Sunday, July 29, 2012
SLO-4-PUPS, the group that created the first off-leash dog park in the county, hosted The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue K-9 Team for a demonstration at El Chorro Off Leash Dog Park.
The team is an all-volunteer group who train their own dogs for a variety of search work. In addition to training their dogs, they are also trained as medical first responders, and trained in navigation, as well as bush craft and wilderness survival skills. The latter is necessary since the teams are often required to be out in the wilderness and if they need to they must be able to survive for several days on their own.
The dogs can be trained for a variety of uses from man-trailing, to go-find (the dog searches for a person then comes back to alert the handler when found), disaster work (the dog is taught to only scent on living people trapped under rubble, for example, so as not to waste time digging for the dead), and cadaver work (the dog is trained to scent for dead human flesh smell in a variety of places, including on the water where decomposing flesh releases gasses to the surface which the dog detects.)
Dogs’ noses are one of the wonders of the world. While all dog’s have remarkable scenting abilities, the king of the heap is the bloodhound – all that wrinkled flesh on the face and all sloppy drool in the mouth act as scent molecule traps. The one drawback with bloodhounds is that they can’t be worked off-leash since once they pick up the scent, they’re gone, and few handlers can keep up with them, but for man-trailing on a leash, they are spectacular.
In addition to scenting ability, search and rescue dogs have to have a high drive for the search (Gottafindit! Gottafindit! Gottafindit!), a good amount of endurance, agility and strength to withstand hours of often grueling work, over hill and dale, scrambling over rough terrain. In addition, the dogs have to have a calm and focused temperament which allows them to be in noisy, chaotic environments, like getting into roaring helicopters with no fear, riding in a variety of noisy vehicles, and be around many stressed out people, all the while remaining focused and ready to get to work.
Which is why German Shepherds and a variety of retrievers are the most popular dogs picked for the work; Good noses, strength and endurance, and a drive for the work.
Interestingly, with the rise of GPS devices, more people care able to get themselves out of the wilderness, so that work has diminished. Which means that more and more search and rescue work is now focused on finding lost Alzheimer patients, or people suffering from mental impairment problems, or lost children, all of whom can wander away and need to be found as quickly as possible.
Our local K-9 teams work in concert with other counties all-volunteer teams and together are a great resource. If you ever get into trouble and need to be found, that snuffling noise you hear in the dark will likely be the happiest sound on earth you’ll ever hear. Go find!