The beginning of a new year brings our team’s annual operations and security training. All people involved with search and rescue must attend. After we go through the refresher training security and all that is involved with dealing with the public, media, etc. The different divisions of our agency run through what they do for the new volunteers. Our part in this as the K-9 Operations team is that we spend time on the role of a K-9 Support person. It is a very important part of the search team and often our “ground” searchers are used for this if all the K-9 handlers are working their dogs. So for this post let’s talk about a lesser known role within K-9 search and rescue. This role is called field support or sometimes a scout.
The role of the field support person is to assist or support dog handlers in field assignments. The field support person typically handles radio traffic, navigates, they may carry water, and otherwise assists the handler in the field and at the base.
One of the top priorities for anyone in this role is to help maintain the safety of the K-9 and the handler. During searches, the handlers tend to become focused on reading the dog. The field support person must watch out for terrain hazards, hazards caused by traffic or debris, weather conditions and the physical status of the K-9 and handler. Many times the support person will remind the dog handler that they need to take a break. Yes, believe it or not sometimes we handlers get so focused on the task at hand we forget to stop and rest.
Field support also will keep notes on the start times, locations, wind direction, search patterns, or occasionally dictate thoughts the K-9 handler states while working the dog. There’s a ton of stuff the support people do.
Personally, for anyone thinking of going into K-9 search and rescue, I would recommend assisting in this role before even starting to look for your K-9 partner. By doing this you are able to help the group out and also learn. You will see firsthand how SAR K-9’s are trained and worked. You will learn about search patterns and theories about how scent travels. Some people even find out that this field is not for them. It is much better to find this out early.
Many times in our group the field support person can be another dog handler. This can be an added set of eyes on your K-9 who knows your dog’s body language. Yes, if they train often with you and your dog they too will begin to know if your dog is in and out of scent or odor. They are someone to consult with. Yes, a K-9 handler’s best friend during the search is the field support personnel.