Search and rescue dogs are saving hundreds of lives each year. Do you plan to make your furry pal a part of this heroic brood? Find out if he has what it takes to be a full-fledged search and rescue dog with the help of this article.
Quick History About Search and Rescue Dogs
Many people are curious as to what search and rescue dogs do? Search and rescue dogs serve many functions from the old days to modern times.
In the 1700s, they were used by the Monks of the Hospice to track down and find stranded or lost travellers in the Swiss Alps.
When World War II came around, search and rescue dogs were commonly deployed to look for people buried under the rubble after an air raid. They were also trained to locate injured soldiers on the battlefield.
Today, search and rescue dogs are used for finding people trapped under debris due to natural disasters such as earthquakes. Tracking lost people in the wilderness is also one of their specialties.
Some search and rescue dogs were even trained to look for dementia patients who strayed away from their care facility.
Why Are Dogs Used in Search and Rescue?
Dogs’ sharp sense of smell is one of the best qualities that makes them a good fit for search and rescue. They possess over 115 million to 300 million sensory receptor sites in the nasal cavity whilst humans only have 6 million.
A big part of their brain is also dedicated to picking out and identifying various odours. It is said to be 40 times larger than a human’s brain. These give dogs the ability to smell 1,000 to 10,000 times better than people.
When properly trained, they can identify and track different human scents, making them invaluable for many search and rescue teams.
The Criteria for Choosing Search and Rescue Dogs
Having a sharp sense of smell does not automatically qualify a dog to work for search and rescue. He needs to possess specific qualities to ensure that he is fit for this job.
So, what makes a good search and rescue dog? Some of the most important characteristics a search and rescue dog must have are:
Clean Bill of Health
Most search and rescue missions are taxing to the mind and body as they require plenty of strength and stamina. Hence, search and rescue dogs should be mentally and physically fit.
A Friendly Temperament
Search and rescue missions often require working with strangers and, in some cases, other dogs.
If your canine friend is wary or aggressive toward any person or dog he meets, it will keep the team from making any progress. Thus, having an amiable personality is important.
Flexible to Sudden Changes in the Surroundings
Search and rescue dogs will often be exposed to harsh environments such as loud explosions and screaming. They should be well-socialised to ensure they are calm and focused even during the most stressful situations.
Confident to Think on Their Own
Whilst obedience is highly valued in search and rescue dogs; they must be able to think independently too. Always relying on their handlers hinders them from working efficiently as they will keep waiting for commands.
Moreover, some handlers make the mistake of walking in the wrong direction—away from the scent. Search dogs must be stubborn enough to lead them in the right direction.
Search and rescue is a time-consuming work. Being able to maintain focus and motivation the whole time is a must for dogs in this line of work.
Canines with a high prey drive are a good fit for search and rescue as they are exceptionally determined and persistent in carrying out tasks.
Most Suitable Breeds for Search and Rescue
Many people often ask: “What dogs are used for search and rescue?” or “What makes the best search and rescue dog?”
There are no breed restrictions when it comes to search and rescue. However, dog breeds primarily developed for hunting have more scent receptors, making them the best prospects for this kind of work.
Here is a list of breeds that make the best search and rescue dogs:
- Australian Shepherds
- Belgian Malinois
- Border Collies
- Cattle Dogs
- German Shepherds
- Giant Schnauzers
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Springer Spaniels
Are mixed-breed dogs good for search and rescue too? As we have mentioned earlier, the breed is not an issue. As long as your canine companion have the right disposition for search and rescue, he is welcome to give it a try.
3 Types of Search and Rescue Dogs
There are mainly 3 kinds of search and rescue dogs: air-scenting dogs, tracking dogs, and cadaver dogs. Let’s find out what they specialise in and how they differ from each other.
1. Air-Scenting Search and Rescue Dogs
Air-scenting dogs focus on detecting scents without discrimination. This means they will look for any human scent rather than only searching for one specific scent.
Air-scenting dogs commonly work off-lead when tracking down scents. Once they find a human scent, they will return to their handler and lead them back to the area of the scent’s origin.
