Let’s talk Area Search Dogs
This discipline basically involves sending the K-9 out to locate human scent as it travels in the wind. The area search dog is very effective in finding lost individuals in large areas or terrain where human searchers would have difficulty or take considerable time searching. These dogs cover large areas quickly. Unlike the trailing dogs Area Search dogs look for any human scent so they are not typically scent specific.
The area search dog starts training by doing a fun little exercise called runaways. Continuing to work on drive and confidence building as discussed previously, the K-9 and handler are starting to form a bond. We typically start this exercise by having another team member hold our dog. The handler walks or runs away a short distance to keep the dog’s attention. The dog is then given the search command and released. Keeping the dog’s attention if it becomes distracted, the handler brings the dog to him or her and the reward starts. Both the handler and helper play with and reward the dog. You may be asking why the handler is walking away first. Well, because the bond between the dog and handler is made through the puppy games, drive work, etc., the dog typically wants to be with the handler. This is teaching the dog to “go out” and find his reward. The handler and the actual reward for finding him whether it’s a game of tug or a food treat are at the end of the game. After the dog understands the game we change roles between the handler and helper and continue from there.
Hiding in plain sight?
One of the things that I have always found extremely interesting in training is that we tend to start with the end, that big reward. It can be a little funny to watch the first couple of months when training an area search dog. It can best be described as hiding in plain sight. Occasionally we have visitors at our team training. If the dog is new and we are teaching this foundation work, the visitor may make a comment to the effect of, “but they are only thirty yards away from each other” or “shouldn’t one of the people hide?” Truth be told we are working on the big finish. When the dog knows for sure that when he goes away from the handler, finds his victim, and he gets his reward we start adding other elements to his search. These elements could be things like actually hiding, and longer distances away from the handler. If the dog is more advanced we may actually start hiding in trees and in trunks of cars for example. Please understand that I just made a jump of magnificent proportions in this one paragraph but for blog purposes, it was made. Everything is added in small steps building upon each other. It takes time. One of the biggest mistakes that can happen in training the SAR K-9 is rushing the process.