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Meet Luna, a dog trained to rescue people from avalanches at Jackson ski resort

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JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming – It’s ski season, which also means it’s avalanche season.

While serious avalanches don’t happen every day at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, there’s a furry team of six ready to jump into action.

The newest member of the Jackson Hole avalanche search team is Luna.

“So she was born a year ago, January 16th,” says Scott Stolte, the Assistant Director of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. “I picked her up seven weeks later and then I actually did bring her out here to work when she was just a little puppy.”

Now, Luna spends her day lounging, playing and of course, training.

“When it’s time to work she gets very excited, you know barking, ready to go, can’t wait. (She) can’t wait to do it more and more,” says Stotle.

And while it’s fun for Luna, the role she’ll play once trained is essential.

“There aren’t a lot of instances where we need the dogs, but when we do, they serve a very special purpose to be able, with confidence, go through a potential slide path and feel pretty good about saying that there’s no one in there,” says Stotle.

The main drill to train the dogs involves hiding from them in holes dug in the snow. Then, the dogs find and “save” you.

“We’re teaching the dog to focus on the scent of people,” says Stotle, “And people leave a very particular scent wherever they go all the time. And that’s what we’re training the dog to find, and that’s why we’re using the wool, because the wool retains that scent better than other fabrics.”

After the dog “rescues” someone, there’s an explosion of high pitched praise and excitement.

“A big part of the training is, when they find the person in the hole, to make it a huge party, a huge celebration,” says Stotle, “So you’ll hear that we use really high pitched voices and we’re really just kind of squeaking and yelling with the dog and we’re yelling ‘good girl’ and ‘good search dog.'”

The connection between the dog and the trainer is essential.

“It’s great. I mean, you’re with them all day, so it’s a pretty strong bond, definitely,” says Stotle. “It’s pretty important to have that between you. You’re a team at the end of the day. It’s the dog and the handler, and knowing how each other works is a huge part of it.”

This article was first published by KPVI. It is used here with permission.

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