Snow challenge for dogs and handlers

Search dog Stig and his handler Dave Krehic uncover a buried "patient" during the Pisa Range exercise at the weekend.
An award-winning LandSAR dog team swapped the familiar bush-clad terrain of the high country for the snow-covered mountains around Wanaka at the weekend as they sought to join an exclusive club of avalanche rescue accredited specialists.
Dave Krehic, of Christchurch, and his German short-haired pointer Stig received a special LandSAR award at Parliament in April to recognise their outstanding achievement within the field of search and rescue.
The team are "wilderness" specialists, with Stig using his sense of smell to search for and help recover people lost in bush and back-country terrain.
The pair found the body of Auckland tramper Irina Yun in the remote upper reaches of Mt Aspiring National Park in November 2009 - 11 months after she went missing.
They now aim to join New Zealand's elite group of avalanche dog handling teams, which gathered for their annual accreditation and training exercise at the Snow Farm on the Pisa Range at the weekend.

Mr Krehic said he wanted to extend his skills to provide LandSAR and police teams with an extra dog-handling option in Christchurch should they be needed for avalanche rescues.
The shift from bush-clad wilderness to the "fairly sterile" environment of snow-covered terrain challenged his own "limited" mountaineering skills, rather than Stig's well-trained nose, he said.
"The dog skills are pretty much the same. In the snow and any avalanche situation, they are searching for pure human scent.
"When you're in the bush, there are a lot of different smells and distractions competing for their attention."

The change in location meant the handler was more easily able to "read" Stig's reactions.
"It's the handler skills I need to focus on when in the mountains.

It was good to have a range of versatile search skills to offer LandSAR operations - from his Christchurch city base - if and when they were needed, he said.

Avalanche dog rescue co-ordinator Karyn Robertson said 14 dog-handling teams took part in the exercise.
The dogs and their handlers were marked on a variety of search and rescue exercises - designed to simulate avalanche situations. -The accreditation assessment courses finished yesterday.
Mr Krehic said the weekend was also about renewing acquaintances with New Zealand's growing LandSAR and avalanche search dog handling community.

"We've come a long way with search dogs in New Zealand.

"It is still a fairly new thing here, but with the group we've got, we have all the makings of becoming world leaders."