What does a rescue dog do?

One of my ‘canine activities’ is working with search dogs. In other words; I volunteer with my dogs to search for missing persons. One of my dogs is a tracking dog that can also be used for missing dogs. With most people I find that this gives a bit of a misconception, so let’s see what this all means…

What does a rescue dog do?

A rescue dog can work in several ways. In a plain search, a dog walks around an area to find out whether people are present there. On the water, a dog can search for people in the water from a boat. And after an earthquake or other disaster, dogs can search for people in and under the rubble.

Also in avalanches dogs can look for people who are buried under the snow. After a dog finds a person, a rescue dog notifies its owner through a learned referral.

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What do you make them smell like?

Well… the search dogs I’m talking about above, to nothing. They’re just looking for a scent of a person who isn’t moving. They will search an area piece by piece and if no person is found, the handler releases this piece. This way you can exclude entire pieces. In normal terrain, a dog can cover 8 to 10 hectares in about an hour and a half.

Dogs that ‘mantrail’ do smell something (usually a piece of clothing) with the scent of the missing person. The trail dogs follow a route taken by the missing person.

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Can this be done with any dog?

Every dog ​​has a nose, of course, and every dog ​​can smell. When you look at the nose of a French bulldog, or a shepherd’s nose, you will probably notice that the shepherd’s nose is 10 times as long. This means that 10x more odorous mucosa also fits in there.

A basset has a fantastic nose, but because of his build he will tire more quickly and cannot jump over obstacles as effectively. In addition to a good nose, a dog also needs an athletic build and must be slim, muscular and healthy.

deployable rescue dog

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What else does a rescue dog need?

Your dog should also want to use his nose. Always and everywhere, he can’t get enough of the search. So your dog must have extreme stamina, both physically and mentally. Staying focused on his task for hours on end, that’s different than playing hide-and-seek on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the woods with your children…

In addition, your dog must also have a stable, fearless character. A bet during New Year’s Eve, while fireworks are flying into the sky everywhere, is no exception.

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Small, big, young, old?

Of course, your dog must be in top condition to be able to walk for hours through sometimes very difficult terrain, in all weathers. So if you have a dog that prefers not to go outside when it rains… unfortunately, it’s better to just play recreational search games when the weather is nice.

Very small dogs, of course, have to work much harder to cover the same distance as larger dogs. But too big isn’t helpful either. Very heavy dogs are also tired much faster and often have joint problems earlier. Puppies and seniors can of course not be so heavily loaded.

training dog as rescue dog

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Training a dog

The very first step in training is figuring out what really has the highest value for your dog as a reward. You link that reward to referrals. Referring means that your dog shows certain specific behavior when it has found a (suspected) victim. In the case of my dogs, that’s barking.

So in the beginning your dog doesn’t have to search at all, he learns that when he barks at people who are sitting or lying down, he gets his reward (for my dogs the ultimate reward is a ball or a biting roll). Step by step you will hide the ‘missing’, in different places, in all kinds of environments.

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How long does it take to train a rescue dog?

Of course there are differences, but most dogs need a year or 2 of training to be ready for the real thing. Sometimes you might lose twice as much time. It depends on the type of dog and your own commitment.

Let’s just say you won’t get there with a little exercise every now and then! Teaching your dog to search is not that difficult, but you also have to teach him how to deal with all kinds of distractions and special situations. Sometimes you start a training program, but after a while you find out that your dog does not have all the qualities it needs.

rescue dog stable and social

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Training the handler

This part is sometimes forgotten, but it is just as important as training your dog. You also have to learn a few things yourself! Using a compass, reading a map, making search plans, using a walkie-talkie; those are the basic skills of a rescue dog handler.

Some knowledge of first aid for people and dogs is certainly not a luxury. And you have to be able to walk for hours…not just on trails and roads, but across the terrain. And, you need to know what to do and what not to do when you find someone (or something).

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A search action

A search starts with filtering information and making a search plan. You will see which areas around the point where the missing person was last spotted, are interesting to search with a dog.

Fields and other places with good visibility can be searched just as easily with a drone or with people. Dogs are most valuable in areas where visibility is obscured, such as forests and bodies of water. Making a search plan is a combination of filtering information, reading a map, taking into account the wind direction and ‘crossing out’ searched parts.

use rescue dogs in case of missing persons

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Why am I doing this?

“Is that fun to do?” is a question I regularly get to answer. “Nice” might not be the right word when locating a body. It is always ‘nice’ for the dog, because he enjoys the search in itself, working with his master and he also gets his favorite ball as a reward for searching (and/or finding).

But the reason we’re doing this job is the family of the missing person. Nothing is worse than the ignorance. If my dog ​​can help even a little bit, I think I should.

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