Spice said that since Ava was 7 weeks old she has been training for her role as an avalanche patrol dog. Similar to how hunting dogs are trained to fetch birds, Ava was trained to find things hidden in the snow using her keen sense of smell. When Ava was younger, Spice explained, her training mainly consisted of finding small clothing items buried just under the surface of the snow. As she got older and more experienced, Ava graduated to locating fully submerged patrollers multiple feet below the surface during her training sessions.
Ava’s training sessions are designed to simulate an avalanche rescue situation as closely as possible, Hagerty said, and typically, Ava performs with flying colors — able to locate the patroller under five minutes.
“We train her as a search-and-rescue dog specialized in finding the scent of humans buried in the snow in the rare event that there were to be an avalanche that would bury a skier or snowboarder,” Hagerty said. “She could use her acute sense of smell to actually alert us humans to where that victim would be buried under the snow, and that way, we can work as a team with patrol, and patrol can help us rescue that person.”
Ava trains year-round to ensure she is prepared to help rescue a buried avalanche victim.
Work hard, play hard
While training for avalanche search and rescue is serious work, Hagerty said Ava finds joy in her role on the mountain.
Dogs enjoy playtime and fun, Hagerty said. So she has found ways to incorporate play and excitement into Ava’s training sessions. For example, Ava’s reward for finding a patroller buried in the snow is getting a big tug-of-war party. Hagerty explained that the person hidden underneath the snow has a tug toy with them, so when Ava finds them, she’s greeted with some serious tug-of-war playtime.