By ISABELLA ALVES, Albuquerque Journal
TAOS SKI VALLEY, N.M. (AP) — Greeting everyone who passes, 12-week-old golden retriever puppy Finn learns to socialize with different people while his Taos Ski Patrol handler, Zack Anderson, monitors things carefully.
At 12 weeks, this is an important part of Finn’s training to become one of the ski valley’s avalanche rescue dogs. The program has from three to five dogs, and Finn is its newest addition.
Taos Ski Valley was one of the first Rocky Mountain resorts to have an avalanche dog program, CEO David Norden said. The program began in the 1980s, and he said it remains a critical part of the resort’s operations.
Finn came to Taos thanks to a grant from the Corey Borg-Massanari Foundation, the Albuquerque Journal reported. The foundation is in memory of Corey Borg-Massanari, 22, who died in Taos Ski Valley’s 2019 in-bounds avalanche. Finn is the foundation’s first avalanche dog grant.
Borg-Massanari was found by avalanche dog Izzy after the disaster. Corey’s mother, Bobbie Gorron, said that, because of Izzy, they were able to have four more days with Borg-Massanari before doctors said he wouldn’t survive.
“I want to do something because I want to make sure he’s never forgotten, and so … my whole reason for starting a foundation was to keep his name going and make sure no one forgot who he was,” Gorron said.
It was Borg-Massanari’s passion for the outdoors and love of dogs that inspired Gorron’s mission for the foundation to focus on outdoor safety. Gorron said they’re a dog-loving family regardless, but knowing what Izzy did for her son really drilled home the importance of avalanche dogs.
She said she wants Finn and Anderson to have all the resources available so Finn can have the training he needs to be the best that he can be.
For Anderson and Finn, this means making sure Finn has a solid obedience foundation – which the pair are already working on.
As Finn bounds up to play in the grass near the base of a ski lift, eating clover and sticks along the way, Anderson quickly grabs his focus and tells Finn to sit — which he does immediately. For a 12-week-old puppy, this is excellent, Anderson said.
At this age, Finn’s attention span is shorter, so getting him to sit and stay for a few seconds is huge.
“Most of his job is just to be a really good dog,” Anderson said. “We don’t kennel our pups, like a lot of working dogs … ours are kind of free roam, so he needs to have a good temperament … basic obedience is huge.”
This also includes introducing Finn to all the unique aspects of being an avalanche dog, such as riding on ski lifts, utility terrain vehicles and toboggans, Anderson said. Finn’s rescue training will likely start either this winter or next because he’ll be nine months old around February, which is still a little young.
That being said, a lot of the training is dog-dependent, so if Finn is ready to start this training, so is Anderson.
Finn comes from a long line of hunting dogs, which usually have a really high prey drive, Anderson said. Handlers use this drive in the dog’s training and job performance.
The dogs are very focused, Anderson said. “There’s nothing else going on in the world. You can be banging pots and pans, or shooting a gun … that dog does not care, it’s locked on to what its job is.”
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