Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland News

Annual Assessment Course 2015

S.A.R.D.A Scotland held it’s fiftieth annual assessment course from 19th to 22nd March.

Congratulations to Alasdair and Torin, Ken and Cranna and Paul and Glash, who achieved full dog grade, and to Aonach and Mark who achieved novice dog grade.  Jonah and Mac also achieved novice dog grade and were awarded the Madras Trophy for the best novice dog on the course.



The weather was kind to us and, rather unusually, the volunteer ‘bodies’ were shedding layers of clothing as they went out to their areas for the day, rather than adding on layers as they normally need to do.  Our equipment officer even had requests for sunscreen! Thank you to the volunteers who helped to make the course a success.

Rescue 137 Sea King helicopter from Lossiemouth came in to assist us with helicopter familiarisation, before having to leave on an urgent request for assistance.  It was a sad occasion,  as this will be  the final time that we train with this helicopter before it is taken out of service.  We would like to thank the RAF for all their assistance over the past years.

We were also very honoured to have two of our  founding members  visiting us at the course. Our Honorary President Hamish MacInnes spent time with us on Saturday and  Kenny MacKenzie presented the certificates on Sunday. Thank you very much to them both.

Thanks also go to Brian and Ken from SARDA England who were our outside assessors for the weekend.

Finally, we would like to thank the owners and staff of the Kings House Hotel who, as always,  looked after us all so well.

We will now take a break for April before our training year begins again in May.





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Molly is a four year old Collie, and it is probably fair to say that she is one of the most aristocratic of the S.A.R.D.A dogs; being in possession of a pedigree.  Molly was born near Roy Bridge but her mother was from Finland and her father was Australian. Her posh pedigree name is Locheil Winter Secret.   She is quite a small Collie compared to most of the other S.A.R.D.A Collies, but her petite stature belies a resilient hill dog with lots of stamina who can cover ground at quite a pace.

Molly the Collie has a camper van in which to relax between searches on training weekends,  and  even has her own specially converted room in the van. She prefers however,  to lie in the doorway in her comfortable bed with the door open to make sure that she is not missing anything going on outside.  We suspect it is also so that she can show the other dogs how warm and snug she is whilst they are still outside but we can’t actually prove it.

She likes to do yoga stretches when she gets up and her favourite yoga position is head up dog – head down dog.  When she was  younger  she liked to corner rabbits in the garden,  which was disturbing to her owners until they realised that she did not harm them and just wanted to lick them!  Thankfully Molly has grown out of rabbit licking and now likes to relax with her favourite film, Marley and Me.


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Another in our series where we meet the S.A.R.D.A Scotland dogs. This time it is Torrin.



Torrin is the gentle giant of the S.A.R.D.A dogs; a three year old cross Golden Retriever /German Shepherd who weighs in at an impressive   44  kilos and is affectionately known by other S.A.R.D.A handlers as ‘Donkey’.   The SARDA handlers and volunteers were interested to see what happened when this big lad was winched into the helicopter for the first time, but he was not fazed by the experience and even seemed to enjoy himself.  Luckily Torrin is rather a ‘picky eater’ which is probably a blessing, as otherwise he would probably be more the size of a pony than a donkey.

Torrin is very popular with the volunteer ‘bodies’ and usually gives them a huge lick up the side of the face,  (sometimes both sides) when he finds them during training searches on the hill. Despite his size,  he is quite a sight to see racing across the hills. He is very graceful for such a large dog and can cover ground quickly. His handler is finding that his fitness levels are improving greatly since Torrin passed his assessment last year, and became a novice dog on the SARDA call out list. Fingers crossed that both handler and dog can pass their assessment again this year and gain full dog status.

Torrin loves to swim and he is also rather possessive with his own toys, and likes to take them from other dogs, which funnily enough he always manages to do without any difficulty!


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Training Weekend 27th February – 1st March 2015 – Cairngorm

Last weekend’s training took place in Cairngorm. All the dogs performed well, and we have our fingers crossed for the dogs who are about to be put through their paces at the annual assessment course, which takes place in a few weeks. The young dogs have gradually built up to searching larger and larger areas over the past year or so, in preparation for the three day test.

