Rescue dogs are not to be confused with Search and Rescue dogs.
Rescue dogs have been found in terrible situations by kind people and are taken to safer homes. The dogs have been rescued by the people.
SEARCH and Rescue dogs locate people (whether alive or dead). The people have been rescued (or found) by the dogs.
Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs can be trained for both scenting the air and tracking the scent on the ground, but most dogs are trained to do one or the other. The dogs that are able to do both are more highly sought after by law enforcement agencies and SAR groups.
There are different skill sets for the various kinds of SAR dogs. Here are a few:
Air Scent Dogs
The air scent dog finds people by following human scent in the air where it is most intense. They work best in areas that are not public spaces, because this type of dog is not focused on any one person. Wind patterns, street smells, and even air temperature can affect the success of this dog’s search.
Trailing and Tracking Dogs
On TV or in the movies, we see dogs sniff for human scent in the air or after sniffing an article of clothing, track the person’s scent through the likely search area. Each person has a unique odor, which leaves a trail behind as we walk through a store, or in the park, or in the gym. When we go outside, that scent can be carried by the breeze for quite a distance. Think you’re not stinky? Or that after a shower, nobody could track your scent? Ha! Your coats, your scarves, your sweaters, your shoes, all hold your particular scent, and you can be followed.
Tracking/trailing dogs also follow the trail by sniffing for skin cells that people shed naturally. When your skin flakes off, it leaves a trail on the ground (or bushes that you brush up against). Once a tracking dog knows the scent to be followed, it heads on a direct path to the target, and is often used to hunt down escaped convicts.
Bloodhounds have more scent glands than most other breeds, so they are prime candidates for tracking/trailing. Law enforcement officers (or the handler) keeps the dog on a leash, and holds a personal possession belonging to the missing person under his/her nose. The dog focuses on only that scent, despite distractions of all the surrounding aromas of other people or the environment itself. They are known to be highly successful in finding crime victims or missing persons, but with budget constraints, not all jurisdictions have them.
A disaster dog is trained to find people in wrecked buildings after natural disasters such as earthquakes or landslides. Sadly, their special abilities have been needed after terrorist attacks as well. Their noses zero in on human scent, focusing on people missing and hopefully still alive.
A cadaver dog is trained to detect only dead humans, whether above or below the ground. While many dogs can find both dead or alive people, the cadaver dog has a narrower focus. While training, the dogs are introduced to tiny pieces of dead bodies or even blood droplets.
Water Search Dog
A trained water search dog can find people in or under the water, but their focus is on the smell of body gases that naturally come from cadavers in the water. The dog handler usually waits on shore while the dog does his/her job, then divers are dispatched if a scent is detected.
Avalanche search dogs are capable of identifying human scent in or under snow after an avalanche. They have been known to find people alive, buried as much as 15 feet below the surface.
Search and Rescue dogs are highly trained and in great demand, as more jurisdictions discover their very real contribution to law enforcement and wilderness/disaster rescue. It takes years to train them to do their own specific job and while training, most live/stay with their handlers. The special bond created between handler and dog increases the success of the partnership during their missions.
There are national organizations that supervise the training and certification of SAR dogs and their handlers. Not just anyone with a German Shepherd or a Bloodhound (and other breeds as well) can join a search for a missing person or for a cadaver. It takes special training to cover a possible crime area thoroughly and efficiently, without compromising it or the evidence found there.
The dogs must pass rigorous certification tests, to make sure that they follow directions easily and are not bothered by the harshness of conditions they may face. Remember the collapse of the towers on September 11th? Conditions were unstable as well as dangerous, and the SAR dogs were challenged as seriously as the men and women responders at the site.
Both handlers and dogs are tested during the certification process.
Here are some of the skills the examiners look at for the dogs:
Could your pet do any of the above, consistently and on demand? Our Irish Setter, Hammett, is a great dog, but his nose is focused on dinner and his treats. He would have to have been trained from the time he was a puppy to behave otherwise.
For more information about the various Search and Rescue operations around the USA, check out these sites:
Photo credits: taken at the Writers Police Academy.
We love to garden and we work on ours whenever the weather and our work schedules will allow. Hammett, our family friendly Irish Setter, is still with us. He’s a bit slower in the field, but is healthy otherwise. We’d like to keep him that way, so our garden needs to be dog friendly as much as possible.
This year we went to the new garden center in town to pick up some flowering ground covers to fill in shady spots between the larger plants under the trees, along with a few new flowering trees for the backyard. The owner of the garden center knows Hammett snuffles at everything, so she steered us toward plants that are safe for both dogs and cats.
But, as we wandered through the aisles of glorious flowers and foliage, she mentioned a very popular groundcover that is a no-no for any gardener with pets that like to sample the new greenery in the yard.
