Today’s topic — building searches. This weekend Küster and I find ourselves helping one of our favorite search associations, Search Dog Organization of North America (SDONA). Searching in old empty buildings is actually something that our team does quite a bit. The oddities of how the scent travels in a building really makes dogs work for their
reward. One of these days I will try to do a blog on scent or odor. But that will likely be quite a way into the future. Scent as a topic gets into lots of theory. Although fascinating, I don’t want to bore the wonderful readers of Tales And Tales.
What’s one of the first things that you think about when you think of a building? For me I think about rooms, lots of rooms to hide in. Lots of spaces the crawl into and hide. Keep in mind the buildings that we use are typically run down and have been vacant for some time. There are also windows, doors, hallways, lighting and ventilation systems. All of these things affect scent and how it moves through the building. And as I said before, this challenges the dogs and also the handlers. Remember it is the handler’s job to interpret what the search and rescue dog is doing or telling us.
To give you an example of what I am talking about I will explain a “problem” that was set up for our HRD dogs one weekend last year. Visualize a large industrial kitchen with rows of fluorescent lights. In this kitchen were tall stacks of plastic crates which held numerous quantities of twelve ounce glasses. The HRD source was placed in the middle of the room right about four feet high in a six foot stack. Where do you think the dogs were most likely to indicate?
By this stack or maybe across the room? Well, in this case it really depended on the dog. The more seasoned dogs made it to the stack and indicated close to it. The less seasoned dogs were indicating across the the room at first. They would then work their way to the stack. You see; the scent was going straight up to the lights and then down the row. The scent then dropped down the wall and stayed. The dogs did work this problem out and go to the origin of the scent. But, a couple of the dogs did have to work a little harder to get there. In case you are wondering how we know this we set off a small smoke flare and watched what was happening to the smoke.
Another reason for training in a building is you can control dogs’ learning about searching. A wonderful example is my partner Küster. We are able to work his area search problems in a hallway. There are few distractions. No rabbits to chase, etc. His victim hides behind one of the doors and he is sent to search. Once the victim is found Küster returns and barks, then he is given a “show me” command to show me where the a victim is. By using a hallway we can change the length of the search or door so it’s not the same. It is a great way for teaching the basics and also make thing more challenging. Think of it as a classroom that changed up to assist in teaching the exact element you are working on.
Now, buildings are not only used for the purposes of training. We are in the search and rescue field. A dog is able to search a building more efficiently and quickly than a searcher, especially if someone in the building is not wanting to be found. So as in the other discussions on the disciplines within K-9 search and rescue, we train in the elements were we work; that would include buildings.