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Search and Rescue Dogs

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From what I read, I understand that Border Collies are being increasingly used as SAR dogs. One article I read suggests they are the breed of choice now for this work. In the military I worked with the handlers of drug/guard/bomb sniffing dogs but never was around any SAR dogs.

 

What do trainers look for when choosing a candidate for a SAR dog? Intelligence is a given, as is willingness to work. But what sets apart a SAR dog from another working dog?

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Hmm, I don't know why someone would say that they're the breed of choice for SAR (Labs are the #1 breed for several reasons) but there are quite a few in SAR work. My Kipp is a wilderness SAR dog.

 

Hunt drive is a big component of a SAR dog. The dog needs to be willing to work through whatever the environment throws at them to find the victim (and get the reward) So a dog that is obsessed with/intent on finding toy is one of the top things a person looks for in selecting a SAR dog. If you through that toy into an overgrown field will that dog look for it (and ignore other sights/smells) until it finds the toy?

 

Other key attributes are a solid temperament and good stamina. Depending on what type of SAR work you'll be doing there may be a few other things to look for too. For instance Disaster SAR dogs must be quite agile and surefooted on a wide variety of surfaces.

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Hmm, I don't know why someone would say that they're the breed of choice for SAR (Labs are the #1 breed for several reasons) but there are quite a few in SAR work. My Kipp is a wilderness SAR dog.

 

Hunt drive is a big component of a SAR dog. The dog needs to be willing to work through whatever the environment throws at them to find the victim (and get the reward) So a dog that is obsessed with/intent on finding toy is one of the top things a person looks for in selecting a SAR dog. If you through that toy into an overgrown field will that dog look for it (and ignore other sights/smells) until it finds the toy?

 

Other key attributes are a solid temperament and good stamina. Depending on what type of SAR work you'll be doing there may be a few other things to look for too. For instance Disaster SAR dogs must be quite agile and surefooted on a wide variety of surfaces.

 

I have seen a number of programs on TV lately, where trainers are taking BC's from rescues and training them for SAR work. Mainly it was for urban disasters. I got kind of interested on the subject and did some research as I never really expected BC's in that kind of work. I can't find the article now, but the trainer said they worked exclusively with BC's for Search and Rescue Dogs and they also implied that BC's are rapidly overtaking the other breeds in this type of work.

 

All this kind of surprised me. I have seen a few BC's make excellent hunting dogs, but BC's are not known for working with their noses normally.

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Maybe it's just my dogs, or the way I raise them, but they use their noses all the time. Their favorite game is finding a ball in the tall grass. One of mine is particularly good at finding lost stock with his nose.

 

A littermate brother to my Flyboy (RIP) was an urban SAR dog. Apparently he was quite good. A half brother to my Freya is a wilderness SAR dog.

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All this kind of surprised me. I have seen a few BC's make excellent hunting dogs, but BC's are not known for working with their noses normally

 

Keep in mind that any dog has a nose that is hundreds of times better than a human - if you went by nose alone most dogs woud have the nose for the work. It's the focus and drive that sets SAR dogs apart and BCs tend to have great focus and drive. They have great work ethic, and are athletic and agile. They want to do something and they love figuring something out and they like working for a reward. There is a BC on my SAR team that is a FEMA USAR dog. His mom was a USBCHA open dog (along with doing goose control and being trained for cadaver work).

 

But in USAR numbers I think over half of certified FEMA dogs are labs or lab mixes - the remaining half is made up of GSDs, Malinois, Goldens and BCs with the occassional mixed breed.

 

Labs are #1 because they tend to be very environmentally stable and are very user friendly.

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BCs tend to have great focus and drive. They have great work ethic, and are athletic and agile. They want to do something and they love figuring something out and they like working for a reward.

 

 

Of the 4 puppies in the litter from which my dog came, one went to a woman on the west coast (forgotten which state) who does SAR work. Both she and her husband do SAR.

 

I took a beginning tracking class with my dog when he was about 16 months old. (He had an iliopsoas strain and was on restricted activity - so tracking was the perfect activity.) The instructor has been involved in SAR/tracking for over 30 years (ergo, very experienced). She had the same comment about BCs that I bolded in the above quote - that even though labs, etc. may have slightly 'better' noses than a BC, the BCs love a puzzle and figuring things out, and the good ones will not give up.

 

Jovi

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I have also heard that BC's are great at SAR. I am in contact now with an SAR club and trainer for my BC....I am doing a lot of different things with her to find her "calling" (she just turned 9 mths old). I am exposing her to a variety of different things to find her fit, what she likes the best and excels at.

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Just remember that it matters as much if SAR is a good fit for you as it is for your dog. You need to be fine with being out in all sorts of weather for training. Be willing to get called out in the middle of the night (its not an emergency until its dark...) etc.

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Chesney is certified for Wilderness SAR (we call it Area or non-scent specific). I'm convinced that whatever task is set for a Border Collie they will do well at it, if trained properly. Chesney's desire to workout problems, his persistance, and willingness to do whatever I ask, makes us a very solid team. Chesney and I are waiting for a test date to get our Basic Urban Disaster certificate, and he has one more sign off for cadaver work. Chesney LOVES working a rubble pile and working out the problem. He is very task oriented and very focused on his job. I've also incoorporated scent specific work with him so that when we get called out for a search he can be utilized in a populated area for locating a person without alerting on every person he comes across. It worked beautifully last Sunday when we were called out to look for a lost elderly person in an urban situation. Chesney will be a huge asset to our team when the trailing dogs loose scent or we come across a large area that needs clearing. I can scent him, turn him loose, and move the team on in the right direction.

 

I like what Maralynn said about Labs being user friendly. Training a Border Collie in a line of work that is new to both the handler and dog can be a big challenge, especially if it's a first time Border Collie owner. I personally don't mind that there are more labs and GR or GSD/Mals in SAR. I kind of like having the only "other" breed dog on my team. I will say though, the "traditional" SAR breeds are not like the pet variation you find on the street everyday, at least the ones on my team aren't. These dogs are very drivey/toy obsessed dogs.

 

I will not get any other kind of breed at this point. I'm a Border Collier (new phrase I just thought of :lol: ) for life :P

 

5480249029_e6b043772b.jpg

Search Dog by Danielle Shank Photography, on Flickr

 

What do trainers look for when choosing a candidate for a SAR dog? Intelligence is a given, as is willingness to work. But what sets apart a SAR dog from another working dog?

 

What I would look for in a SAR dog would be everything a working Border Collie has to offer. Intelligence, biddability, agility, stamina, drive, problem solving abilities... I like the size of Border Collies too. I can easily lift Chesney if needed and he can fit into places (holes, tunnels, on rocks) easier than the bigger breeds.

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Nicely put, Danielle! My SAR mentor once said she preferred "dogs with a brain and a little caution for personal safety" than dogs that just rush in... That's why, in her words, she had a GSD and not a lab :lol:

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My SAR mentor once said she preferred "dogs with a brain and a little caution for personal safety" than dogs that just rush in... That's why, in her words, she had a GSD and not a lab :lol:

 

:lol:

 

My SAR director went back to a Lab for his next dog after training a BC because those BC's over-analyze. You definitely need to click with the breed you choose!

 

I haven't been impressed with the GSDs I've seen around here and from what I've seen they don't work as well on rubble as other breeds do - just don't seem quite comfortable on it. But maybe it's just the dogs I've seen. The Labs work nice but I'm not a Lab person and prefer a smaller dog (Kipp is 30# downright tiny compared to some of the other dogs on my team). I'll be sticking with BC's or perhaps a little Malinois someday.

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