Search and rescue dogs provide an invaluable service to law enforcement officials and crime scene investigators. Many search and rescue dogs focus on specialized search methods, such as dogs trained to detect human remains. These dogs, also known as cadaver dogs, pick up scents for bodies, either whole or parts, in various stages of decomposition. In order to perform this service, the dogs and their handlers need to receive certification from accredited schools located across the country.
Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States trains dogs for Type 1 Human Remains Detection (HRD). With this training type, the qualifying dogs should be able to detect human remains within natural debris fields or wilderness areas within a 200 by 200 foot area. They should also be able to locate buried bodies within a 75 by 75 foot area. The dogs must exhibit self-sustainability for 24 hours and have the stamina to endure 12 hour search missions. At the conclusion of the course, the dogs and handlers must pass a standard HRD test.
Mountain View Dog Training is owned and operated by dog training specialist Sheila K. McKee. Mountain View trains any working breed of dog for human remains detection but notes that retrievers often work best. Dogs should be 10 months to 2 years old with good social skills and in good health in order to complete the training. Training for HRD certification takes 160 to 200 hours. Mountain View uses FEMA Canine Search Readiness Evaluation Type II Elements, focusing on obedience, agility and directional control. While the school does not offer the HRD evaluation, it states that dogs trained there should be able to pass with little effort. Mountain View also offers an 80 hour handler training course, as well as lifelong handler/dog communication.
Highland Canine Training offers both obedience and working dog training, including human remains detection. Highland Canine Training trains HRD dogs for both water and land detection. Dogs can be trained to alert handlers with an active move or a passive one. The facilities feature FEMA regulated agility courses, a rubble pile and a pond for training. Evaluation for a dog's potential as a HRD dog is free of charge but the training courses, including handler training, do cost money.
Bear Search and Rescue Foundation earns its name from the courageous rescue dog Bear, one of the first rescue dogs who headed to Ground Zero to seek out survivors and deceased persons after the 9/11 attacks. Following Bear's passing, his owners created the foundation in order to train other dogs to follow in Bear's footsteps. While based in New York, Bear Search and Rescue travels around the country teaching trailing and cadaver courses. The courses provided work for both beginners and higher level cadaver dogs. Introduction courses last about three days, while the intensive training courses last about four to five days.
- search dog image by Jim Parkin from Fotolia.com