JACKSON, Wyo. — Sixteen-week-old Dolly may look like just a puppy, but she’s already the newest member of the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol’s (JHSP) avalanche dog team with her handler Tyler Babcock.

Babcock and Dolly met when she was only eight weeks and one day old. After Babcock was hired as a dog handler with JHSP and given the ability to choose what kind of dog he wanted, he went looking for an Australian cattle dog.

“They have incredible drive, which is really important for an avalanche dog,” Babcock says. “They’re known to be a really hardy breed, to work in extreme weather really well all day.”

A JHSP avalanche rescue dog’s job is to find human scent under the snow. While dogs aren’t utilized often, if someone is lost without an avalanche beacon or proper avalanche training, a dog could be the critical factor of a successful rescue mission.

Training in progress! Dolly tugging, also known as ragging. Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Babcock.

To be a fully validated dog, Dolly will need to pass a test with standards set by the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (C-RAD), the governing body that JHSP uses. While Dolly won’t be validated until the end of next winter at the earliest, with hopes of providing service full time by the 2024/2025 winter, her training has already started with games of fetch and tug.

According to Babcock, playing games is an important part of avalanche dog training since dogs can’t discern the severity of an avalanche rescue and approach everything as a game with a reward.

Babcock can already tell Dolly’s biggest strength is her tenacity towards a mind of her own. While avalanche dogs need to follow the instructions of their handlers most of the time, it’s important that a dog can follow their nose first and foremost and catch a handler’s mistake if they call the dog away from the right location.

“What stands out to me about her is she’s got a little bit of an attitude, a little bit of a mind of her own,” Babcock says. “It’s a good personality trait. We want her to be able to know when the right moment is to say no.”

When she’s not training, Dolly is a huge cuddler. She also has two older sisters who are pets that she loves to harass constantly, and a favorite rope frisbee toy that makes “her eyes light up,” according to Babcock.

Full of mischief and strong-willed, Dolly makes an incredible and essential addition to the team. If you’re having a ruff day, you better hope it’s her to the rescue!

Buckrail @ River

River is a Community News Reporter with a passion for wildlife, history, and unique mountain stories. She’s also a gemini, dog mom, hiker, and published poet, and has an obsession with alpine lakes and modern art.