Canine training and intervention in avalanches

The rescue guide must know about, the types of avalanches that exist and the behavior of these. The types of injuries a person can suffer and first aid that must be done on a victim that has become buried. Have specialized and canines that have been specifically trained for avalanche slides. Must know how to use and have all the necessary equipment such as skis, shovels, cords, probes etc.

As with other canine search and rescue specialties, the training of an avalanche rescue dog will need to be done gradually and it must be taught to the dog in the form of a game as reinforcement. If a serious injury has occurred to an avalanche victim, several factors will need to be thought about such as the conditions of the snow and wind, the potentially distracting elements within the zone, the emotional state of the dog etc.

There are many factors that must be looked at especially when using an avalanche rescue dog such as the climate, odors, sounds etc.

To train a dog a person will be "buried" at around 1.80 meters in the snow for no more then fifteen minutes, the person must be adequately equipped with gloves, snow hat, snow boots, impermeable jacket etc. and must at the same time communicate with the others outside by using a transceiver. Before starting the training sessions the dogs must have already done their needs in a separate area completely. This is important because the smell of their urine and feces can interfere with the odor on the snow. Once our "victim" has been "buried" in the snow, the rest of the crew must discretely leave the area avoiding getting the dog's attention so that it does not follow along. The idea is for everyone to disperse out in different directions so that the dog does not have a clue where the "buried" person is.

Finally the dog will need to learn to rule out all the other human traces around as possible ways to get to the supposed victim, and will then need to choose to follow the odor molecules that the wind will carry, this will then help the dog to be able to get to the buried person. Make sure when covering the hiding place of the supposed victim, to erase as much as possible all the traces that could have been left on the snow such as foot prints etc. the snow should look the same all around the whole area. Leaving any type of trace will only make the whole training session worthless. As far as the intervention goes in sinister situations, it is important to consider that most victims that are buried in an avalanche are still alive when the avalanche has stopped; therefore it will be necessary to move very quickly once this has happened.

The type of rescue that will be done will depend on the type of snow there is, the thickness of the snowslide or avalanche, the number of victims, the prevision of the atmospheric time etc. Usually the search and rescue canines and team arrives to the zone in a helicopter and they carry along with them all the things they will be needing for the next 48 hours such as first aid kits, avalanche shovels, probes to determine the depth of the snow etc. The avalanche zone should be kept clean and free of any type of debris such as cigarette butts, food, urine, fresh human traces etc.

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