13 October 2022
Severn Valley Railway becomes training ground for search and scent dogs.
Image: WSSD instructors Natalie Dolton, Gail Voyle and Sandra Raw with Munch, Braith and William at Kidderminster station. LESLET CARR
Worcester Search and Scent Dogs (WSSD) is holding a series of sessions using locations at the SVR, to train pet dogs to locate specific scents, and to find missing people.
The Severn Valley Railway has always welcomed dogs on leads to travel on its trains, but now the heritage line has gone a step further, and is working with a Worcester-based organisation to provide a venue for some very exciting dog training scenarios.
“The purpose of training could be to build a dog’s knowledge of a particular scent, such as gun oil,” explained instructor Gail Voyle. “In another activity, we get them to specifically track down a missing person, using the scent of an item of clothing, in an exercise that’s called man trailing. Although our training sessions are strictly for fun, if a dog and handler show particular aptitude, they can progress to further training with professional search and rescue organisations, and ultimately go on to do potentially life-saving work.”
WSSD approached the SVR because of the particular challenges presented by the environment of a heritage railway.
“It’s a unique location,” said fellow instructor Sandra Raw, “because of the smells of the engine oil, the steam, the noises, all of which can have a distracting effect on a dog, so the more we expose them to this, the better they’ll be at tracking what we want them to track. Of course, it’s also great to be here because it’s so picturesque!”
“We were really keen to get involved with hosting the training sessions,” said Richard Morris, the SVR’s health and safety manager. “We pride ourselves on being a dog-friendly place to visit at all times, but it’s particularly rewarding to work with another organisation from our community, and when you see what these dogs are able to do, it really is very impressive.”
The WSSD instructors say that all breeds and ages of dog are suitable for training, and the animals always work in tandem with their owner.
“It’s about creating a stronger relationship between the two,” explained Gail. “When a dog takes part in scent and search or man trailing, it’s hugely enjoyable for them. They get loads of endorphins flowing through their bodies, which make them feel really good. It’s very tiring, not only because they’re running around quite a bit, but also because they’re sniffing up to six times a second.”
“It’s so rewarding for the handlers to see their dogs working and succeeding. It really helps to calm dogs down, and is especially beneficial when there are behavioural problems, or an owner has taken on a new rescue dog.”
Further details about the training sessions can be found on the Worcester Search and Scent Dogs website. Find details of the latest timetable on the Severn Valley Railway website.