Stray Labrador deemed ‘untrained and untrained’, becomes rescue dog for fire service

A stray Labrador known to be “untrained, untrained, friendly, rude and stubborn” has proven everyone wrong to be an unlikely specialist fire service search dog.

The homeless Bailey was brought to the Dogs Trust in Loughborough and it was feared that she might be a lost cause.

But when rescuers noticed her talent for finding hidden toys, they scoured emergency services to see if anyone was in need of a new rescue dog.

Bailey was put to trial by the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service – and within days he was drafted into the team.

Handler Graham Curry described the fearless dog, who is still training, as a total natural and said he was as agile as a mountain goat.

It is unusual for a Labrador – rather than a Springer or Cocker – to be used as a rescue dog, as they are often very greedy and motivated by food for the job.

Bailey will be one of only 20 dogs used by Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams in the UK to help locate and rescue people trapped or lost in emergency situations.

Once fully trained, he will also be part of the UK International Search and Rescue (UKISAR) participating in disaster areas around the world.

Graham said: “After testing Bailey’s drive for a tennis ball and checking for any aggression toward other dogs or people, I offered to take her on a six-week trial.

“The biggest thing was taking him in the van as he associated it with taking it to a campus, but within 24 hours he was taught to associate it with fun.

“By the third day, I was 95% sure he was the one.

“In the vehicle barn, Jim had a rugby ball on a ledge above the weight and he wouldn’t give up until he got it – the kind of determination we look for in a sleuth.

“I was reluctant to get a Labrador because they can be greedy and distracted by food, and I was looking for a Springer, Cocker or Sprocker Spaniel bitch because I have found they are less stubborn and easier to train.

“Bailey’s got that drive and isn’t greedy, he gets the ball over the food bowl every time.”

Louise Crawford, the Animal Welfare Scheme co-ordinator at the Dogs Trust, contacted UKISAR to ask if anyone is looking for a new search dog.

Graham plans ahead and is training Bailey to take over from Jarvis, an eight-year-old cocker spaniel, a live scent search dog for service when the dog is retired.

He said Bailey, who is 18 months to two years old, has excelled in search and rescue activities.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Dog Bailey
Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Dog Bailey

He has completed seven days of UKISAR training in buildings and rubble piles with police and national assessors.

Graham said: “Initially, we were hiding tennis balls to see if he would be able to find them without being afraid of debris.

“He is one of the most natural search dogs I have ever seen – he is like a mountain goat! Nothing stuns him, he has no fear or phobia.

“A police trainer and colleague said that if we can clone this dog then all our problems will be solved.

“He was described as untrained, untrained, friendly, rude and stubborn.

“But a dog that cost us £185 has turned out to be the most incredible creature.”

It usually takes 18 months to three years to train a dog, but Bailey, nicknamed the polar bear, can work until next April because of his size.

Graham said: “He’s already doing ‘blind searches’, using his nose to find people.

“He searches the buildings in such an orderly manner; he will go into the first door of the building or the corridor, check all the rooms attached to it and go back into the corridor and do the same at the next door, and so on.”

Graham has three other dogs – Jarvis, the rescue cocker spaniel Fizz, and Alith, a 12-and-a-half-year-old Springer Spaniel who hails from the Scottish Highlands.

He is a pet but has been taught to do basic searches.

Graham, who is based at ECFRS’s USAR site in Lexden, Colchester, said: “We’ve been on our feet with Bailey – and so has she, because she now has a lovely home.”

‘We are very proud’

Dogs Trust’s Animal Welfare Scheme co-ordinator Louise Crawford said she saw Bailey’s “brilliant” potential and was happy to see it.

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