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Some of the most useful and important dogs you can train are those who learn to be search and rescue (SAR) dogs. Whether used by the police or emergency personnel, SAR dogs have saved uncounted lives in the performance of their duties. Despite the stereotypic Saint Bernard with a cask of scotch under his chin, there are many breeds that can be well-trained in search and rescue. The most important aspect is in beginning their training when they are still very young.
While some of the most preferred breeds include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, the Belgian Malinois, Weimaraners, and Border Collies, many SAR dogs are mixed breeds and sometimes even totally mongrel. An important aspect in any dog being trained for Search and rescue is their ability to play. These types of dogs who love to play fetch and return games are more likely to learn to work for rewards. This gives them the drive to continue through long training sessions as well as long search missions once they are ready.
Any breed of medium to large breed that is in good health and of normal to high intelligence can be trained as a SAR dog. They must be non-aggressive and strong enough to travel over rough terrain and push their way through obstacles to reach the human they are looking for. They must also be small enough to easily transport to whatever area they will be working in. For these reasons and many others, the German Shepherd is by far the most common and widely used breed as a SAR dog.
While dogs can be very intelligent, each SAR dog will be trained in only one or a very few types of rescue work. Some dogs are trained to be able to follow a direct scent. These are used more for finding lost individuals. The air scenting dog is useful over larger areas as they can still detect the target human even if the ground trail has been obliterated. Corpse hunting SAR dogs are trained more for detecting the emanations of bacterial decomposition. Due to their highly developed sense of smell and good training, cadaver hunting SAR dogs can detect and ignore other types of dead animals that may be in the search area.
Early training with a SAR dog, whatever its breed, should not be done in public. Too many distractions can cause the dog to lose focus. Once it has learned the basics for the job it is being trained for, it will need to be carefully watched as the training takes it into public places. It must be able to withstand crowds and the media' cameras without becoming nervous, aggressive, or distracted from its duty. SAR dogs are considered Service Animals in most locations and are allowed access to places where dogs are normally denied entrance.
There are hundreds of SAR dog groups across the country and more are formed every year. In an emergency, a well-trained SAR dog will be able to prove that a dog can truly be man's best friend and rescuer.