After years of hard work, Carole Capper and her four legged partner Ada have reached a major milestone.
Every day since Capper brought Ada, a german shepherd and bernese mountain dog cross, home they’ve played, trained and practised with the goal of being validated for wilderness searching. In September they participated in a week-long camp in Merritt and finally achieved validation.
A Kamloops resident with strong ties to Sun Peaks, Capper has been a passionate volunteer in the area since moving from the United Kingdom with her family in 2008. Both of her children, Eliott and Ash, and her husband, Brian, have worked in Sun Peaks. Capper also spent time as a volunteer ski patroller with the Candian Ski Patrol in Sun Peaks before joining Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR).
“I’ve always loved the outdoors so I became involved with search and rescue which opened up a whole new world to me,” she said. “Lots of stuff that I’ve never done before coming from the U.K. There were lots of things you could specialize in and the dogs were just one of the things that I was particularly interested in.”
After extensive search and rescue training, Capper sought out Ada with the intention of training her in searching. She came to the Capper household as a puppy in early 2018 and training began right away.
“The most important thing is the bond between dog and handler. So I started working on that straight away. Lots of play as a puppy just as normal, but something every day a little bit more intense than a pet dog and a very structured approach to training.”
As she grew up, Capper incorporated training to work on agility, confidence, socializing, and scent work, all key skills for a search and rescue dog.
“It starts from day one because there’s no day off, you can’t take a day off. I’m always doing something whether it be obedience, engagement, impulse control or searching. Even if I’m just out for a casual walk I will throw something in.”
The duo worked through the BC Search Dog Association and had to pass a puppy assessment and intermediate assessment before the validation testing last month, which consisted of a 45 minute negative search, 45 minute positive search with a live find and an obedience assessment.
The instructors and validators are RCMP dog handlers and the validation standard comes from the RCMP, who are the only ones able to dispatch the search dogs.
“I’m not normally nervous of exams but boy, was I nervous,” Capper said. “Because it tested me as well as the dog, (like) our relationship and how we communicate. But man I was excited (to pass).”
She said the process was challenging, a combination of long hours of training, navigating the search dog world as a new handler, working through the assessments as a new standard was being implemented and travelling for courses and assessments, all while funding the process herself.
It’s all work she put in in addition to working full time as a nurse, volunteering with KSAR and volunteering as a critical incident stress management peer for British Columbia Search and Rescue.
“I need to retire, or win the lottery, or both,” she joked.
Having achieved validation, the work hasn’t stopped for the search team. Capper will continue training as well as working towards additional kinds of validations.
But, she said, the hours they put in are worth it.
“When she responds immediately to a command I think ‘Yes, finally!’ When I call her and she looks at me or when she communicates something to me, when that process is happening, it’s phenomenal. Without a doubt a great sense of achievement.”
Parts of the journey were also captured by local filmmakers (and KSAR volunteers) for a documentary on the process of training search dogs. The movie, called Sit Stay Search, was created with TELUS Storyhive funding and is expected to be released this fall.
“The fact that it comes from RCMP and their K9 handlers is an honour. To have them look at you and say, ‘hey, you’ve not done a bad job.’”
Until then Capper and Ada will continue training but still bask in the glow of their recent achievement.