July 8th, 2020. Tino has been our main scent-trailing dog for over two years now. Since April of 2018, he has gone on 99 searches. He found the dog, or remains or evidence 18 times. He was about to find the dog before I stopped him, in order not spook the dog, on 3 other occasions. Essentially, he has a record of 21 finds in 99 tries. A search dog’s success rate is more a function of the cases we choose to take on, than a reflection of a dog’s ability. Tino could have a 90% success rate if I only chose to do searches where he had an excellent chance of succeeding. He has proven his capability many times, and there are several dogs who would not have survived if Tino hadn’t found them.
Valentino is high energy, high drive, and always eager to search, even when we won’t succeed due to circumstances beyond our control. What makes a great search dog is not necessarily a high success rate, which is mostly a function of the circumstances of the searches we choose to take on. What makes Tino such a great search dog is that he still is so happy and eager to try, even though most of the time we won’t succeed due to events and conditions we can’t know ahead of time.
(Below is what I wrote about Tino before we started his search career.)
Tino popped into my life on August 14th, 2016. I had trapped his mom, Salma, near Hyak ski resort, the day before. She was a stray, and concerned residents contacted me to help her. When she gave birth to Valentino the next day, I was completely unprepared. Kelsy, the best dog in the world, was fighting cancer, and I was devoting much of my time, energy, and money to helping her. When Kelsy died, on September 8th, she left a hole in my heart that will never be filled. In many ways, I don't want a new puppy. I have plenty of dogs, including two great working dogs, Komu the cat finder and Fozzie the dog finder. Tino doesn't really care about any of that, of course. He just looks at me with that stupid face of his, and it's impossible not to love him.
So, I have decided to keep Tino and train him to be a scent trailing dog, if possible. With Tino, I have a chance to not make all of the mistakes I made with Kelsy. For example, Kelsy loved to swim in Puget Sound. The water looks clean, and she was never ill after swimming in those waters. However, the water contains cadmium, copper, arsenic, zinc, PCBs, DDT, and many other pollutants, in quantities that are of concern for marine life. I can't ever know if swimming in Puget Sound caused or contributed to Kelsy's cancer and her premature death, but I can avoid that risk by keeping Tino out of Puget Sound. We will find other places to swim. Also, with my experience in training Kelsy and working with her as her partner, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when training a new dog. Tino can benefit from that.
Of all the things I did wrong with Kelsy, one of my biggest regrets is that I have very few pictures of her as a puppy. I have thousands of pictures of Kelsy, but I can find only about a dozen from her time as a puppy. I'm not making that mistake with Tino. He is not yet nine weeks old, and I already have 900 pictures of him. Tino's life will probably be the most documented life of any animal or person in the world. I will most likely take at least one picture of Tino for every day of his life. I will also keep extensive notes about his training, and just his everyday antics. Tino will never replace Kelsy, but hopefully his life will benefit from everything Kelsy taught me. Here are a few of Tino's pictures from the beginning of his big adventures.