|By Fran Black
Canine search and rescue (SAR) began years
ago, with fairly informal teams looking for lost campers
and hikers in wilderness settings. Training for a SAR
dog begins when the pup is born. An obedience trainer,
recognizing a dog's agility and focus as a pup, may recommend
him for search and rescue training.
A SAR dog is a working dog, and it needs
many of the applicable traits. In fact, most good SAR
dogs are generally smart dogs, and do equally well in
other working disciplines. A SAR dog should be amiable,
comfortable working around people, and have a pleasant
personality. A SAR dog should not be inclined to bite,
or be vicious or aggressive towards people, dogs or other
animals. Many breeds and mixes can be appropriate for
SAR, but not have all of the physical or psychological
makeup the work requires. No compromise can be accepted
as the SAR dog must be of impeccable temperament and stability
even before training commences.
In addition, a SAR dog will have to be independent;
often they have to work without constant direction from
their handler. SAR dogs must have a long attention span
and be able to concentrate and stay on task without needing
constant reminders and correction. A field-ready SAR dog
can focus on the task at hand, despite the conditions
and difficulty of the task.
The general approach to training a dog for
search and rescue is no different from training a dog
to complete any other task. In fact, excellent obedience
control is required for disaster SAR situations to help
prevent the dog from hurting itself. SAR dogs require
and undergo serious obedience training: the SAR dog is
a master of many talents, an independent thinker and a
team player. Training and certifying a SAR team takes
a big commitment of time. The people that choose to train
SAR must be as dedicated as the dogs are. The handler
also needs to be trained, to prevent confusion and damage.
Individuals interested in pursuing SAR work should be
physically fit and have an ongoing fitness program; the
job can be physically taxing at times. Almost every state
has SAR groups or K9 handlers that will help civilians
train SAR dogs.
The relationship between dog and handler
is a critical factor to a successful SAR team. Teamwork
is vital between a handler and a SAR dog. The dogs are
taught the necessary skills as a "game" of increasing
difficulty, in partnership with their handler. SAR dogs
generally live and train with their handler, and it takes
about 600 hours of training for a dog to be field ready.
Training is given in a variety of skills necessary to
conduct safe and effective searches.
The central jobs of a SAR dog are to find
human scent and effectively alert his handler to the location
of the scent. Once in search mode, SAR dogs will actively
and enthusiastically seek out the source of human scent.
The SAR dog's task is to find the "victim" and to perform
a bark alert in order to bring the handler in.
Trackers can work in most weather conditions,
but heavy or long-lasting rains are the only natural enemies
of the SAR. However, it is rare for an SAR operation to
break during good weather conditions.
While rewarding work, it should be noted
that most search and rescue personnel, ground pounders
in SAR terms, are volunteers and not paid for their work.
In times of disaster, SAR dogs are looked upon as sources
of hope, courage, and comfort. It takes a special kind
of animal to be a SAR dog, one who is obedient, agile,
and above all, eager to please.
About the Author
Francesca Black has worked in the emergency services field
for more than 10 years. More information available at
Prepare for Emergency http://www.prepare-for-emergency.com