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History of search and rescue dogs

author Lukáš Skalický | Sport and travel

The use of dogs in search and rescue (the so-called SAR) is an integral part of natural disasters, mass accidents or, for example, when search for missing people. Do you know, when the first dog rescuers appeared?

A look into history

When you look into history, you’ll learn, that dog has accompanied the human from time immemorial. At first, it helped to guard the human “pack” and the territory, where humans lived. Gradually, it became the guardian of droves and a professional hunter of game. The better the dogs got to know people, the more they uncovered the perfection of some of their senses. This also added to the activities, for which the dogs were used. It’s said, that one dog can replace the work of up to 20 people. This way, dogs became working animals.

Search and rescue dogs first appeared only with World War II, when they helped to search for people buried under the ruins of houses after raids. In some countries, especially in those that are considered to be dog superpowers such as, for example, the former Czechoslovakia, dogs started to be trained as service dogs already in the 20’s of the previous century. New development in training of service and search and rescue dogs came in the 50’s. Although the training of dogs by dog breeding amateurs still prevailed, increasingly more often, the couples that voluntarily decided to help, had to pass an exam at mountain rescue services. Gradually, associations of search and rescue cynologists started to emerge, that now cooperate in handling of crisis situations and in a number of countries, they are a part of the integrated emergency system.

Training of search and rescue dogs and SAR breeds

Dog rescuers often have the task of searching for missing persons that could be not only in free space, but also in rubble, under an avalanche or even under water. They use the scent trail to search. What breeds are the best at working with it? Are you guessing it’s the St. Bernard dog? You’re right!

We will give you a hint, the breeds that most often engage in SAR are the Belgian shepherd dog Malinois, the German Shepherd, Border Collie, Giant Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, Labrador, crossbreeds, but even the American Pit Bull Terrier.

When it comes to training, SAR cynology is built up on top of basic training. The basic principle is to create a positive relationship between the dog and the dog handler, based on devotion and obedience. The trained dog can’t be handed over to another handler, they form an inseparable team. It is equally important to be able to motivate the dog in the right way. The reward can have various forms from a treat to holding a toy. First, you learn the puppy to bark on command, then you connect the barking with indicating a find, at the beginning, an item, for example, and gradually, using helpers. When the dog finds the missing person, it should bark, indicate the place with an indication peg or bring the handler.

Attestation and cynological exam

Cynological exam is usually based on the most authentic imitation of a real situation from practice, when the aim is not only to search the terrain and find the hidden – buried persons, but to also indicate them. The dog and its handler are under strict supervision for the whole time of the test and any changes in the dog’s behaviour are monitored along with the way it copes with stress situations and obedience. The dog should be able to come when called, heel, stay put, run into a certain direction, overcome various obstacles, etc.

There might be various variations in the search and rescue cynology across the borders. In most countries, however, it’s necessary to complete attestations. In this case, the same conditions as for professional rescue dog handlers apply to the volunteers. Only about a dozens of couples dog - dog handler get to be deployed internationally out of several hundreds up to thousands of those who pass the attestations.