Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland News

Training Weekend July 2015- Braemar

Training this weekend took place in Braemar.  It was the first time for months that the handlers from the West Coast  had seen any sun,  so they enjoyed that.   We found a few midges too but they didn’t seem as fierce as their cousins in the West.

The young dogs are progressing at great speed and are very enthusiastic.  In fact, it took a lot for their handlers to keep up with them as they ran up the hills. We moved the ‘bodies’ to the woods on Saturday afternoon which was something a little different for the young dogs and they all did very well. They will take a break now for their ‘summer’ holidays until September.


A great spot to hide in


“Come on keep up!”


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A New Training Year Begins

The new training year for S.A.R.D.A Scotland has begun, with the first training weekend after the annual course taking place on the Isle of Skye.  Five dogs started their training and there was a lot of shouting and running around, and that was just from their handlers!  We experienced extremes of weather with glorious sunshine and a beautiful sunset on Saturday and torrential horizontal rain on Sunday.


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S.A.R.D.A. Celebrates Being 50

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA).  As part of SARDA Scotland’s celebrations we will meet some of the dog handlers who have contributed to saving lives in the Scottish mountains.

Bob Smith MBE 

Bob joined SARDA in 1969.  As one of the earliest of SARDA’s handlers, Bob and his German Shepherd Pushkin assisted police and mountain rescue teams all over Scotland.  In 1974 Pushkin was the only rescue dog in Scotland to hold the coveted “A” certificate for mountain rescue.  Bob later trained his second German Shepherd, Blue and in 1976 was delighted to win the Madras Trophy for the best dog and handler in training.  In 1977 Bob and Blue represented SARDA at Crufts in a personality parade for working dogs.

Bob served as the call out officer and training officer for SARDA and retired from dog handling in 1985 when Blue passed away.

SARDA of course is only one part of the story.  Bob joined the Lomond Mountain Rescue Team in 1969, the Arrochar Mountain Rescue Team in 1974 and served as team leader of Arrochar from 1983 to 1996.  His work in outdoor education saw him introduce thousands of young people to the outdoors.  Bob’s enormous contribution to mountain rescue over 37 years was recognised by the award of the Member of the British Empire (MBE).

At 82 Bob continues to enjoy the mountains and can often be found on the summits  of the Arrochar Alps. Bob remains passionate about the role of the search dog within mountain rescue, and points out that the dogs today operate in the same environments he did in SARDA’s early years: open ground; snow and avalanche conditions and at night.  Really not much has changed.  “A well trained dog and a competent handler is equal to at least 20 men in a search”.  Well we would never argue with that!


Bob is reunited with the Madras Trophy

Bob is reunited with the Madras Trophy

Bob 1




Bob 2





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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 Torin.



Torin 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 Torin 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.

Torin 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 Torin 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.

This big fellow  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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