Center seeks dogs able to work in search and rescueA good search dog for rescue operations is hard to find, requiring plenty of drive, lots of hunting tendencies and the ability to focus on a toy no matter what else is going on. And because those same traits can drive prospective owners crazy, many dogs who might have been good searchers in a rescue operation are sent back to shelters again and again.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
A good search dog for rescue operations is hard to find, requiring plenty of drive, lots of hunting tendencies and the ability to focus on a toy no matter what else is going on.
And because those same traits can drive prospective owners crazy, many dogs who might have been good searchers in a rescue operation are sent back to shelters again and again.
Some are even euthanized, with no one ever seeing their potential to save lives after an earthquake, hurricane or flood.
The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation wants to change that.
Tim Matthews of the South Dakota Canine Center visited Dr. Dawn’s Pet Stop in Jamestown Friday in an effort to show people how to check a dog’s potential as a search dog.
“These … are really hard to find, but they’re really fun to work with, because they’re like a motorboat. The gas pedal is always on,” Matthews said, demonstrating with his own dog, Diesel, a retired search dog.
South Dakota Canine Center is affiliated with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which recruits dogs from shelters to become search dogs. If a dog flunks out of the training program, the Foundation finds a home for the dog.
By the end of the training, a search dog will be able to find people buried under concrete rubble, and some of the very best dogs go around the world with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The hard part, we’re finding out, is getting the dogs,” Matthews said.
The training process uses toys as a motivation, and at the end of it, a search dog handler will generally keep a toy in a pocket and throw it down when the dog succeeds in finding a disaster victim. That’s why the toy-motivation is so important.
“They’ll never leave anyone behind if they think they have that toy,” Matthews said.
Matthews’ dog Diesel looks pretty average, with black fur speckled with gray and a short tail that seems to be permanently set to “wag.” He’s friendly and likes people a lot, it’s clear, but what he likes the most is toys.
Diesel is tremendously single-minded about toys.
He will focus on finding a toy until he succeeds, no matter what else is going on and no matter where that toy is hidden, and that’s what has enabled him to become a great search dog, as Matthews showed the group that gathered at Dr. Dawn’s Friday.
Matthews took Diesel through a series of tests to show Kaye John, president of Prairie Paws Rescue, and others, how to screen a dog.
First, Diesel showed he could retrieve a toy from 25 yards away, and that he could play with the toy for a full minute with a person. Then Matthews left the toy with the dog and observed whether Diesel could stay attentive to the toy.
Normally the next stage of the test would be walking by another person with another dog on a leash, and allowing a stranger to approach and handle the dog to see if the dog was comfortable with that. By that point, however, Diesel had already seen multiple pets and people wander by and had either been friendly or ignored them completely, so that part of the test was omitted in the demonstration.
Diesel also had to walk over a plank suspended a couple of feet in the air. That part of the test is designed to show whether a dog will be willing to walk over rubble or over suspended metal walkways in a disaster area.
“We need a dog that’s going to get up there and show us where it’s at,” Matthews said.
If a dog hesitates to climb over something, it might be impossible for the animal to point specifically enough to a disaster victim for human rescuers to be able to find the survivor.
Diesel had absolutely no trouble with the plank, having run across it in many previous demonstrations.
The final test of a potential search dog candidate would be taking a toy and tossing it into dense grass and determining whether the dog will hunt for it for a full minute. Forcing the dog to wait 15 seconds and then 30 seconds will show whether the dog is persistent enough.
Matthews went through the testing process with Sprocket, an energetic spaniel-hound mix, with John.
Sprocket passed every test until his toy disappeared into the weeds near the river, and he tired of searching after a few seconds — well short of the required minute.
Fortunately, Sprocket already has two people interested in adopting him, and Matthews said that with a bit of training he would make an excellent family pet.
Dogs like Sprocket who fail the test could potentially still make great detection dogs, hunting out bombs, drugs or bed bugs. The South Dakota Canine Center also trains guide dogs, and less energetic dogs can be good for that purpose.
Veterinarian Dawn Entzminger and John agreed that being able to screen for search dogs would give Prairie Paws one more option for helping high-energy, hard-to-place dogs find homes.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at email@example.com