Does Halo have what it takes to become a superpower dog? Interview with handler Cat Labrada

We have been following Halo’s progress for four months now, so it’s time to catch up with her handler, Miami-Dade fire captain Cat Labrada, to see how Halo’s training is coming along and whether she has what it takes to be a superpower dog… 

 

How is Halo doing, and has she achieved any new milestones?

She’s good! She’s doing stuff on the rubble pile now, learning how to run on the rubble with her agility and it’s coming along really well! Imagine a mound of broken-up concrete; in some places it’s 1.8 metres (six foot) tall, and in others it’s three metres (ten foot) off the ground. Before, we only trained on the ground, running along the ground to the bark barrels [tubes that people hide in for Halo to locate] for the tug-toy.

But now she’s running across rubble, which is the agility aspect of her training, to get to somebody that has her tug-toy, so it’s just applying what she’s learned on the ground on to the rubble. 

Is there anything that she’s struggling with? 

The heat is a huge factor right now because it’s very hot here in Miami! It’s nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and conditions are difficult for her. But she’s getting better at being able to save her energy. She gets a little worked up in the kennel.

I’m teaching her not to bark and expend all her energy in the kennel so that when she comes out she’s rested and fresh. 

Superpower dogs, halo, urban search and rescue, puppy training
Halo loves going to the lake and watching the ducks during her time off, it seems she enjoys her toy duck just as much!

 

What goals are you working towards? 

Now she’s working up on the rubble, she needs to use her nose more. We’ve been doing stuff blind and getting her to work it out – motivating her to want to use her nose more than her other senses.

We have scent tubes (known as bark barrels) that we put somebody in, on the pile or on the ground. We have a few of them and then she has to use her nose to figure out which one the person is in. In the beginning they will tell her by calling her, or show her by running away and getting in it. But then after a while of doing that, we progress to Halo having to find the person not knowing where they are hidden. She’s doing really well! 

We had somebody go in the tube and she sniffed them out – four tubes over I had put an open tin of cat food and she didn’t pay attention to that, so we are starting to add in lots of distractions as well. That’s huge, because when you get to a disaster site there are all kinds of distractions – refrigerators, bags of food, garbage – and you don’t want her to be more interested in those things than looking for a human! 

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Finally, how is Halo doing at home when she’s ‘off-duty’?

She’s still very mischievous and still very playful! She wants to play all the time – my other dog just ignores her! But she’s not as boisterous or in your face as much as she used to be; she’s got a lot better.

She has her moments but we work through it! I wish I had more time to train with Halo as the weather is so hot at the moment, but I’m enjoying it. We actually had a night training session the other day because it was a lot cooler then. 

About the film: 

Superpower Dogs is a forthcoming 3D live-action IMAX film that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Through the magic of the giant screen, the movie and its accompanying exhibition, which is in collaboration with the California Science Centre, it will immerse you into the way that dogs think and work, and tell the incredible story of how man’s best friend is able to fight crime, save lives and put wrongs to right. 

 

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