HEPBURNIA — To say Alyssa Young adores dogs could be a bit of an understatement. Young has a house full of them. Four-legged toddlers that she is training to become productive members of society, and each of them is eager to please her.
“Ever since I was a little girl I have been working with German Shepherds. I love the breed. They are so smart and they catch on quickly,” Young said. Of training her dogs, she said, “It’s a lot of work but I love it.”
Young got her start as a dog handler about two years ago when she rescued a Coonhound named Lexie. Lexie had been abused but Young said she had plans to train her to perform search and rescue maneuvers. However, the cruel treatment had weakened Lexie’s legs and hips and she was unable to perform the long hours of training that is required without costly surgery and therapy. “I had to retire Lexie,” she said.
Young got K9 Radar, a German Shepherd, when he was six-weeks-old. She began training him to follow her commands at eight weeks. She said she began with basic instructions while he was on a leash, including having him sit and stay down and progressing to training him while he was off his leash. The pair advanced to having Young hide items and Radar would find them. “At first it was puppy play then, as he got older, I would have him find me and other people,” she said.
Young and K9 Radar, now a year old, were recently certified by the American Working Dog Association in tracking and trailing for search and rescue of missing persons. According to information on the AWDA website, AWDA certifications are designed to evaluate the canine team, a handler and canine, in real life canine search and rescue working environments. The handler should have a basic knowledge in search strategy and techniques including an understanding of probability of detection, search tactics, effects of weather on canine search and different strategies used in canine search. These are evaluated during certification testing. Handlers must also have knowledge in human and canine first aid.
K9 Radar also provides therapy for the elderly and for disabled veterans by visiting local facilities. Young said Radar enjoys these outings as do those he is visiting. “It is very healing for them and for those in hospice. It helps with their grief,” she explained.
Radar is the first canine member of PAWS for Reading program at the Joseph and Elizabeth Shaw Public Library, Clearfield. As a member of the program, Radar spends time each week listening to a child, allowing him or her to practice their reading skills in a nonjudgmental environment.
“We are always on call. I love helping out the community. The community counts on us and knows we will help out wherever we can. When Radar puts his harness on, he knows it is time for him to go to work. He is a really special dog. We are very busy.”
Young currently has five dogs, four of whom are puppies, at various learning levels in different types of training including narcotics, search and rescue and finding human remains.
Eventually Young said she hopes to have her own canine training facility that involves training dogs to place with veterans or other persons that need a dog in their lives.