...and all this equipment, you guys buy all that yourselves?
Jarlath: Yeah, yeah. Well, these SARDA dog jackets, they're supplied by the organisation, for the dogs.
AF: That's great.
Jarlath: And it's just so that, if he's working on a hill, people can see that he's a dog that's working. He's not a dog that is chasing sheep. Which is important. Now our dogs are stock-tested as well. Before they can start their training, they have to be obedience tested. Their basic obedience, that they will come back to you when you call them, and they have to be stock tested that they won't worry sheep. And we get an independent farmer to stock-test them and he'll have to say that he would be happy with our dog searching on his land and that's he's comfortable that our dog's won't worry either sheep or cattle, which is very important you know. There's a lot in the media at the moment about...we're at lambing season and all the dog attacks around the country...farmers are losing lots of sheep and lambs...
AF: Even if...I think that people don't realise that the dog doesn't have to attack the sheep...
Jarlath: No, and especially if a ewe is heavily pregnant, they could slip a lamb quite easily, you know, and they're traumatised. Or they're driven into lakes, or driven through barbed wire fences and all this...and they get destroyed. The farmers in this region, on this commonage that have given us the heads up to train here. There are sheep here but we have been training here now for the bones of twenty years, and we've no incident.
AF: Well, I had an absolutely wonderful time - that is true, I'm not lying about that - very interesting, learned so much. I mean, I've read a lot on your website but actually doing it, really learned a lot. So, thank you so much Edelle for your time, thank you for introducing me to all your dogs and I hope I was a good dogsbody for you...
Edelle: You were. You were excellent. So thank you for coming out to us, it's always great to spread the word a little bit more because it's a very unique type of charity so it's always great to be able to spread the word more. And you've got first-hand experience now that we started this morning in the rain, we're ending in the sunshine, it's been cold, it's been everything in between but it's always great to have people come and body for our dogs because without someone to look for, there's no point in us even trying to train a dog. So thank you very much for your time as well. [Sounds of everyone saying goodbye].
AF: So that was my adventure with SARDA Ireland. It wouldn't be for everybody. You need to be comfortable with dogs, and mud and rain, and you also need the patience to stay and wait in one spot. But if you like being outdoors, it's ideal, and the camaraderie is great. I got the impression as well that the more you do it, the better it gets, as you get to know the dogs and you can watch their progress. Their website is sardaireland.com if you want to learn more about them, and maybe throw a little support their way. You can also follow them on facebook and I know the photos on there never fail to make me smile.
So thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed it, and see you next time.