Excitement and Independence

Profile of patroller Doug Lesch and his avalanche dog Keena.

Doug Lesch is the handler of the new black lab puppy, Keena. He started training dogs long before he got Keena, however. Bill Vore is another ski patrol dog handler of Race. Read more about Bill and Race here: Handling the "Dog Father's" Dog. Lesch is also trained as Race’s handler, and last February, they were validated through CRAD. He allowed Vore to become her main handler, which allowed Lesch to bring in Keena and begin training her. The passion dogs display during their training is undeniable, and they continue to show that drive when certified. Lesch explains the steps he takes while training her, as well as her independence- a crucial factor when deployed.



What do you enjoy most about training Keena as a puppy?


What I enjoy most is the energy and passion she has for working. Though she doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation we are training for, the excitement and look she has on her face she when we get ready for a search is priceless. She loves it so much that my wife and I have had to start being careful about which words we use around the house, so that Keena doesn’t go from a peaceful, sleeping puppy to a working dog in seconds.


What other strengths does she show besides sniffing with her powerful nose?


Her next best trait besides her nose would be her independence, which was something we noticed while visiting the breeder before we selected her. While all the other puppies were interested in each other, their mom, or the humans that were watching them, Keena was off with nose to the ground and her tail wagging as she explored everything around her. Independence can be a great trait for a working dog, so it’s important to give them the confidence to explore and not rely on attention from their handlers to keep working. Though we are a team, I enjoy and appreciate that she is able to work independently of me, and has the confidence to go find someone even if I am not immediately by her side.



Have you both been certified through CRAD?


Keena and I as a team are not yet  validated through CRAD (Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment). Because of this, we cannot be used as a resource for actual missions. Though we have not made a live rescue, we are training to have the skills necessary to make that successful find. Making a live find would be an amazing thing, and we all are training for it; however, there are many other factors that must line up for that type of rescue to occur. While we cannot control the time the avalanche occurs, the location, or the weather, we can train so that when they happen we have the best chance for a live find.


Will Keena take the summer off?


Keena loves to work. Though we will not be training specifically for success in the wilderness and tracking a scent, we will continue doing search training through the summer. Exposing her to searching and training in many different situations will help build her confidence in the ability to search, regardless of the environment. Just like professional athletes, “cross training” year round keeps those skills sharp, builds new ones, and teaches her how to apply her training to a new problem.



How many days of the week does she come with you?


Right now Keena comes to work with me two or three days a week. It gives her exposure to our working environment, time to train and become familiar with her coworkers without overdoing it. It can be a long week for a puppy (and her handler!) coming to work five days. It also allows me to still work with Race (so that I am still validated with her through CRAD) and keep our skills sharp.


What do you enjoy most about bringing your dog to work?


I love how excited she gets from the moment I put her vest on at home to the second she walks into the Lower Patrol Room. She runs into that room like a kid on Christmas morning, so excited to see her friends and get to be part of the team. Puppies have a way of lightening the mood and helping people unwind, and if Keena is around, she seems to always bring a smile to someone’s face or a wet kiss if you get too close!


Do you want to work with more avy dogs- currently or in the future?


Working with avalanche search and rescue dogs is one of the most fun things I have gotten to be a part of. I am passionate about it, and feel very fortunate to get to do this with guidance from so many mentors. I definitely have a desire to continue working with avalanche and search and rescue dogs. I hope that Keena is my first of many working dogs. The community of people involved in training and fielding working dogs is one of the best, and I love nothing more than being with a group of dog handlers to learn from each other. My favorite part of working with dog training groups in a practice scene is to see the excitement on the dog’s face when you get found.

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