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Dogs audition to become heroes


January 29, 1999
Web posted at: 10:18 p.m. EST (0318 GMT)

SQUAW VALLEY, California (CNN) -- A seminar was held this week on the California ski slopes for would-be rescue dogs. The Avalanche Rescue Dog Seminar is designed to help handlers determine if a young dog has the potential to become a professional lifesaver.

All 33 four-legged rookies went through obedience training and rescue simulation exercises. In one case, the dogs were expected to sniff out a buried victim and then help pull the human from the snow.

"It's an avalanche game to the dogs. They want to look for the person, find the person, and then the reward is playtime afterwards," said Matt Calcutt, a rescue dog handler.

"They don't know that they're looking for someone that could be possibly hurt, or injured or dead. They're just looking to have a good time," Calcutt explained.

The canines came in various sizes and breeds, and most were between 1 and 3 years old. All had to learn different ways of traveling, from hitching a ride on a skiing human to jumping into a helicopter. Not all the dogs found the experience enjoyable. And not all pups proved to have the right stuff.

Reporter Tana Castro contributed to this report.

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