Most people are familiar with the police canine. A loyal companion to their officer handler, who will put their life on the line in a moment’s notice. But there’s one area of dog usage in law enforcement that is often overlooked.
A search and rescue dog at the World Trade Center site after the attacks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Search and rescue dogs are an invaluable part of the emergency services team. They work with both sworn and civilian handlers in a variety of capacities.
Before a dog can be certified for search and rescue work, they must have the right type of dog obedience training. If you’re interested in being certified for SAR down the road, and need additional training, you can check out the material at www.playwithyourdog.com.
They primarily work off of detecting human scent. It’s believed that humans drop about 40,000 skin cells every minute, in addition to other scents, that make it quite easy for a trained dog to do its job.
Search and rescue dogs work under both tracking and trailing conditions. You can tell a tracking dog by their nose usually being focused on the ground where they can pick up their scent most easily. They are specifically looking for the scent track left behind by whoever they are looking for.
Trailing dogs work slightly differently. They are trained to locate human scent anywhere in their vicinity, rather than following a specific trail.
Both styles are effective at search and rescue techniques. And pretty much any well behaved and focused dog can learn and apply either technique – even dogs normally considered to be companion pets versus working dogs.
In addition to locating missing people, search and rescue dogs are often used for finding cadavers (dead bodies). Again, they have been trained to find the specific odors associated with decomposing bodies. While disturbing to think about, this is an invaluable service to help bring closure to loved ones and uncover valuable evidence for criminal prosecution.
Search and rescue dogs work very closely with law enforcement at the federal, state, county, and local level. And they must be able to work in a variety of conditions like cities, wilderness, snow, forests, etc.
It takes about 12 to 18 months for a dog to be properly trained for search and rescue. And the training is quite rigorous for both the dog and the handler. Training is part of the daily ritual and includes a variety of areas such as odor recognition, tracking and trailing exercises, agility, and obedience.
While it’s hard work, it’s also incredibly rewarding for you and your dog to be part of the law enforcement and emergency services community. You and your dog are able to do things that no human could do alone. And the benefits to the community are immense.
So if you’re considering getting involved in search and rescue, I very much encourage you to do so. It’s not easy, but you and your dog will have a great time while doing a wonderful service.