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Training an avalanche dogs requires a huge commitment from the handler who have to be dedicated, passionate as well as open-minded. They must be able to take direction and filter a vast amount of information into what is best for their dog. A lot is expected of CARDA members but there is one aspect that they cannot provide, guidance.
The Instructor core of CARDA is made up of two different groups the first being professional Doghandlers from the RCMP and Parks Canada and the other group is from the ranks of CARDA. It is a very strong combination that provides the best possible instruction.
CARDA is privileged to have the close working relationship with the RCMP that it does. Not the least of the many advantages is the provision every year of several active members of the Canine Division to act as Instructors. These professionals bring not only the benefit of their own training but invaluable day to day real experience. They spend countless hours working their dogs in different profiles and have a true understanding of the applications of their teachings. The Handlers who are used as Instructors are qualified by the RCMP itself in Avalanche Response and come from the districts in or adjacent to the mountains.
The CARDA Instructors bring specific mountain skills to the table and are also experienced handlers. They understand the intricacies of the mountain environment, particularly the avalanche aspect. Some CARDA handlers see becoming an instructor as the final stage of their own training. Most know the old adage that to truly learn something is to teach it. This is very true in the Rescue Canine field as Instructors now learn off every dog they work with as opposed to just their own. It is not just a matter of joining the Instructor Cadre however.
Preferably a prospective Instructor must have least handled one dog through its working life. There has to be experience. Knowing the level of commitment and the frustrations of being trained is key. However being a good Senior Handler does not mean being a good Instructor. There are many different approaches to dog training and more to the point many different types of students. The ability to put ego aside and find the best solution for the team is desired. Furthermore an Instructor is part of a group that is working together constantly discussing challenges and soliciting each other for advice. Opinions can be strongly held and there is no room or time for heated debates or unprofessionalism amongst the Instructor corp. An ability to relate to others, both students and peers, is what makes a successful Instructor.
There are basically three Level of Instruction in the Winter Course. The Puppy Intermediates and Advanced. Each level is divided into groups dependent on the number of students. Ideally each group has four student teams each with a RCMP and a CARDA Instructor. Past instalments have described each level to the point where describing them would be redundant. Suffice to say each has its specific challenges. These are met not only by the individual Instructors talents but by the Instructor Group as a whole. On every day of the course there is an Instructor meeting in which all the teams are discussed. Which teams ready for validation attempts is a major topic as well as who is struggling. As stated before opinions are solicited for solutions and a best course of action is implemented. In rare cases a student may be moved from one group to another. The exchange of ideas and experience is one of the true strengths of the program.
The challenges come in basically two forms, problem with the dog or with the handler. Again much of this has been discussed before. Dog problems can be difficult to overcome but for the most part it’s easier since a dog does not have an ego. Instructors, especially the Intermediates, have to be able to get through to handlers who are under a great deal of stress and or have their own ideas of what should be done. Instructors have to find the balance between consistently approaching a problem (doing it over and over until the team gets it) and recognizing when something is not working and a change is needed. Not easy when there’s only five days. Sometimes Instructors have to find a way to re-motivate a student who is not successful on their initial validation attempt. CARDA, like other outdoor professions, is filled with highly motivated individuals who are goal-oriented. “It’s the first time I haven’t got what I wanted” is a common statement heard on an unsuccessful attempt. Getting the Handler past the disappointment can be a challenge especially if they have never dealt with failure before. In almost every case once the frustration spike is gone the Handler learns from the experience and moves on to success.
The worst part of an Instructors job is when all avenues have been exhausted and there is a recognition that a team will not become validated. This does happen and is hard on everyone. There are different reasons and the main question Instructors ask themselves before “scrubbing” a team is “Have we given them every chance to succeed?” While this is emotionally difficult for an Instructor to admit it is subordinate to pushing an unsuitable team into a life and death situation.
Speaking personally I am proud and honoured to work with my fellow Instructors. The level of commitment each, RCMP/Parks Canada or CARDA is humbling. The RCMP members have given CARDA their all with enthusiasm and openness. I can honestly say that each Instructor is dedicated to the success of every team they work with. We rejoice with our student’s success and hold ourselves accountable for their failures. Every team teaches us something and the reward is the fulfillment felt when past students become operational. If there is one telling thing that summarizes the character of my fellow Instructor s it is that not one of them has ever asked, “How much does it pay?”
An active member of the Canine Division of the RCMP. They are certified in the Avalanche profile and bring exceptional dog skills to the Course.
Parks Canada Handler
The Search and Rescue Doghandlers from Jasper and Banff National Park. Have both advanced back-country skills and are trained by the RCMP with RCMP dogs. Usually used as Advanced Instructors.
An experienced CARDA Handler with teaching skills. Brings specific training and experience to the table
Approaches The styles of teaching used in CARDA layman terms
Pat on the Back
Reassurance to the student that they are doing things right. Primarily used to raise self-confidence
Facilitation Providing a student with what they need especially experienced Handlers that know the process and what their dog specifically needs
Speaks for itself. Used primarily to ensure the Instructor is being heard.
A team permanently removed from the program
This is the coolest thing I have ever done
A statement made by a student who, among other things, had climbed Mt. Everest. Sums up what Instructors get out of teaching.