Last week we discussed the mechanics of how scent basically works in water. So knowing that; how do we get the search and rescue dogs to the point of understanding that sometimes people are in water? Training. As much as I would like to leave you with that one word answer, the Chief Editor will not let that fly. So let’s talk search dogs working water a little more.
As basic as it seems one of the first things that needs to be completed is getting the dog out on and not only familiar with but comfortable on a boat. The dogs are then introduced to the drivers. Although, my K-9 partner Küster is not being trained for water searches, I have taken the time to introduce him to boats. He also has spent some time being petting by a person in a drive suit. Küster also knows that divers have his reward ball and will sometimes play with him. My personal opinion is that I want him to be exposed to as much stuff as possible. A search on land could suddenly change to a water search in a blink of an eye. He would go back to the car while my role in the incident would change. I would rather him be waiting knowing that the funny looking people with tanks on their backs walking around the car are something not be worrying about.
The dogs are then taught that people can hide in water. It looks something like a runaway drill on land. The dog watches the diver go into the water with the reward. Then the boat driver begins driving the boat towards the diver. This involves the boat being driven in a grid pattern until the dog starts to work the scent cone of the diver. Timing is everything. With the boat just in front of the diver, when the dog offers an alert the diver emerges and rewards the dog. That’s the basic idea of water search training.
After some time the dogs are introduced to the wide ranging variables that could happen in a real deployment. Changing these variables assists the K-9 handlers in how to read their partner’s body language while working. Remember that scent cone. If we only practice in a lake then we are deployed to a fast moving river. The scent cone, the boat, the body language of the dog will all look or feel different.
Water searches also involve the search and rescue dogs working the shores of the waterways. My friends, that we will save for another Saturday.