Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book of the Month

I have a pretty varied interest in things that I read whether they’re dog related or not. And when it comes to dog related books, I really do enjoy reading about a variety of different topics. There are soooooo many different dog sports, activities you can do with your dog, and different areas to learn about that the options are really endless. When I actually get around to it, I do enjoy tracking with my dogs. And while I don’t have a specific interest in trying to train for search and rescue with either of my dogs, the discipline still interests and fascinates me.

In “Search and Rescue Dogs” you get a really in depth look at just what it takes to be part of a team and unit. There are a whole variety of situations that you can train your dog to work in. Whether you want to train them for a specific type of situation or a general one, there’s a whole lot more involved than I originally thought there was. That’s not to say that I thought the endeavor was easy, but it’s more involved than I had originally thought.

The very beginning of the book gives an introduction to the formation of the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA). And guess what! They were started right here in the Pacific Northwest!! I found it really interesting how everything got started. This wasn’t just a group of people who got together just because and thought it would be neat to start a search and rescue group. This was a gathering of like minded people who wanted very disciplined dogs who were capable of doing a pretty challenging task under all manner of circumstances.

If you’re really interested in doing search and rescue work, having the right dog is pretty important. The book describes the qualities that you should look for when picking out your puppy. What you should look for in the parents. What aspects it may be okay to forgive a bit on and which you really shouldn’t. You also need to take into consideration the breed of the dog. What type of search and rescue do you want to do? You need to think about the general climates that you will be working in. A short haired breed may not necessarily be appropriate for avalanche work. You should also take into consideration the size. A small breed dog really isn’t appropriate for searching through thick brush where they can lose sight of where they’re going or get frustrated from having such a hard time making forward progress. While larger breeds are more ideal for all conditions, you also need to take into consideration what the dog was bred for. Bloodhounds are great for nose to the ground tracking, but generally they don’t work well off leash and aren’t great for air scenting work.

Being part of a search and rescue team is a pretty demanding endeavor. There is a whole lot of training involved. This is not something that you enter into with the assumption that you and your dog will be raring to go and ready to find your first lost person within the year. There is a lot of foundation work to be laid down and there is a LOT of time put in each week on training. We’re talking training sessions of several hours each, a few times a week. All of this makes sense considering the fact that you will need a searching dog that can stay on the task until the person is found, regardless of how long it takes and what the conditions are.

There are a few chapters that focus specifically on how to lay the foundation work for your dog and how to progress. The training chapters are fairly in depth. Explaining roughly how long each exercise should be, how many exercises per session, how many sessions per week, and what kind of variables you should throw in there. There are a lot of specifics on the types of terrain you should use along with where, the types of people you should use to help you (this is definitely not something that you can do on your own!), and how to assess when your dog is ready to go on to the next training step.

Anyone who has been involved in any sort of canine sport knows that the handler can really make or break the team. Search and rescue is no different, though the necessary handler knowledge goes far beyond just knowing how to work and understand your dog. Being part of a unit doesn’t mean that you just grab your dog, go find the person and you’re done. If you’re the first team to find the missing person and emergency personnel are a goodly distance away, you need to have the knowledge to help this person in case of a medical emergency. It is necessary that the handler have certified first aid training. It’s also necessary the handler be VERY familiar with how to read a topographical map. Along with reading a map come the general orienteering skills of how to combine a topo map with a compass. And since the team will be out searching sometimes for very long hours and/or may have to hunker down and wait for assistance once the victim is found, general survival skills are necessary.

Once the training of the handler and dog are under way, it’s time to form a unit. Again, this is one of those things that I just never even thought about when I heard about search and rescue teams. There’s a lot that goes into forming a unit. Many things that have to be thought about ahead of time before deciding whether or not that unit is ready to become licensed and start performing real searches. The unit also needs to know what the general climate and terrain conditions are for their area, depending on the time of year. Making sure that all members are well trained for all conditions is incredibly important.

When everyone in the unit is trained and knows what their job(s) are, you must continue to train and keep those skills honed. There’s a nice section in the book describing different types of exercises that the unit should do, the conditions to stay prepared for, and skills to focus on.

A general description of the various situations a unit could be called into are then explained. Ideas on how to handle specific situations are also discussed. Things such as how to handle an agency’s request of how to utilize various volunteers that have showed up to help with the search. How to handle media attention on a specific case as well as many other situations.

Once you’ve got the basic search guidelines and situations figured out, you can start training for specific situations. Search training for events such as water rescue or avalanche rescue. I personally find the water rescue work really interesting. Different scenarios each require specific types of training and it’s important to know this if you choose to specialize the type of rescue work you do.

There is a large focus on disaster searching. There’s a lot involved in training a dog to search through disaster sites to find people. First of all, you need to think about whether your dog will be trained to look for survivors or if the dog will be trained to look for the remains of victims. Both require separate and specific training. Once you have that figured out, you need to decide how you are going to train your dog to indicate what they’ve found. Whether it be to lay down at the site, bark, or scratch. If you have a dog who will be trained to work in rubble searches, you need to train them to be confident searching on all different types of substrates and obstacles. Additionally, they need to be able to work with a variety of distractions around them. They need to be able to tune out other dog and handler teams in addition to the various other rescue personnel and all of their varied equipment. The dog must be very focused. The dog must also be trained to follow voice commands in addition to signals. A lot of disaster sites have so much going on around them that often times the dog will not be able to hear the handler’s commands. It is imperative above all else that the dog obey the handler regardless of how far away they are, what obstacles they are climbing on, and regardless of whatever else is going on around them.

Towards the end of the book is a recount of some of what the search and rescue teams went through during the aftermath of 9-11. It’s chilling to hear what all those teams went through to search for survivors during the time immediately following the attacks. It’s even more amazing to hear about the heroics of the dogs and what they endured in the search for survivors.

Following the descriptions of some of the big disasters that canine search and rescue teams have helped out on is a description of basic first aid for the dog. While a lot of basic human first aid information can be applied to dogs, there are specifics that apply only to the dog. A general description of these procedures is given.

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