St. John

This is Sashisu's St. John's Water Dog; AKC SR13661704 - we call him St. John (Sin-jun.)  He has a variety of other nicknames:  Singe, as he is forever wagging his tail against the wood burning stove and singeing it.  Small Dog, as he is the smaller of my 2 yellow labs.  And Butthead, to name a few.

He's a yellow Labrador Retriever. One of the original names of the breed was St. John's water dog; that's where his name comes from. The pronunciation of his name is from the UK. When I'm asked how to spell St. John's name, I say, "just like it sounds," but only Brits think that's funny.

St. John is in training to be a Search and Rescue (SAR) Dog . This isn't like assistance dogs where I raise a puppy, then give him up to be trained and placed to work with someone else. We train, and will hopefully certify and search together as a SAR team.

This is my second SAR dog. My first dog, Perdido, is also a yellow lab and does trailing. Given something with a individual's scent on it and a starting point, Perdido can follow a person's path. Hopefully St. John will follow in Perdido's footsteps... so to speak. You see the trailing discipline most often in the movies - bloodhounds tracking escaped criminals. In rescue, trailing dogs may be used to help find people lost in the wilderness, as well as those who may have wandered off in urban areas, most often children and Alzheimer victims. St. John is also learning ID work, or 'scent matching.' In scent matching, a dog determines if two items have the same scent on them. This skill is investigatory and helps agencies sort through clues. For instance, given an item with a person's scent on it, he will be able to tell if the subject has been in a car or if an item of clothing was theirs or was touched by them.  We'll see what sort of searching he has a talent for as we progress in our training.

We have just started our training and it takes about 2 years to complete all the required skills sign-offs and certify. In addition to searching, SAR dogs must demonstrate: obedience, sociability with other dogs, sociability with people, swimming, transport (traveling with other dogs over a bumpy road in the back of a pick-up truck), helicopter hot loads, as well as a variety of trails in wilderness and urban environments. To the right is a picture of St. John (at 4 months) completing his first hot load in an Air National Guard Blackhawk. A hot load exercise consists of  the team approaching the helicopter, getting in, strapping in both dog and handler, unstrapping, exiting and leaving the zone.  This all must be done with dog and handler calm and under control while the helicopter rotors are in motion. It gets pretty loud and windy in the rotors wash.  St. John was happy to get away from the big, loud, metal beast.

St. John was born on 02 December 2003; I've had him since he was a pup. At 1 year, he weighed about 50 pounds. I selected his litter, and him specifically, because I thought he had the right characteristics to be a good SAR dog and to fit in with the rest of my "pack" (which includes my husband and 3 others dogs.) St. John loves people, although you have to watch out for his tail, which can be lethal when he wags it. I'm very happy to say we have a waiver to the no-pet policy at work. On training days, St. John or Perdido can be found in my office waiting to go out and play the find people game.

Some folks have trouble telling St. John and Perdido apart. They are both yellow labs, but look very different to me.  Well here's some hints:
- Perdido weights 80 pounds and is big, boxy, and tall. St. John weights 50 pounds and has a smaller athletic build..
- Perdido's nose is pink. St. John's is black.
- Perdido wears a green collar. St. John wears blue.
- Perdido is comparatively mellow. He will sit back and allow you to pet him. St. John is something of a spazz and demands that you pet him.
- Perdido is older and his face and the tip of his tail are getting white. St. John has a small black spot on his left rear leg.
- Perdido's eyes are dark brown. St. John's are more brandy colored.

Ok, so maybe their differences are not as obvious to others, as they are to me. But they both respond to a friendly voice, no matter what name they are called....