Ever since dogs were domesticated, they have been helping humans in all area of work, from hunting to guarding to herding. Over the years, dogs have also done much more :
Avalanche search is one of the rare first-aid disciplines in which there is an immediate need for the dog. His exceptional sense of smell, his speed and his tenacity place him in the forefront. However, this dog is part of a group which also includes probers and diggers. The teams work simultaneously, but the dogs have priority on the snowslide.
Why the dogs are thus put forward? The time factor is of course essential in mountain first aid, since the more quickly the avalanche is explored, the more the first-aid workers are likely to rescue alive buried individuals. This is where the dog’s role becomes so important: his work is equal or higher in quality, and in addition the dog explores the ground more quickly. Thorough probing performed by twenty ski patrolmen thus requires twenty hours to achieve a 100% result, while the dog, for the same 100% result, works two hours on a plot of about one hectare.
Tracking consists in searching for individuals on the basis of more or less numerous olfactory clues (traces, objects, suspected clues...). The mission should enable either to discover one or several persons, or to detect any object or piece of equipment, lost or hidden on the course or in its immediate vicinity, or even simply to indicate the direction taken. At every moment, the body of an individual gives off fine odorous particles. The pattern to which a dog is to be confronted is made up of a set of factors: specific smells (specific to an individual, a group, a species), chemical smells (leather, fat, clothes), broken elements in the field (trampled plants, bacteria that have come back up to the surface because of wounds in the ground...), habitats (wood, meadow, alfafa, crop...), weather conditions. Because of the complexity of tracking which requires specific training to which all dogs are not receptive, it is essential for gifted dogs to be selected beforehand. The animals selected must consequently display the following qualities: particularly developed olfactory abilities; a great concentration ability, essential so as not to get distracted by parasite smells and the environment (attention and precision on the track); dynamism, stamina, sturdiness and hardiness; finally courage and indifference to fire shots.
Search is a discipline which aims at searching for lost people; as such, it is part of the same category as tracking. However, it presents differently: the dog is shown neither a reference object, nor a potential departure area. The dog is let go, without any harness or leash. As it is, his work consists in looking for a particular smell in a defined area, as it is done in avalanche or rubble search.
Like in every rescue discipline, the dog plays an essential role as an auxiliary of the lifeguards thanks to his physical abilities and to his great determination. The Newfoundland is the favorite breed for sea and water rescue. This breed presents many qualities likely to be used in sea and water rescue:
Puppies acquired with a view to sea and water rescue are recruited according to their powerful muscle dynamism and their strong skeletal structure, with systematic X-ray screening of sires as regards hip dysplasia.
The rubble search dog’s role is not limited to major earthquakes. They may intervene in the event of landslides or building collapses, after a fire, a collapse in a worksite or a mine, in railway or airplane disasters... Unfortunately, there’s no lack of occasions.
It’s in Great Britain, during the Second World War, after the bombings, that dogs were used for the first time to find people buried under the rubbles. As early as 1954, search dog training centers were set up in the United States, in Germany, in Switzerland. The Swiss dogs were the first to become internationally famous after the earthquake in Frioul, Italy, in 1976. For 12 dogs that were brought in, 42 survivors were found, along with 510 corpses.
Since then, every disaster of this type, especially that of September 11, 2001, gives media coverage to the courage and tenacity of these rescue teams.
Like with any work associating a dog and a human being, a very close complicity is necessary between the master and his dog. The handler who conducts the animal’s search must know him perfectly well, be able to "read" him in the rubbles, i.e. be on the lookout for all his reactions. As for the dog, similarly, he must perfectly trust his master in order to follow him everywhere, whatever the difficulties in the field. Such a degree of association requires lengthy preparation. The dogs used for rubble search must have a good sense of smell, a calm and well-balanced disposition with plenty of energy. They must be sociable, towards human beings as well as towards their fellow dogs, as there are often several of them in the same rubble areas. A liking for play is also essential for learning. The most used breeds are shepherd dog breeds, especially German and Belgian shepherd dogs.