Just like people, we SAR Dogs have different skills. Some of us dogs are best at just one thing, while other dogs are good at several things.
Sometimes our skills depend on our breed, but the skill all of us canines have is our sharp sense of smell. That's what makes us dogs so very important to the Search and Rescue Team.
I first trained as an Air Scent Dog. You can see me sniffing the air in this picture. Lots of people think we sniff the ground to find people, but Air Scent Dogs smell the air for a human scent. Here's our secret on how we do it.
Kind of like the way dogs shed hair, people shed skin cells. The bigger cells fall to the ground and the smaller particles float in the air. Even though a microscope is needed to see these cells, but dogs can smell them. Our noses can small up to 10,000 times better than humans!
When looking for a lost person I follow the scent of any human, not just a particular person. That's why Air Scent Dogs work best in large parks or private lands that are closed off and have no other people around. The best times and conditions for our searches are early mornings or late afternoons on cool, cloudy days when there is a light wind.
Of course, some dogs do sniff the ground. They are Trailing Dogs, sometimes also called Tracking Dogs. They need to smell something belonging to that person, like a shirt, socks or a hat. When they know the scent, they hunt for that smell. They use their nose to find the exact scent, much like you would use your eyes to find a red crayon in a box of different color crayons. And they work at a fast pace, following the scent of the lost person and once they pick up that trail, they just keep on going.
Trailing Dogs give both negative and positive responses along the scent trail. Negative responses tell the handler the scent isn't as strong or it is gone. Positive responses mean the dog found the trail and is working it.
Another search and rescue canine skill is the Water Search Dog, like Uffda. She's a bloodhound. Looking for drowning victims, Water Search Dogs work along the shore and in boats to locate the scent as it rises through the water.
On this mission, Uffda is at the front of the boat, leans closer and closer to the water and then slaps and bites at the surface when a person underwater is found. Uffda's handler, Paul, then drops a marker into the water and the boat returns to shore. Divers return to where the marker is to locate the drowned victim.
I'm also trained as a Human Remains Detection Dog or HRD Dog. Sometimes we are called a Cadaver Dog. For this task I find those no longer alive and people's remains. Some people die in disasters like when tornadoes cause buildings to collapse. Sometimes fires take lives. Families want to know what happened to their loved ones and the skills of these dogs can help find them. HRD Dogs are trained to detect the body's scent rising from the soil, the same way dogs find where they buried a bone.
We HRD Dogs can find very small parts or trace amounts of blood. We can work above or even below ground.
Frequently, we are called upon to help after disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or wildfires to detect human remains through concrete or underground. HRD Dogs and their handlers worked long hours searching for victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The final skilled canine is the Avalanche Dog. We don't have any of these dogs in Kentucky, but in areas where skiing is a big sport, these dogs are important. They search for people who are trapped under the snow. Avalanche Dogs can find someone under as much as 15 feet of snow.