The scent-detecting range of air-scenting dogs can cover around 150 acres to over a ¼ mile away.
Whilst pooches have a great sense of smell, certain dogs have shown more expertise in air-scenting.
Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Springer Spaniels are some of the best search and rescue dog breeds for this type of work.
2. Trailing Search and Rescue Dogs
Trailing dogs are trained to locate only a specific human scent. They usually work on-lead and are close to their handlers. Their pace tends to be slower as they sniff closely to the ground to keep track of the specific scent whilst ruling out other scents.
One of the best breeds of rescue dogs for trailing work is the Bloodhound. However, other herding, sporting, and working dog breeds are capable of this task too.
3. Cadaver Dogs
As their name implies, they specialise in locating deceased humans through their scent. They are also valuable for finding human decomposition evidence like bone fragments or drops of blood.
Cadaver dogs are a big help in giving closure to families whose loved ones were victims of heinous crimes. They also play an important role in bringing justice to these lives that were lost.
Human remains detection dogs and handlers are typically advised to stick to their area of work. Going for live search and rescue can potentially jeopardise the findings of criminal cases.
4 Most Common Environments Search and Rescue Dogs Are Deployed To
There are several types of operations to which search and rescue dogs can be sent. Here are some of the most common ones:
It involves searching for scents over vast areas of wilderness and rough terrains such as woodlands and caves. Search and rescue dogs in action will need to utilise their stamina and agility to efficiently navigate unrefined landscapes.
2. Urban Areas
It typically deals with lowland rescue in cities struck by natural disasters such as mudslides, floods, and earthquakes. Accidental or terrorism-related type of disasters also belongs to this category.
Mountain rescue dogs are often sent to the mountains to search for lost or trapped people due to avalanches. With the help of their powerful noses, mountain rescue dogs can detect human scents even if they are under 15 feet of snow.
Maritime search and rescue are conducted to find drowning victims and people who are lost at sea. Sea rescue dogs use their sense of smell to sniff out skin particles and gases that rise to the water’s surface.
2 Different Routes for Search and Rescue Dog Training
Maybe you are asking yourself: “Can I train my dog for search and rescue?” Yes, you can train your dog for search and rescue. There 2 common options on how you can do this:
1. Private Search and Rescue Dog Training
Hiring a professional trainer who specialises in search and rescue dogs training is one of the best choices. It is conducted in a 1-on-1 setting, which ensures your dog will receive undivided attention during training.
Make sure to inform the professional trainer what type of search and rescue dog training you intend to do and if you plan to get certified. This helps them tailor your dog’s training sessions according to your goal.
2. Group Search and Rescue Dog Training Classes
If you are low on budget, participating in group lessons is the better way to go. They are cost-effective but useful in improving your dog’s socialisation skills along with other qualities crucial for search and rescue work.
The content taught in search and rescue dog training classes may vary depending on your chosen facility. Thus, it would be best to check which place offers the most suitable learning route for your canine friend.
Overview of Search and Rescue Dog Training
How to train a search and rescue dog? First, make sure that your dog is at the right age to start training. Typically, puppies as young as 1–2 months old can begin learning the basics, which is obedience training.
It is ideal that they are taught classic commands such as “come” and “stay” with hand signals. Whilst verbal communication is okay, this method is not always feasible during search and rescue missions.
Once search and rescue trainee dogs have mastered obedience training, they will proceed with agility training. It usually involves navigating challenging obstacle courses, which will prepare them for traversing rugged terrains.
After completing agility training, dogs will undergo more specialised lessons related to searching and tracking. Retrieving might also be included in their training sessions.
They will be tasked to find and return valuable items such as evidence to their handler. The difficulty and intensity of the training will gradually increase as dogs continue to improve their search and rescue skills.
Qualifying as a Search and Rescue Dog Takes Time
Dogs can begin training for search and rescue certifications once they reach 18 months of age. It takes around 600 hours of training before they are ready to be out on the field.
The duration of training may last as short as 6 months, or it can run up to 2–3 years. The outcome depends on the hours you and your canine companion are willing to put into it.