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Search and Rescue Dog Training

In the Beginning

Puppies begin their search and rescue career at a very young age. Here is Kobie at 10 weeks of age. These youngsters start off their training getting used to every environment the search unit can imagine that they might potentially have to work in. They are exposed to many experiences, environments, sights, sounds and smells. Puppies begin their role in Search work starting with the basics. They get use to wearing their vest, start socialization skills, simple obedience tasks such as sit and stay and basic puppy search skills that involve play drive.

As they mature, they are exposed to more advanced search skills such as water search. This is Kobie at 6 months. Here the pup learns what it feels like to be on a boat. The pup is then shown that scent also comes from under the water. Divers or scent sticks are placed under the water and the pup is told to “Check” This is a very basic skill set that will let the handler know just how this dog will react on a boat and how he ascertains the knowledge that scent is under water also.

Starting a pup off is a happy event and training should be done in short durations that are repeated often rather than long drawn out sessions. All of West Jersey’s training methods are done in a positive way ending in a wonderfully happy playtime that helps tighten the bond between the k-9, the handler and the team. This also gives the puppy an eagerness to train again. 

Air Scent Dogs - While all dogs are different, a general rule of thumb is that it takes approximately 1 year to fully train an air scent dog. A fully trained air scent dog and handler team are qualified to search large areas, to search day or night and to search for multiple lost persons.

Here we see Callie, a certified Air scent dog. Notice her alert posture. Nose, ears and tail up. She has found the scent of her subject and will she continue her run in the low-land grass. Her handler is close behind her watching for all the signal that his K-9 will show as they get closer to the highest concentration of the scent source. Callie works the area in a back and forth sweep, working through the scent cone until the subject is located.

Tracking and Trailing Dogs - As a general guideline, it may take up to two years to fully train a tracking or trailing dog. After training and practice, the tracking or trailing dog is able to follow the track from start to finish, ignoring other tracks, across various surfaces and terrain, following the twists and turns along the way. Some of these dogs also do an alert and re-find, but if they are on lead, they bring the handler directly to the victim.

As a part of the testing process, the dog and handler team work a trail that is 1.5 to 2 miles long. A trailing dog is expected to be able to follow a trail which is 24 hours old prior to testing. The trail is laid the day before the test and is contaminated with the scent of other people.

Disaster Search Dogs - These dogs are trained as part of the rescue phase to locate live victims. In this scenario, the dog is not finding a specific person, as is the case with tracking and trailing. The dog is looking for any and all human scent in the rubble caused by such things as cave ins, and collapsed buildings etc. This is very intense and dangerous work, and requires extensive training, for both dog and handler. 

Here we see Barbara and 'Toby' honing his search skills in a mountain of rubble, rocks, and dirt that simulates a cave-in or collapsed building. 

Cadaver Dogs - These dogs require careful, controlled training to do successful cadaver work, because finding a deceased person may be stressful to a dog, just as it is to some human searchers. 

Here we see Nancy and Kajia a dog/handler team practicing their search skills in a simulated 'drowning victim' recovery.


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