Dogs have a far better ability to smell than do humans and they can pick up the scent of a missing person from a distance and if that person happens to be covered by brush or other materials that would prevent locating a person visually.
No one trains a dog on their own. It takes many people and many hours of varying training to achieve the level of competence for a team that is qualified to assist in the search for a missing person.
The dogs consider searching their favorite 'game' just as do dogs who love to chase a ball or frisbee. Finding what they're looking for brings a reward - generally either a food treat or a toy.
Training a search dog takes anywhere from 12 to 24 months depending on the specialty and the age of the dog when the training begins. Our team prefers to start dogs before their second birthday and requires dogs to be 15 inches at the shoulder when fully grown. Any breed can do this job - the individual dog must have the personality, temperament, drive, interest and stamina to do it over long periods of time as many searches last hours - possibly days. Canine teams are certified both in-house and with other certifying organizations.
Dogs work until it becomes necessary for them to retire whether due to age related infirmities or due to a loss of interest in performing the job. When they retire they continue to be the handler's pet, often continuing to take part in demonstrations and community programs.
Handlers must complete a training program that includes map and compass, lost person behavior, crime scene preservation, radio protocols, basics of scent and they must be willing to spend time 'hiding' for other dogs - often in cramped, uncomfortable situations.
To read a story about one of our former search canines who was also a rescue, click here.
This article is reprinted here with permission of the author:
“Just a dog”
By Richard Biby
People have said to me from time to time things like “lighten up,
it’s just a dog” or “that’s a lot of money for just a dog”.
They say to me they don’t understand the distance traveled, the time
spent, or the costs involved for “just a dog”.
Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog”.
Many hours have passed and the only company I had was “just a dog”
but I did not once feel slighted. Some
of my saddest moments have been brought about by “just a dog”, and in those
days of darkness, the gentle touch of “just a dog” gave me comfort and
reason to overcome the day.
For those of you who do not understand the whys and wherefores of “just
a dog”, then you will probably understand phases like “just a friend”,
“just a sunrise”, or “just a promise”.
“Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship,
trust, and pure unbridled joy. “Just
a dog” brings out in me the compassion and patience that make me a better
person. Because of “just a dog”
I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.
So for me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog” but an
embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the
past, and the pure joy of the moment. “Just
a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself
and the worries of the day.
I hope that someday they can
understand that it’s not “just a dog” but the thing that gives me humanity
and keeps me from being just a man. So
the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog”, just smile, because they - -
-“just don’t understand”.