A Day in the Life of a Search and Rescue Handler | Dog Training Vlog
As some of you may already know, Misia and I are involved in Search and Rescue. I get lots of questions about what we do, so I have created a vlog about most recent inter-agency training day with VicPol, which is linked at the bottom of this post.
I do this as a member of Search and Rescue Dogs Australia (SARDA), which is a volunteer run, not-for-profit organisation. For more information you can go to www.sarda.net.au.
In the vlog below, Julie (SARDA secretary and trainer) provided some great commentary about how our dogs work. Part instinct, part training, part drive and temperament, search work is complex and multi-faceted. As a handler you work with your knowledge of scent and probabilities, whilst your dog works to scent discriminate and locate.
Wikipedia gives this brief account of what Search and Rescue Dogs do:
"The use of dogs in search and rescue (SAR) is a valuable component in wilderness tracking, natural disasters, mass casualty events, and in locating missing people. Dedicated handlers and well-trained dogs are required for the use of dogs to be effective in search efforts. Search and rescue dogs are typically worked, by a small team on foot.
Search and rescue dogs detect human scent. Although the exact processes are still researched, it may include skin rafts (scent-carrying skin cells that drop off living humans at a rate of about 40,000 cells per minute), evaporated perspiration, respiratory gases, or decomposition gases released by bacterial action on human skin or tissues."
SARDA team trains for both Urban Search and Rescue (disaster search) and Land Search (area search). In general, there are a variety of ways dogs can find people, including tracking or trailing (what you may see Police dogs do). Our team focuses on the air scenting method, with both scent discrimination (scent from one individual) as in my vlog and non-discrimination methods to locate any live people in disaster scenarios (by breath bacteria).
So is this just like Nosework for dogs?
Yes and no - SAR work utilises the same principles as nose work (the natural desire to hunt) however the training and time commitment is much higher and more complex. SAR dogs are also expected to work all day, with sometimes no reward (if you don’t have a find). However, both are equally great enrichment activities, providing great mental stimulation for dogs. Nose work could also be considered a low impact exercise, suitable for dogs who are recovering from injuries, whereas SAR work can be quite high impact and requires physical soundness.
Does my dog have what it takes to be a Search and Rescue dog?
At the foundation level, SAR dogs need to be confident, bold, agile, physically fit, have high prey drive, high hunt drive, be mentally stable and have the capacity to work all day.
How do you train a dog for Search and Rescue?
SAR K9 training is rooted in toy training. To put it simply, the dog's favourite toy is used to encourage the dog to hunt for the toy, then the toy is attached to a person (the “victim”), the person is then hidden so that the dog can utilise their hunt drive to find the toy and, in turn the victim. Further to this the dog is trained to provide either a passive or an active alert to let the handler know that they have "found". Dogs are also required to learn elements of obedience and agility in order to fulfil their objective (finding victims) with influence from handlers in a way that promotes safety of the dog.
I bought Misia with the goal of training her to be a therapy dog as well as an assistance dog for my father whilst she's at home. Very quickly, I realised that this would not come to fruition due to Misia's over-the-top energy, drive and vivacious temperament. From a young age she proved a handful; she was always ready to go, she rarely slept, was bold, brazen and was always looking for something to do. By 8 months old, she had an arsenal of tricks up her sleeve and had mastered basic obedience as well as complex drills, just with work at home simply because she demanded a lot of mental stimulation.
Obedience classes weren't fast-paced enough for her, and even though she won 1st place in the puppy division competition at our club I just knew it wasn't enough.
We tried tracking as well, and whilst she loved the 5-10 minutes of tracking, with 2 hours spent in the car it also wasn't enough.
So, in an attempt to find something that satisfied her drive and energy I turned to Google. I was disheartened to discover that most dog sports required dogs be over 12 months, but I continued searching until I came across the SARDA site. Well, as you can see the rest is history...
This is just a brief account of what Search and Rescue Dog training looks like, so if you have any questions, leave a comment in the video and I will try my best to answer!