Search and Rescue Dogs
With a powerful nose and ability to traverse
of terrains, search and rescue dogs are an integral part of disaster
Their ability to save lives is well
and Rescue (SAR) dogs are specially trained to leverage their superior
sense of smell, night vision, sensitive hearing, and endurance to
locate missing persons.
Their extraordinary abilities reduce the
amount of time
spent searching for victims. This highly increases the chance that a
missing person will be found alive. It has been estimated that a single
rescue dog team is as effective in locating a lost person as 20-30
humans trained in searches.
dogs only knew what a
make. Certainly, there's nothing that can replace the precision of a
dog's nose - and absolutely nothing that can replace a dog's heart.
~Bob Sessions, rescue worker, Federal Emergency Management Agency
The Secret to Success
dogs use air scenting or trailing techniques to find victims of
tragedy. Rescue dogs are well trained to focus on one scent and follow
wherever it may lead, not becoming distracted by other odors. Trailing
dogs work on lead, while air scenting dogs work off lead.
Every human being has a different smell.
This is caused
by the body's constant shedding of skin cells and bacteria. While this
smell is not discernible to humans, rescue dogs readily pick up on it.
This allows them to locate missing persons hidden from view. The dog
will zero in on the odor of skin flakes that fall off our bodies. The
skin cells float in the air and drop to the ground. If the victim has
drowned, the skin cells float to the surface.
These hard-working heroes view the search as
they must solve. And they look forward to their reward for finding a
victim - a hug, treat, or tug of war with their favorite toy. Search
and rescue dogs live for praise.
And they appear to take it personally when
unable to complete their mission. During the World Trade Center
disaster, search and rescue dogs were becoming visibly depressed when
days went by without locating a victim. Their handlers asked volunteers
to hide so their dogs could find them and the dogs could receive their
much needed praise.
Unfortunately, in recovery missions, the
praise must be
downplayed in deference for the victim.
The Nose Knows
Dogs detect first with their nose, then with
and eyes. Their sense of smell is highly developed. They have
approximately 25 times more smell receptors than humans.
Your dog's nose contains 200 million
receptors. Each of these receptors can detect and identify a distinct
odor molecule. These tiny molecules are continually shed by various
different objects and organisms.
Dogs can detect odors at concentrations
million times lower than humans. Imagine being able to sense one drop
of blood per five quarts of water! This is why your dog's constant
sniffing makes sense. She is gathering a wealth of information from the
grass, sidewalk and street.
Search and Rescue dogs are capable of
- children lost in parks or the wilderness
- elderly people that have wandered from
- lost hikers or hunters
- victims of avalanche, earthquake,
flood, plane crashes, train wrecks, tornadoes or other disasters
Search and Rescue Dog Breeds
A German Shepherd Search and Rescue dog is a
sight. But, several other dog breeds (typically larger working and
sporting breeds) are used for SAR work. While some are more popular
than others, each of the following breeds offers a unique strength as a
- Australian Shepherd
- Belgian Malinois
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Giant Schnauzer
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Smooth Collie
Bloodhounds have been used in searches as
well as by
police forces to track criminals. Their strong ability to track a scent
(that may be weeks old) is well documented in many court cases across
the country. Labrador Retrievers make excellent cadaver dogs. They are
known for being highly attracted to things that smell bad. The ability
of Newfoundlands to rescue avalanche victims is legendary.
German Shepherds are one of the most
versatile breeds of
dogs. They are used not only for search and rescue, they excel as K9 police dogs and dogs in the military, and
perform therapy roles as well.
Successful Search and Rescue Dogs
Virtually any medium or large breed dog can
make a great
rescue dog. As long as they enjoy tracking and have the proper
concentration to follow a scent. While the breed isn't critical,
attitude is paramount.
Requirements for the SAR dog include:
- ability to get along with other dogs and
After a successful evaluation, dogs with a
drive that will work for rewards are preferred. During training, dogs
are rewarded with play, praise or treats after locating a volunteer
victim. In an actual search, when a victim is unresponsive, a handler
must be quick to offer praise, in a somewhat subdued manner, or after
removing the dog from the area.
SAR dogs are trained to follow a scent in
and weather conditions. Cadaver dogs are trained to track scent in
bodies of water. These skills are honed with regular training session.
Handlers also perform some training tasks at home.
Rescue Dog Handlers
Search and rescue dog handlers are
Requirements for a handler include:
- affinity for communicating with and
- enjoyment of the outdoors
- physical fitness
- time for training and searches
Equipment, seminars and travel are required
handlers. Donations may help offset some of these costs. Equipment can
- dog vests
- long lead lines
- working harnesses
- clothes appropriate for varied terrain
- flashlights with spare batteries
- food for long searches in remote terrains
- pack for carrying items
Handlers volunteer for search and rescue
because of the glory. But because they like to work with their dogs and
are good problem solvers. They need to be in tune with their dogs and
recognize cues so that they know when to proceed and when to quit. If
you crave publicity and are not self rewarded, you will be disappointed
in search and rescue work.
Training for Search and Rescue
Training can vary depending on the group.
search and rescue dogs must
be certified in CPR and first aid, and learn how to treat a crime
scene. Wilderness survival skills are needed for some searches while
disaster recovery searchers must be prepared to find victims with
serious injuries or that are deceased.
It is important for the handler to keep
attitude in check. Dogs are like mirrors. They pick up on our energy
and emotions, and can easily become anguished or distraught should
their handler feel the same.
Training for SAR normally takes a year of
sessions. After training, the dog and handler are evaluated to ensure
that they are ready for full fledged search and rescue missions.
Prospective handlers should contact an
for guidance in getting started. For more information, contact The National Association
for Search and Rescue, Inc.
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