Dogs to the rescue - How are rescue dogs trained?

There are questions that run through a person’s mind upon seeing dogs searching for people lost in the woods, stuck under the rubble of a collapsed building or drowning in a reservoir. How difficult is it for a dog to find such people? Can I train my dog for this myself? Are only certain breeds good for this purpose? The answers to such questions were provided by the breeder Michaela Martinů.

What does rescuing people entail, and how do approach such a decision from the onset?

First of all, we need to decide how seriously we want to engage in training rescue dogs. Whether we only want to pass rescue tests more or less for sports, or whether we want a dog that will truly be useful for rescue work and practice. In practice, rescue dogs are usually used to search for people missing in the field, in collapsed buildings, in bodies of water, or on avalanche-prone slopes. In sports, dogs also follow the trail as part of rescue tracking. Each of these areas has its specifics, and dogs are usually trained only for one or two selected disciplines, not for all disciplines.

What qualities and abilities should a dog undergoing rescue training have?

The dog should be eager to work, have great temperament, be easy to motivate, keen to please the master, be in excellent physical condition and have high mental endurance. The dog should not be timid, afraid of noise, but should not be aggressive either, not towards dogs nor, most of all, towards people. Treats or toys can be used to motivate the dog for training. The training of a rescue dog should be carried out in a positive manner, since only the dog that is eager to find the missing person is reliable, trusts his master, and together they form a team capable of being deployed in harsh conditions.

Does the dog undergo rescue training together with the dog handler or do they undergo training independently of each other?

Cooperation between both members of the rescue team is extremely important. Therefore, training is more about the cooperation between the two. They both need to know each other perfectly and trust each other. Trust does not appear out of thin air, but it is the result of long-term cooperation. Even the best dog handler could not participate in a race, and not at all in practice, with a dog he/she does not know and train. Rescue training is very demanding even for the handler. The handler should be in excellent physical and mental condition, should be able to work with GPS, orient himself/herself in the field, be able to cooperate with other members of the rescue team, should be familiar with the rules of safety and first aid for people and dogs, as well as the risks associated with abseiling, and in difficult situations, the dog handler should be mentally resilient.

Are there breeds that are more suitable for rescue training than others? If so, which ones?
This question is difficult to answer. I, personally, breed German Boxers, love this breed and prefer it, but I must admit that aside from huge positives, it also has its shortcomings. These include worse thermoregulation in summer and winter. The greatest positive of the breed, in my opinion, is their selfless love for humans and great self-esteem. For this reason, Boxers have been widely used in rescue operations, but are currently being pushed out by breeds such as hounds, springers, terriers and Belgian Shepherd. 
Hunting dogs are most commonly motivated by treats, are practically tireless and largely independent. For work in the field, however, it is important to keep in mind that their hunting nature needs to be suppressed. At one time, Border Collies were widely used, their huge advantage being diligence, very good movement and dexterity in difficult terrain thanks to their lower weight, and also the fact that they are durable and do not overheat. On the other hand, Border Collies, and other shepherd breeds, very often react to noise stimuli, which in most cases puts them out of operation at old age. Different types of retrievers are also often used for rescue work, since they represent a combination of diligence, balanced nature, noise resistance, are not aggressive towards other dogs and are naturally friendly towards people.

What is the main characteristic of dogs that rescue people?

Independence in decision-making, purposefulness in finding people, fearlessness when entering the field. Fearlessness should not be confused with over-eagerness, the dog should work with forethought.

To what extent should they be in complete synchronization with the handler?

Bilateral cooperation should be at 100%. We should be able to trust the dog, and the dog should trust us. Dogs have much more developed senses than a human, and we have to rely on them. I can give you an example from my practical experience. A Labrador was sent to search a collapsed house. The dog was searching, running through the rubble, when all of a sudden, she ran out of the house, not responding to the handler’s calls, refusing to return to the rubble. The handler ran after the dog, angry that the dog did not listen to her. At that moment, the house collapsed completely. Had the handler stayed and not run after the dog, the collapse of the house would be fatal. This accident happened 25 years ago, but it convinced me that we should trust our dogs.

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