Mountain Rescue Teams use highly trained search dogs to help find missing people during area searches. Using search dogs means that areas can be searched much quicker and with less manpower than using search teams. Search dogs work very well at night and can operate in bad weather.
When you say you wouldn’t put a dog out on a night like this…we do put the dogs out…and go with them!
Whilst the search dog handler belongs to a specific mountain rescue team, he or she is frequently called out to help other teams in the region and sometimes to distant parts of the country.
The dogs belong to and are trained by experienced team members who belong to a national organisation called “SARDA” (The search and rescue dog association). SARDA arrange monthly training courses throughout England and Wales and assesses the dog and handlers performance at various stages in their training before they are allowed to become operational.
It takes at least two or three years to train a dog and is a massive commitment in time and money for the handler to take on.
Mountain Rescue search dogs are trained to air scent. They work across an area at right angles to the wind so that as large an area as possible is covered as quickly as possible. When the dog detects the scent of the casualty it will turn into the wind and follow the scent to the missing person. The dog is then trained to go back to the handler and lead him or her into the casualty.
Team members wishing to train a dog must have at least two years experience as a search and rescue team member, they then must attend a number of SARDA weekends as a “body” so that they get to know what is involved in dog training.
Handlers normally start with puppies. Pete and Oscar, our current trainee dog team started training when Oscar was 9 weeks old in April 2016.
Tim and Murphy started formal training in the late spring of 2017 when Jake, Tim’s graded dog retired. Also in the summer of 2017 we lost our other graded search dog team Dean and Bonnie when Dean left the team. Braken and Claire will hopefully start formal training early in 2018.
The first few months are spent learning basic obedience: – sit, heel, down etc. The dogs are also trained to bark on command and to stay for 10 minutes (half the time of which the handler is out of sight) Once the basics are learnt the registration test takes place and the successful dog team is ready for Stage 1…once a stock test is passed in which the dog must be seen to ignore sheep.
During Stage 1 the all important sequence is taught where the trainee dog learns to use air scenting to find people hiding 50 -100 meters away. The dog then has to return to the handler and bark before leading the handler to the “body”. Once this stage is passed (indication test) Stage 2 is reached and the area being searched expands to one that takes around 20 minutes to cover. Stage 3 then has even bigger and more testing areas taking around 90 minutes to search.
If all goes to plan the training takes between two and three years.
All the Handlers are members of the Search & Rescue Dogs Association England (SARDA) a link to the website can be found below.