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Check out our top five facts about search & rescue dogs.

As crucial team members, we can’t help but be impressed at their abilities.

Several Environmental Factors Can Impact the Success of an Air-Scent Dog’s Search

Dogs in general have the ability to detect scent from an impressive distance, search and rescue dogs are specially trained to work via air-scent (they can detect scent from up to 400 metres!). Despite the exact process remaining unknown, it is thought these animals sniff out scent-carrying skin cells, perspiration and both respiratory and decomposition gases released by bacteria, human skin and tissue. Air-scent trained dogs are most often used to search for lost people over large areas of land.

The success and accuracy of search and rescue dogs can be significantly impacted by a number of environmental factors and atmospheric conditions. These include weather conditions    

Unsuccessful Search and Rescue Dogs Change Careers

If a dog has been accepted into search and rescue training but proves to be unsuitable for the line of work required, they are often trained for other careers. This includes policing dogs for drug detection or companion dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. Once a search and rescue dog has retired, they will usually live out the rest of their days with their handler.search and rescue dogs

Search and Rescue Dogs Have Served as Human Saviours for Over 300 Years

First reports of people using search and rescue dogs were more than 300 years ago, with the Monks of the Hospice located in the Swiss Alps the first to use dogs (Saint Bernards) to locate lost or stranded travellers on trails between Italy and Switzerland. Since then, search and rescue dogs (including breeds) have expanded to take on a variety of different search and rescue operations, ranging from snowy mountains through to land and ocean searches and disaster scenarios.

Water-Search Dogs Have Very Specialised Skills

When a body is under water, skin particles and gases rise to the surface – and with their extreme ability to detect scent, water-search dogs can smell a body even when it’s completely immersed. Although they quite often do not detect the exact location of a body in the water due to the movement of currents, they can let search and rescue teams know if there is a scent detected in the body of water. Typically, more than one search and rescue team searches the area of interest, and divers use each dog’s alert point, along with water-current analysis, to estimate the most likely location of the body.

Search and Rescue Dogs Can Be Cross-Trained

Despite being trained for a specific purpose (aka, air-scenting, trailing, water-search, disaster rescue), some search and rescue dogs have the ability to be cross trained to take on multiple search and rescue operations. In some instances, air-scent trained dogs can also be trained to work as a cadaver dog and detect the scent of corpses or human remains rather than someone who is still alive.

Mrs Leonie Briggs, Unit Manager at WA SES Canine Unit will be presenting on ‘Search and Rescue Dogs: Past, Present and Future’ at this year’s Australian & New Zealand Search & Rescue Conference.

Find out more about search dogs as a resource, types of search dogs and the future of search dogs.

Register for this year’s conference here.

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