Bear, a search canine of the RI State Police, paid a visit along with his trainer, State Trooper Scott Carlsten, to the Child Development classroom at Pilgrim High School yesterday.
Carlsten has trained the 10-year-old German Shepard for eight years now. Carlsten trains other service dogs for the force; however, Bear is the canine that lives with Carlsten and they work together on a daily basis.
At Pilgrim, the preschoolers, along with their teenage assistants, who are mostly from the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center, watched Bear in action.
The kids of the Child Development center were delighted to meet Bear. He was one of three dogs to visit the school. On Monday the children got to meet Tiller, the firedog, from the Lakewood Station, who taught the boys and girls how to stop, drop and roll. And on Friday they will meet Zion, a pet therapy dog from Warwick Vets High School.
Trooper Carlsten first had the children become accustomed to Bear by letting them pet and play with him. Next, he sat the boys and girls around in a circle and talked to them about what to do if they ever became lost. While Bear sat dutifully, the preschoolers learned to never go into the woods alone. They also talked about dealing with strangers: if they are lost and are approached by someone they do not know, they should ask to see a badge or have them call the child’s parents so they know the stranger can be trusted.
The students were then led outside by teacher assistant Maureen Howard, who had arranged for Carlsten’s visit. The children and their teenage buddies went into a courtyard, where each preschooler and their buddy, one at a time, hid behind one of the half dozen of trees while the rest of the class watched. The boys and girls squealed and clapped as Bear was then commanded by Carlsten to find each pair.
“Bear is not food motivated,” says Carlsten. “He wakes up every morning thinking about one thing.”
Carlsten then held up a white rubber ball that Bear barked loudly at. Carlsten said that the white ball he was holding was the ball they train Bear with. When he sees that white ball, he knows it is time to work.
When the preschoolers and their buddies hid behind the trees, they took the white ball with them. When Bear found them, he would bark five times. In training, Bear is sent to find the ball and he can only be given it if he sits and barks five times.
Bear is not a patrol canine. He is not trained to find a specific person; rather he finds people in general. Patrol canines sniff an article of the missing person’s clothing and are then sent to find that person. Bear, however, is a service and search dog, which is sent to find either live humans or find human remains. Each time a pair of students would hide in the courtyard, Trooper Carlsten would hold Bear back until finally he would say, “Go get ’em” or “Go to work.” Bear was born in the United States and takes all of his commands in English, but Carlsten said some German Shepard’s take their commands in German.
These service dogs generally take “at least a year to be proficient,” says Carlsten. The training for the service dogs is eight weeks of constant schooling, five days a week. After the eight weeks is over, the dogs train once every two weeks for eight hours. Bear, along with the other search and patrol dogs, train in an obstacle course that even has them climbing ladders.
Carlsten and Bear are part of the Scituate barracks of the RI State Police. In his eight years of service, Bear has found five lost persons. Trooper Carlsten said the job is great.
“I get to go into work every day and play with my dog,” he said.