Portulaca, a groundcover that has many colorful varieties,
can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Ferns and Burro’s Tail might be a better choice. No flowers, but safer if your dog chews everything in sight.
We knew that day lilies were not a good idea for cats, but thought that calla lilies might work for dogs, especially after we saw the beautiful pink one at the garden center. Nope. They can cause burning, irritation of the mouth, tongue and lips, and excessive drooling. Sheila sighed and put the pot back on the bench.
Unfortunately, we discovered that peonies are a bad idea for dogs because eating the flowers can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and depression. I was a little surprised at depression being listed as a symptom, but then if the poor dog gets sick…I guess that would be an issue while he mopes around recovering. We solved our problem by fencing the peony area. Hammett has been trained to avoid fences.
Everybody in the family knows that the garden is a work in progress, especially since the wet weather more or less drowned a few specimens. With that in mind, the cousins bring us small plants or clippings whenever they stop by. We’ve enjoyed expanding the flower beds, but one gift was a well-meaning near mistake. Hibiscus
also causes vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. After we heard about the problems, we planted it next to the peonies, behind the fence.
We love mums in every color and variety. We know they cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even incoordination, but we have planted them in an area of the yard where Hammett never goes. A black snake lives a few feet from there and ever since Hammett first saw the snake and jumped about ten feet straight back, he stays far away from that part of the property. The snake is happy, Hammett is happy, and we get mums in the yard. Win-win-win.
A clematis can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but ours is growing on a porch post, well out of Hammett’s reach.
Our dog friendly flowers – coreopsis, petunias, snapdragons, and cornflowers – are lookin’ good and we have them in spots where Hammett might wander through or snuffle at a bug on the ground. They look pretty and his tummy stays happy.
To read “Don’t Poison the Dogs and Cats” (part 1) click here.
Check with your garden center for information about pet friendly plants.
Click on this link from the ASPCA:
*Photos by Patti Phillips
Planting season started a few weeks ago in this part of the country. The danger of frost has gone, so we’ve been looking at perennials for now and bulbs for later, that will finish the beds underneath some of the trees in the yard. Daffodil bulbs are great because they multiply and spread on their own and they will come back up and bloom for years. And, ya gotta love that great splash of color in the Spring!
BUT, the friendly gal at the garden center saw Hammett and told us that if he chewed the bulbs he would get sick, so we were warned not to leave daffodil bulbs on the ground while waiting to plant them. We bought a few and stored them on a shelf in the garage, waaaay out of a snoofing dog’s reach.
We had dealt with the toxic plants for people last season, but now we had to think about what might be dangerous for Hammett, our lovable Irish Setter. We catsit every once in a while, so they were a potential worry as well.
The garden center gal steered us through the ground covers and shade plants. Caladiums, whether the plain green and white or more colorful varieties, may cause an intense burning in the mouth, as well as vomiting for both cats and dogs.
Pretty, but we crossed them off our list.
We were hopeful about Day Lilies, since Sheila wanted an entire slope in the side yard filled with them. We heard partially good news. Day Lilies, no matter which variety, are non-toxic to dogs, but highly toxic to cats. So toxic to cats, in fact, that they can cause kidney failure. Sheila suggested that we get the Day Lilies and keep the visiting cat in the house or in the fenced-in backyard. Problem solved.
Then I remembered one Easter when we ate dinner at Sheila’s mom’s house. Her cat kept peeing on the Easter Lily we had brought as a present. We were all horrified, finally exiled the cat to the back porch and put the plant outside to ‘air out.’ Turns out the cat was pretty smart. The garden center gal confirmed that Easter Lilies are just as dangerous to cats as the Day Lilies.
We headed toward the flowering perennials, still positive about what we would find.
We wanted something showy, splashy with color, and a natural lure for butterflies. Lantana seemed to fit the bill and we knew that it would not need much water in the heat drenched summers. But they were a big NO for us, since they are toxic to both dogs and cats and can cause vomiting and other nasty things.
We don’t have houseplants as a general rule, because Hammett has a big tail that seems to have a mind of its own. More than one potted flower bit the dust until we decided that Hammett was more important than having the indoor plants. But, a friend of ours does and as we passed the exotic plants section, I saw a Bird of Paradise in full bloom. We had seen one in the Azores growing in front of a school and admired the color. It’s not normally a houseplant, but our friend is able to grow one in her greenhouse-like kitchen area. Her BofP is about four feet tall and spectacular.
But, guess what? It’s mildly toxic to cats and dogs, causing mild nausea and vomiting if they eat the fruit and the seeds.
We have more research to do, but so far zinnias, bachelor’s buttons, and coreopsis are on the ‘okay flower’ list. Zinnias and bachelor’s buttons aren’t perennials, but they will reseed themselves. Works for us and works for Hammett, too!
For more information about plants that can be harmful or harmless to pets, go to
*Photos taken by Patti Phillips