Dogs who are going for novice  grade will also have to go through a ‘stock test’ first, to ensure that they are not distracted by livestock.

As the younger dogs searched their areas, other handlers set up an area for avalanche training.  Winter training tends to concentrate around this part of the country, in order that we can practice snow burials. Surprisingly, there are volunteers who are happy to be completely buried in snow for the dogs to find!


We often experience rather wild weather conditions when training here, but we were lucky to have fairly decent conditions in the morning on both days, although the afternoons were very cold and snowy. It is at such times that we feel for our equipment officer Tony.  Whilst we just take ourselves away home to dry out and warm up, Tony also takes several sets of wet volunteer ‘bodies’ hill equipment home to dry out too. He will be busy making sure that all equipment is up to standard and ready to be handed out at the course. Similarly, our Secretary Ken, and Training Officer Pete, will be very busy over the next two weeks, organising the course, which is the culmination of our training year.

Good Luck to everyone involved in the 2015 Annual Course. Let us hope that it is a successful one for everyone.

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Training Weekend January 2015 – Ballachulish

We were based at Ballachulish for the second training weekend this month. This was the penultimate training weekend before the annual course takes place in March.  Handlers, volunteer ‘bodies’ and dogs headed to Glen Coe on Saturday and trained in challenging conditions in driving snow. It was a difficult enough task in itself for our volunteers to make their way in the deep snow to find a place to lie out for the day; but one got stuck in a bog and another fell in a hole up to her waist in icy water!  There was a delay as we dried them both out and warmed them up before training began.

Sunday was a lovely ‘blue sky’ day with light winds and sunshine reflecting off the snow. The sun on our backs seemed to make training less challenging than the day before.

All the dogs going for assessment are doing well.



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S.A.R.D.A. Scotland Volunteer Elana’s Blog.

One weekend a month I join S.A.R.D.A Scotland’s search & rescue dogs and their handlers for two days of training. We meet in a different location each time, and no matter what the weather,  most of Saturday and Sunday is spent outside.

My job as a ‘body’ is to be just that: to act as a casualty in a designated search area. Each handler and search dog spends the day searching for the people acting as casualties in the multiple search areas that are set up. The idea is to provide scenarios that mirror those they may encounter during a real life callout.

My spot on this occasion was about 500m up the hillside.  I had just found a comfortable angle to lie down in without sliding down the hillside and zipped myself into my bivvy bag,  when the first peal of thunder rang through the glen. As the ice rain started to intensify and the wind picked up, lightning flashed and another, louder thunderclap ricocheted around the peaks of Glen Nevis.

“This could be interesting,” I thought to myself.


Glen Nevis Dec 2013_web

My name is Elana and I volunteer as a ‘body’ for  S.A.R.D.A Scotland. The handlers and dogs are called to a variety of incidents, including missing, vulnerable or injured people, both on the hill or closer to home. All handlers need to have been a member of a mountain rescue team for a minimum of  two years.  This is  to ensure that they have  the necessary skills to operate – and stay safe – in absolutely all types of weather conditions, and terrain, at any time of day, anywhere in Scotland. Training weekends are crucial to maintain the physical abilities and skills of both dogs and handlers.

As the thunderstorm passes overhead, I hear a distant tinkle that is out of place in the surroundings. The first search dog has picked up my scent and is headed my way, the bell on its harness a welcome distraction from the sounds of the wild weather.

Thirty seconds later I hear four paws gallop through the heather towards me, and the dog barks to tell its handler that I’ve been found. It sounds very much like a command of “Hurry up!” to me. A wet nose finds its way into my bivvy bag and presses against my cheek as if to say “Hello! I’ve found you!”. I can’t help but smile at the tender gesture, and get ready to crawl out of my bivvy bag for the dogs reward: a decent round of tug of war.

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Happy New Year

Well it is almost time to say farewell to 2014.  We have said goodbye to some old friends this year and also said hello to some new ones.  Thank you to all our supporters, and volunteers who have helped us  during the past year.   To Steve Rowe for maintaining our website,  and to all our fundraisers who have done a magnificent job doing all sorts of challenging things!  A very Happy New Year to you all.

