Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland News

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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The fourth in our series where we meet the S.A.R.D.A Scotland search and rescue dogs. This time it is Midge.


“My name is Midge. I am ten years old and I have been a search and rescue dog for eight years.  I am famous for my distinctive ears, and I also have a TV star lookalike who was runner up in Sport Reliefs Top Dog.  We often get mistaken for each other.  Many people know that I have a huge play drive and they are warned that if they start to play with me, with whatever toy I have found,  they will have to play all day.  I will find anything to use as a toy, even a small piece of heather.   I  can pass the toy to people to save them having to bend down to pick it up,  and I have heard people saying that this is very considerate of me, but I am just clever enough to know that if I do this,then they seem to play for longer!

I am a member (along with my handler Allison) of Police Scotland Grampian Mountain Rescue Team, as well as Braemar Mountain Rescue Team.  We, like all the other dogs,  attend call outs all over Scotland.  Sometimes I find it a bit hard to get up during the night if there is a call out, but as soon as the rucksack is at the door I am ready and waiting to go.

I am short coated which means that I do not become balled up with snow in the winter, but I have to say that searching through prickly bushes isn’t much fun.

I use my ears when I am searching and Allison can often tell that I have found something, as they become even more upright than normal.

I am approaching my later years in a search dog’s life, and because of this we have a new collie pup in the house.  I have been very good and taught him well.  I am sure that you will hear all about his exploits in the future.

In the meantime I am looking forward to another winter on the hills; doing my bit to save people,  or finding articles and digging holes in the snow in practice for any call outs which may come my way.”


Midge relaxing after a busy training day

Midge having a play after a training day.





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Training Weekend November 2014 Kintail

A very busy training weekend with a lot of different things going on;  in dry if somewhat bracing conditions.  Saturday had three search areas to be completed on the steep sides of Gleann Lichd, prior to a full evening for the handlers.  After a cuppa accompanied by Dog Charlie’s home baking, the two legged team members reconvened for an Ordinary General Meeting, whilst the four legged ones relaxed.

Saturday evening’s meal was provided by retired dog handler Les and volunteer Issy who had kindly offered to cook a meal to raise funds for  SARDA’s 50th anniversary celebrations planned for next year. Including some kind donations from neighbours of Issy and Les, and from retired dog handlers, a total of £300 was raised.

Equipment officer Tony and his young assistant Aiden were non-stop all weekend. In addition to Tony’s normal task of handing out hill gear for the volunteer ‘bodies’, he was busy distributing new gear to the dog handlers.  Satmaps were provided, not just to aid handler’s navigation, but to record their trails to help search managers. New shovels and avalanche probes were also given out.  These may not be high tech, but they are essential pieces of equipment as the snowy season approaches.

Drum and his handler Mike had a very early start on Sunday morning to get over to Fraserburgh to assist with an on-going search.

The rest of us woke up to find that Jack Frost had paid us a visit; Tony seems to be spot on with his winter predictions!  First task of the day was a photo shoot; the star of the show not being cute dogs, but big cheques.  Our thanks to the Borders Cross Country  series and the Lochaber and District Canine Society for their generous donations.




While the training areas were set up and ‘Puppy School’ started, the really challenging training began.  Dog Stu was tasked with teaching handlers how to use their new Satmaps and the difference between ‘tracks’ and ‘trail’. Dog Tom went to the top of the class; he successfully recorded his trail through a search area. There will be lots of practicing over the next few weeks for the rest of us. Training a dog is not just about one weekend a month but a continual process, with lots of hard work in between formal training weekends.  As always thank you to the volunteer ‘bodies’ who lie on the hill for the dogs to find, and to the friends, family and rescue team friends who play hide and seek all over the country the rest of the time.

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In the third of our series where we profile S.A.R.D.A Scotland dogs, we meet Gem.




My name is Gem and I am a four year old Border Collie.  I was abandoned as a puppy and my new lady owner found me at her local SSPCA rescue centre.  I went to live with her, and my new man owner who already had a search and rescue dog.

I went along to S.A.R.D.A Scotland training weekends with them both, and was very interested in what was going on from the beginning.  My lady owner spent the training weekends lying on the hill, ‘hiding’ for the search dogs to find, and once, whilst she was away doing this, my man owner took me out on a ‘sneaky search’. He wanted to see if I had any potential as a search dog myself.

It turned out that I was very good at it, and my lady owner got to hear what had happened, but she was not angry; she was pleased  that I had found something that I liked to do so much.  When my man owner’s dog had to retire from S.A.R.D.A Scotland a year later, I began to train as a search dog myself. In 2013 I qualified as a novice search dog and won an award for the best novice dog of the year.  In 2014 I qualified as a full search dog.

Someone described me recently as having a ‘lust for life’ and  my owners say that this is a very accurate description of me.  To me, everyday is full of adventure and fun, and I am one happy little Collie dog.

Gem doing what she loves best!

Gem doing what she loves best!







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October 2014 Training

Another successful training weekend was held in the mountains of Glencoe, with 19 of our members attending and 7 volunteers to ‘hide’ in the mountains for our dogs to find.  Without the help of our 7 volunteers we would not have been able to run such an excellent training weekend, so to them,  a huge thank you from all our dogs and handlers.


Thank you also to our friends from Burns Pet Nutrition for delivering our dog food on Friday evening.  Our dogs will be well fed this winter.



Training is well underway for our four new dogs as they start on their journey to become mountain rescue search dogs. They will all hopefully go on to assist the busiest mountain rescue teams throughout Scotland in the future. Good luck to Casey, Felix, Aonach and Clova.

Dogs and handlers enjoyed working on Buachaille Etive Beag,  and all were pleased that the weather remained mild and dry!




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