Dogs...some of the best adventure companions one can find. They are unmatched in their loyalty, eager to be outside regardless of the weather, generally agreeable with their owner's sense of direction, and can provide an additional level of safety in the outdoors. What more can you ask for in an outdoor adventure pal? How about a search-and-rescue dog who loves the snow and is trained for recovering avalanche burial victims?
With winter around the corner and in honor of our canine companions that thrive when the snow begins to fall, we're thrilled to release our fourth episode of Outdoor Adventure Dogs in collaboration with Tito's Handmade Vodka. This five-part video series features a unique group of active adventure dogs, their relationships with their owners, and the lives they live together oriented around the outdoors.
Beyond their association as dogs deeply connected to the outdoors, all of the dogs in this series share another important attribute: They are all rescued animals that come rescued from a shelter or from a less-than-ideal prior situation. Whether it's a look at a photographer's trusty canine sidekick providing creative inspiration, working ski patrol avalanche rescue dogs, or "wilderness therapy dogs" helping introduce newcomers to outdoor activities outside of their comfort zone, Outdoor Adventure Dogs is a fun and touching window into the lives of rescued dogs that end up doing some rescuing of their own.
Outdoor Adventure Dogs continues with Episode 4, featuring a working avalanche rescue dog, Jett, and his owner, Lloyd Morsett, a professional ski patroller and head of Whitefish Mountain Resort's Avalanche Rescue Dog program in northwest Montana. You can learn more about Jett's story in the interview with Lloyd below.
Lloyd: Jett is a smooth coat border collie. He is a very friendly, sometimes crazy working machine. Give him a job and he’s the happiest dog on the planet.
Lloyd: I have been a professional ski patroller for 20 years and have been involved with training avalanche rescue dogs for 17 of those years, first in Colorado.
Lloyd: When I came onto patrol at Whitefish, my manager asked me if I was interested in starting an avalanche rescue dog program here because he knew my history with dogs in Colorado. My wife and I immediately started our search for a dog, which led us through many rescue organizations and shelters, and after approximately a year of searching we came across Jett, who seemed like the perfect fit for our family and for the work that I do here on the mountain. When we came across Jett through the Western Border Collie Rescue out of Wyoming, he was about a year old. Jett is now 5 years old.
Lloyd: I am the Snow Safety Coordinator at Whitefish Mountain Resort and am responsible for avalanche mitigation, forecasting and snow safety, and rescue training. Our day begins by looking at weather and snowpack observations in order to make a plan for the day. We then meet with the rest of the crew to discuss our daily operations plan, priorities for the day, and training. We then head up the mountain to work though the daily risk management work of avalanche mitigation, trail openings, signs, closures, and general guest service. Jett and I try to squeeze in several drills per week, always working on the foundations of avalanche search and rescue and obedience.
Lloyd: The formal dog program at Whitefish Mountain Resort has only been running for three years. There have been a couple of avalanche dogs that have worked in the past, but no formal program has been established until now.
Lloyd: Ski Patrol rescue work is the best part of my job, and avalanche rescue falls into that category. Couple that love with a passion for backcountry skiing and dogs, and avalanche rescue is a perfect fit for me.
Lloyd: The best avalanche rescue dogs needs to be fit, hearty, have a coat that will stand up to the cold and weather, and be driven to work.
Lloyd: Training is a lifelong endeavor for any avalanche dog team. The cornerstone is always obedience. Beyond that, training starts with a young dog who learns that this work is a game. At the end of the game, there is the reward of their favorite toy and an enthusiastic play session. In order to get that reward, we play a (simple or complex) game of hide and seek. With young dogs, its as simple as running away and hiding. As dogs begin to learn the game, it gets more complex, moving to snow caves and full burials.
Lloyd: Avalanche dogs earn certifications, which is important so we know there is a training standard that is being met and that the team is mission-ready. Jett is certified through the National Search Dog Alliance. His validation exam was similar to many other tests for avalanche dogs (specific to the training organization in which the dogs work). He had to find two subjects buried in a simulated avalanche an acre in size. The burials are at least 3 feet deep, and along with two live subjects, a scented article is placed in the area along with a working distraction (with Jett, the distraction was French fries). Both buried people need to be found within 20 minutes.
Lloyd: Jett was brought to our attention by the director of Wyoming Border Collie Rescue because I had contacted her to potentially help find a dog. I like border collies because they are a great size, very hearty, and they have a work drive like no other breed of dog.
Lloyd: He’s a member of my family. We are a working team, and without one another, neither of us could do the job. He’s not a perfect dog by any means, but he is the perfect dog for me and my family.
Lloyd: I really wanted a rescue because I believe there is a perfect fit for every dog looking for a home. You just have to be patient when looking for that dog.
Lloyd: There are just too many dogs out there that need homes. The perfect home is out there somewhere for every dog.
Lloyd: The best advice is be patient. If you force a dog into a home situation that doesn’t work, no one will be happy.
Make certain you choose a family member that meets your realistic needs. Don’t fool yourself into getting a high energy dog if your lifestyle calls for a couch potato.
Keep up to date on Jett and Lloyd's adventures at Whitefish Mountain Resort here. And don't forgot to follow along at Outdoor Project this November and December for more inspiring stories about the roles our furry friends take on as beloved adventure companions. Watch the other available episodes and learn more about the dogs in the Outdoor Adventure Dogs series here: