The Scots man who trains hero hounds
FOR nearly half a century this expert trainer has been preparing search and rescue dogs to save lives in every corner of the world.
And bashful 61-year-old Tom Middlemas, who has trained around 6,000 dogs from his Scottish Borders farm, says he has never considered any other career.
The professional dog handler, who stays with wife Shona at Arthurshiel Farm, near Jedburgh, started training rescue dogs when he was just 16 years old.
His canine protégées have detected earthquake victims, criminals and missing dementia sufferers, as well as smelling out cancers and epileptic fits.
Mr Middlemas, who also runs a dog re-homing centre, said he felt proud of the work that his ex-students had carried out over the years.
“I feel extremely proud of everything my dogs have achieved. I started training dogs when I was 16 and there I have never considered doing anything else,” he said.
“Working with dogs is fascinating. Each one is an individual. You never forget your working dogs. You form a strong bond, because the dog has to trust you, and you have to trust the dog.
“It’s a partnership, rather than a human being a leader and a dog doing what it’s told.”
“Dogs are like people in the army; they want someone above them to tell them what to do, and to look after them.
“They don’t really want to make decisions. Each one has its place in the pack.”
Under Tom’s expert training scheme his dogs have joined crime fighting teams across Europe and Australia.
In October 2011, seven of Tom’s dogs were involved in rescuing victims of an earthquake in Turkey.
He said: “One of the Labradors found a little girl three days after the quake. Emotionally it’s really gratifying when the dogs find someone. The keepers all text me, and thanks to the internet, we get sent video clips too. So we keep in touch with all our dogs.
“In Greece in 1990 I trained a Rottweiler called Argo, who became the first search and rescue dog to be used in the country.
“He tracked down a missing 12-year-old shepherd boy who had been sent into the Greek mountains to look after the sheep. He had been missing for two days.
“There are about seven or eight bloodhound crosses I’ve bred doing remarkable work across Europe. One of them worlds Hamburg city, and the police have stopped the traffic in Hamburg at 5 o’clock on a Friday night so the dog could work.
“Can you imagine that happening here? It would be World War III.
That’s how respected those dogs are.
“In Germany the dogs look for anything from depressed youngsters to people from old folk’s homes, walkers and hunters.
“In Bavaria the dogs are doing criminal work; if there’s been a murder, and the police find a murder weapon, the dogs will trail it back to the person who has thrown the weapon away.”
Some of Tom’s dogs are currently working alongside Scottish police and prison officers, including working for the prison service in Glasgow and Durham, scanning visitors for mobile phone batteries.
“Prisoners can get mobile phones sneaked into prison, but they can’t get the batteries very easily so the visitors smuggle the batteries in, and the dog is trained to go for the lithium in the batteries. It gives off a strong smell.
“We’ve got one dog working for Lothian and Borders Police who can find cash, various types of drugs and firearms.”
Mr Middlemas explained he trains many of the dogs “out his own pocket”and relies heavily on charitable donations to his rescue home.
He is also paid to talk at prestigious trainers conferences from Europe to Australia and breeds his own dogs to sell to organisations.
His dogs can sniff out cancer cells, oncoming epileptic fits, missing dementia sufferers and even chase speedy criminals as their body gives off a lot of adrenalin.
He added: “Dogs can be taught to detect any combination of chemicals, we just have to teach the dog that’s the one we want it to find.”
As well as running his rescue centre and training his own dogs, Tom runs training courses around Europe, teaching other dog-handlers some of his skills.
He said: “I teach the dog and human to work as a team, rather than the human taking charge and the dog doing what it’s told.
“If a human speaks or commands at the wrong time, he can turn a dog away, and that might be the only scent coming from the missing person, and that may end in disaster.”
He added: “Once the dogs are trained, their noses are in charge.”
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