Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Working Dog

"Scent of the Missing; Love & Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog" by Susannah Charleson Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 285 pages $26

Charleson and her Golden Lab partner, Puzzle, are volunteers in the Metro Area Rescue K9 unit in Dallas. The book recounts their partnership which began when Charleson got her as a puppy, her training and their particpation in the February 1, 2003, recovery of space shuttle Columbine remains.

Search-and-Rescue (SAR) dogs begin training right after their initial shots. A starting exercise is "find the treat." The handler puts a treat in one hand, holds both hands behind her back and passes the treat from hand to hand. Then both hands are extended to the pup and the dog bumps the hand with the treat. Purpose: to teach the dog the difference between a faint scent -- was there -- and a stronger scent -- is there now. And the dog gets the treat - affirmation of good behavior.

Not for the faint of heart, volunteers spend from three to seven hours a week training, no matter the weather. Additionally, they do 10 to 15 hours in wilderness training along with classes in scent theory, report writing after site clearance, dog care in the field and agility tests.

Amazingly, dogs can get a scent from a drowned victim, still in the water. The scent pools in the water and then breaks free of the surface and the dog, in a boat or on shore, will smell it and signal to the handler.

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