Rescue dog training was built around the principal that dogs are not only agile enough and smart enough to accomplish amazing life saving feats, but they also have the heart and desire to perform the job perfectly.
Any dogs chosen for rescue efforts must go through rigorous behavioural, agility, tracking, retrieving and positioning training. The training starts from a puppy stage and continues throughout the life of the animal.
Many breeds are chosen for rescue dog training. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Golden Retrievers, are frequently chosen for search and rescue work because of their intelligence and fierce loyalty. Bloodhounds are most famously associated with tracking and discovery, due to their incredibly heightened sense of smell.
Labrador Retrievers and Newfoundland dogs are well-known avalanche rescuers and cadaver retrievers because of their loving nature, desire to please and love of anything that smells bad. While there are specific breeds that are commonly chosen for rescue dog training work, it is not the breed that is most important. An animal’s attitude and a sense of play will set them apart to become an ideal Rescue Dog.
Obedience is the first thing rescue dogs are taught from a very early age. Trainers encourage and teach perfect obedience to their animals. If a dog does not understand and appreciate the importance of obedience they will make rescue missions more difficult and potentially more tragic. For this reason a dog cannot pass obedience training until they can execute commands perfectly both by auditory signals and hand gestures.
Agility training involves having the dog negotiate difficult situations such as high jumps, open window jumps, wall jumps and plank walks; off leash with the trainer a close distance from them. The dog must remain under control at all times.
Dogs must be submitted to tracking training as well. They are required to track specific scents both on the ground and within the air and wind. Successful training turns out canines that can differentiate between scents. Rescue dogs can distinguish between human scent and vegetation and can smell a specific scent among thousands in the air.
Retrieving is another important aspect of rescue dog training. Each animal must learn to retrieve an article on demand. Training involves items made of leather, wood, and cloth; as well as glass and metal. This is particularly important for police and military trained dogs as they may be asked to retrieve legal evidence for their trainers.
Positioning during training is very important to the process as well. There are two different schools when it comes to positioning training for Rescue dogs… the compulsive method and the inductive method. Trainers using the compulsive method will firmly but gently physically guide the dog to the correct position. Trainers using the Inductive method will use food and treats as rewards for correct positioning.
The goal of successful rescue dog training is to submit the animals to rigorous multi-platform training until the commands are second nature to the canine.
Some of the rescuers who had the daunting job of sifting through the rubble after September 11th, 2001 in New York City were rescue dogs. Stories came out eventually about these dogs and the emotional toll this rescue effort had on them.
The dogs became so depressed by finding body after body that trainers had to encourage them to continue. One of the rescuers suggested hiding a “victim” in the rubble and allowing one of the animals to find them. That one rescue charged the dogs to continue until the task was complete. These dogs really are “man’s best friend”.