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Sad News

It was with much sadness that we learned this week of the recent death of Jimmy Simpson.



Jimmy was a much valued member of S.A.R.D.A Scotland for many years.  His dog training skills helped to advance the association, and many of Jimmy’s training techniques are still in use today.  He will be fondly remembered for his wonderful sense of humour, and for his tenacious spirit whilst out on searches.

Our thoughts are with Jimmy’s family at this very sad time.





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Training Weekend December 2014 – Fort William



Training last weekend involved helicopter familiarisation with Rescue 137. We are indebted to the RAF  for the help they give us in getting the S.A.R.D.A dogs used to the helicopters. There is a lot to learn about the techniques involved in winching and travelling in these aircraft.

Thank you also to Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team for the use of their base for the day, and to Julie and her daughters for providing the lovely soup and rolls!

After a comprehensive safety briefing, handlers took their dogs in and out of the helicopter. One engine was then started and dogs kept firmly secured on both harness and lead whilst they were given the chance to become accustomed to the engine noise. After this, the helicopter was powered up so that both engines were running and the rotor blades turning. After another opportunity for the dogs  to become familiar with the increased amount of noise and the down draft from the blades, the helicopter crew flew down to Glen Nevis where the handlers and dogs were winched.

We all got the opportunity to relax later as we had our S.A.R.D.A Scotland Christmas meal with our usual  selection of Secret Santa presents handed out by a rather dubious Santa – sorry Santa we don’t mean that really.

It was back to searching areas on Sunday in somewhat challenging weather conditions including hail storms, thunder and lightning. The young dogs will train each month now (no time off for them) in the run up to the annual course in March when they will undergo their assessment to become novice search dogs and hopefully be put on the call out list. They are now beginning to search bigger areas in preparation for the assessment.



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Another in our series where we profile S.A.R.D.A Scotland search and rescue dogs.  This time it is Jess.




My name is Jess and I am 4 years old.  I was born near Comrie in a bitterly cold week – minus 17 degrees I have been told. I did not notice the temperature though,  as I was snuggled up to the rest of my family under a heat lamp!  Anyway, after a while I became a bit bored just playing with my brothers and sisters, and that was when my new owners came to pick me up and take me home with them.  What an exciting evening!  I was just drifting off to sleep when I was whisked up and away to meet my new family. I was introduced to two other dogs; Jodie,  who was a mountain rescue search dog (although for some reason apparently she was called Gerbil  by the other handlers), and Magaidh, who was Jodie’s friend. We were just getting used to each other when we got a visit from another SARDA dog handler called Uncle Rod.  It seems that these humans in S.A.R.D.A hang out with each other all the time!  Uncle Rod really knows how to make dog play fun so I had a great time.

Jodie told me how great it was being a mountain rescuer and I fancied having a go myself.  After all, long walks and lots and lots of games can’t be bad! My new Dad took me to a place with lots of other dogs and I met Molly.  Molly is my age and we trained  together for one year.  It was great fun, although it could be tiring sometimes. My new Dad  and I had to both pass a test over a long weekend.  We searched for people over three days, after which I was a bit exhausted, and my Dad was too (although he wasn’t admitting it) so we were both really pleased when we were told that we had passed the test!

I have been a search dog for three years now and have worked all over Scotland on big multi-day searches as well as short ones. I have searched mountains, beaches, fields and woods looking for all types of people. They all needed help and I was pleased to be able to try my best to help my owner and other searchers to find them.  One particular night, I had to go out into a blizzard up a mountain close to where I live. I searched as high as I could.  It was the middle of the night and my Dad sent me to investigate a high corrie. There I found a man who was sheltering from the storm. He looked a bit surprised to see me but very pleased that I was there!   I barked and barked to tell my Dad  that I had found someone and he rushed across and helped the man, who was feeling very cold,  down from the mountain.

It is really great to be a search dog who is ready at all times to go out with my Dad and help people whenever they need it.

Lots of licks and woofs.

Jess x

Here is a picture of me watching my SARDA  friends on the TV.

Here is a picture of me watching my SARDA dog friends on the TV.

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