Search and Bark Alert

Disaster search dogs are trained to notify their handlers to the presence of the scent of a live human by giving a "bark alert". This means that the dog barks vigorously and incessantly, and is focused directly on the strongest area of scent. The dog must continue to bark until the handler arrives to mark the alert location. This type of alert is in contrast to the normal "refind alert" of the wilderness dog, in which the dog finds the missing person, returns to the handler to alert, and then leads the handler back to the person's location. The disaster dog bark alert keeps the dog from unnecessary travel over dangerous debris and allows the handler to pinpoint the scent source of the hidden person accurately.

The primary bark alert training is done off the rubble pile until a solid bark alert is formed, then the training moves onto the pile, where the dog works through a similar training progression in the new environment. At all times, the training should be seen as a fun game for the dog, encouraging the dog to link the search for a hidden person with a great play reward. Although there are many small steps to teaching the bark alert from beginning to end, this is the major progression:

The dog barks for its toy, either by the handler or helper teasing the dog or using a bark command. The dog is restrained by the handler and watches a helper run away with the toy and hide. The dog is then released by the handler to find the hider.

The dog is restrained by the handler while watching a hider (already in place) who remains in view long enough to tease the dog with the toy before hiding in that place. The dog is then released to find the hider. The dog is sent to search for a hider without seeing that person ahead of time in what is known as a blind search.

The dog is sent to search for multiple hiders in multiple locations. No matter what the training level or stage, the dog must bark for its reward, and the hider then plays extensively with the dog to encourage it to focus its attention on the hider and stay at the hider's location until the handler arrives. As the dog progresses, the searches become more difficult, incorporating more difficult rubble, larger search areas, multiple search areas, and distractions such as food, noise, recently-worn clothing, smoke, and even other animals. The disaster search dog also learns how to search intact or partially intact structures, which have different air movements and currents than the dog encounters on top of a rubble pile.

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