In the current COVID-19 pandemic, everyone has adapted to new ways of living and working, and SARDA Ireland search dog teams are no exception.
Like many Irish mountain rescue teams, members have been using online resources and virtual training groups to keep their skills fresh. However, training search dogs is a continuous process, even when a dog is qualified. Prolonged breaks in training can threaten to set back a dog’s progression by months, therefore, SARDA Ireland have had to adapt quickly whilst keeping in line with government guidelines.
Handler Jean with Trainee search dog. Photo: Courtesy SARDA Ireland.
Typically, search dogs train in upland areas, often hours away from home. They enjoy being able to run over bogs, up hills and across valleys to find missing persons. SARDA Ireland members gather from across the country to train at regular National Training Weekends. However, these have been postponed since government restrictions came into place in March. As a result, handlers and dogs have been training within 2km of home until recently, and now 5km, without the use of other SARDA members to hide for the dogs or support the training sessions.
To keep our search dogs active and engaged in searching, SARDA Ireland handlers have had to look closer to home, often using back gardens or adjacent land as the search area. Handlers training Air-Scenting dogs (that will find any human based on smelling human scent in the air) have been convincing family members to hide and wait to be found. This looks very similar to a game of hide and seek when done in a small garden, but when this training is conducted on hillsides, in forests and other areas that search dogs typically work in, the job at hand becomes far more complex.
Trailing dogs will find a person once they have been given a scent article like a hat to sniff before they start searching. For handlers training Trailing dogs, scent-box training keeps their dogs sharp. Scent-box training involves carefully placing perforated boxes on the ground, each containing a different scent, and giving the dog a sample of one of the scents to smell. The dog must then sniff out the scent box that matches the sample and indicate the find to the handler by barking or sitting beside the box. This type of training is the core building block for any SARDA Ireland trailing dog. In a real search, the dog must be able to differentiate between hundreds or thousands of different scents that they encounter on a search, which can span many kilometres, in order to find the missing person.
Trained search and rescue dogs. Photo: SARDA Ireland
Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) Ireland is a voluntary search and rescue organisation that trains and deploys Search and Rescue Dogs to search for missing persons. SARDA Ireland has spent over 450 hours responding to callouts for over 140 missing persons since 2016. Approximately two-thirds of these searches take place in wooded or recreational areas, farmland, semi-urban areas, or along rivers, lakes and shorelines., which shows the extent of the invaluable service that SARDA Ireland offers, to not only mountain rescue situations, but searches in our local communities also.
SARDA Ireland continues to respond to callouts for missing persons whilst adhering to government guidelines during the ongoing pandemic. In the last week alone, SARDA Ireland has been involved in 3 separate missing person searches. As Ireland progresses through the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, SARDA Ireland hope to progress training in line with government guidelines, so that they can continue to provide an invaluable service to our communities.
If you would like to help or find out more, please visit www.sardaireland.com, or ‘Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) Ireland’ on Facebook, where you can donate or follow SARDA Ireland’s excellent work.