Behind the Scenes: Life of an Avy Dog
Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an Avalanche Dog is like? We caught up with one of Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s fully trained Avalanche dogs, Guinness and his handler, Bill. Guinness is two year old chocolate Labrador retriever who works at Crested Butte Mountain Resort but, just like humans, he doesn’t work 24/7. While he’s not working, he’s a well-loved family pet.
Guinness’s training starts with obedience training and playing tug a war, which they call ragging. This quickly became one of the most fun things in the world to him. Once that happened, they started doing “run aways”, where Guinness is teased with a sweater (the rag), someone runs away a short distance with it and then Bill tells him to search. Guinness runs to the person holding the sweater and is rewarded by his favorite game, tug a war.
As Guinness learned the game, they started making it harder by running away and hiding which teaches him to use his nose instead of his eyes. Eventually, they started burying a person with a rag in front of him to teach them to dig and look for the human scent below the snow surface. As the Guinness progressed, the searches became more difficult with the person getting buried out of his sight.
Next, they start burying people for several minutes up to a half hour and then bring the dog to the area. To continue training, scented articles of clothing that someone wears for a couple of days are buried in the snow. To stimulate a real avalanche situation, the buried clothing stays there for a few days so that the there is no scent trail and just the scent coming up through the snow. Using articles of clothing also allows them to burry deeper. Training happens in different conditions such as different temperatures, humidity, wind speeds, terrain features, burial times and quantities of buried articles/people. This challenges not only Guinness, but also his handler Bill.
So what does a day in life of Guinness look like?
He wakes up a couple hours before work to go on a short walk and usually play catch. He eats breakfast and then drives up to work with Bill. Once they are both in uniform, they ride the chairlift up and ski to the top patrol shack for morning meeting. Guinness and all of the other avalanche dogs have their own cozy kennels with blankets in the top shack where they get to relax. Throughout the day, they come out and hang out with patrollers in the lunch room, play outside with each other and work on obedience. A couple times a week they do a practice search which can last anywhere from 1 minute to over an hour. At the end of the day, Guinness and the other dogs ride down to the base area on a snowmobile or in a specially designed trailer called “the dog box”. Then Guinness is done for the day and he is back to being a family dog!
Do you want to meet Guinness? He loves when people come say hi at the top patrol shack or at one of the patrol outposts! The public is always welcome to stop by and interact with these amazing, life saving dogs.