Search and rescue dogs haven't only recently popped up in the workforce. They have been around since as far back as AD 962. Humans quickly learned that their furry friends were very useful in rescuing people, both on land and in water!
The St. Bernards were first used in this role by the monks in the mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy. They found that their dogs could quickly find buried travelers beneath drifts of snow.
The dogs would often find victims on their own, and lay down over top of them to keep them warm, while barking for aid. The small barrel around the St. Bernard's neck that is seen on pictures held food and a stimulant for the victims.
Today, dogs are still employed by mountain rescue organizations, as the dogs' keen sense of smell, ability to dig victims out of deep snow, and ability to travel over difficult terrain are unmatched by any human efforts. Often, these dogs are able to walk out on precarious ice and snow or fit into small spaces that humans can't.
I'm proud to be Canadian, for many reasons. And Newfs are just one of them! Canada's very own breed, the Newfoundland, has always seemed to naturally enjoy saving humans from water. A breed known for its perseverance and loyalty, the Newf is definitely a "gentle giant". Although large and having a heavy coat, it can swim amazingly well because of its unique webbed feet.
This breed also has a double coat that is flat, dense, oily, and water-resistant. Males can be an average of 150 lbs, with females weighing in around 120 lbs. And believe it or not, they have been known to be able to pull a boat with up to 30 passengers in it!
All across Canada you'll find clubs and organizations that train search
and rescue dogs and handlers. Even if you or your dog aren't
"professionals", a dog really does best when given the chance to do what
he was originally bred for, if only for fun and exercise!
There are other situations where search and rescue dogs are employed full-time. Many police forces and other rescue organizations around the world train dogs for rescuing people, and also for finding bodies (cadaver dogs). Most often, these dogs are trained for several purposes, including drug and bomb detection, firearms, currency and agriculture products (i.e. at airports, harbors, highway, rail and postal services) as well as human scent.
A wonderful not-for-profit organization in North America that is constantly training search dog and handler teams and aiding in rescue work throughout the continent is the North American Search Dog Network. They offer training seminars, evaluations and networking across Canada and the U.S.
Photo Courtesy of the American Rescue Dog Association
What breeds are most often used for land search and rescue? Many different ones, but the most common dogs used for this type of work are the working dog breeds: German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, and other retrievers.
Their intelligence, size, stamina, and persistence are all factors that play into whether or not they will make a good search and rescue dog.
Dogs who are trained for search and rescue must have a high prey drive and eagerness to please. Even when off duty, these dogs are trained regularly to keep up their skills.
While police dogs are usually trained in man tracking and different types of searches for illegal substances, search and rescue dogs are trained only in the specific job of finding humans.
Man's best friend may well have gotten its nick name from their eagerness to come to our rescue. With so many disasters happening world-wide, we are very fortunate to have this wonderful animal so ready and willing to help us!