Maybe you are an RCMP or RNC officer who has never worked with civilian-trained dog teams. Maybe you are a member of ground SAR and have never heard about how civilian-trained dog teams can be used alongside your group. Maybe you are a parent of a child that might go missing someday. This page is an attempt to cover some of the basics of how a civilian-trained K9 SAR team can help the current SAR system.
We have designed our training program and goals to SUPPORT the already-existing system, not to replace or modify it. For more information about the Search and Rescue system that exists in Newfoundland and Labrador, click here.
We are available to answer questions or give demonstrations anytime. If you are involved with RCMP, RNC, Parks Canada, or GSAR in this province, you are welcome to attend any of regularly scheduled training sessions or to request a demonstration.
Our team regularly participates in volunteer education programs for youth and adults. We will come to your event or school for a 1-2 hour information session and demonstration. For more information, click here.
In Canada, certification requirements are handled in various ways. RCMP personnel that wish to work with local civilian K9 services usually require those civilian teams to test to the RCMP Civilian Search Dog Standard. Provincial police forces often have their own civilian standards, such as the OPP in Ontario, or require certification through outside agencies. Many others create their own standards and certify internally, or certify with a combination of several criteria. Most teams certify yearly, and we are no exception--recertification is a yearly requirement.
We have written K9SARNL standards based on the unique terrain, climate and population density of Newfoundland and Labrador. As our relationship with the SAR community in Newfoundland and Labrador develops, we anticipate that the RCMP will require that our dog/handler teams also complete RCMP Civilian Search and Rescue Dog certifications. We look forward to working with the RCMP.
K9SARNL has several certified dogs available at this time. (back to top)
The best way to read the following is to simply scroll down as you go. If you wish you may also click on the menu above to skip to different topics. As you go you will be able to click "back to top" and arrive back here.
Worldwide, volunteer civilian SAR dog/handler teams have proven themselves as a valuable tool in searches for over 100 years. The illustration to the left was drawn in 1892 and represents a dog alerting his handler to a casualty on the fields of war.
In Canada, there are RCMP and provincially certified civilian volunteer dog/handler teams in every province except Newfoundland and Labrador (and we're working hard to change that!). In most provinces, civilian SAR dogs are called out as routinely as ground SAR teams.
A dog and handler team are a tool, just as divers, an ATV or snowmobile, or a team of people walking line abreast. There are advantages and disadvantages to each tool. K9 units are not miracle workers and cannot magically locate lost persons. Many variables exist that can adversely affect the success of a dog/handler team...wind, weather, terrain, age of scent, mistakes by the handler, and many other things. Later on in this page we will explain how dogs work and how they can be used. Just as any tool in a search can fail, so can a dog. No search tool is 100% effective.
We can increase our chances of saving lives by efficient use of all tools available to us, and we know that the addition of a highly-trained team of dogs and handlers will be another valuable tool for us here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We fit in the same category as a ski-doo, a man-tracker, a high-angle specialist or a swift-water rescue team...we are a TOOL. (back to top)
An operational SAR dog can significantly increase both the probability of detection and decrease the time needed to detect a missing person. Of course, once you get past the fancy words, what this means is that in a lot of cases on a search you have a much better chance of saving a life if you use a dog.
Dogs can be used in many ways on a search. Most dogs are specialists in one technique and can perform some others as well. Here are some of the primary ways they can be utilized.
At present, the only dogs approved for use in Newfoundland and Labrador by the RCMP (the agency responsible for the largest sections of the province) are Police Dogs deployed by the RCMP/RNC dog handler. In emergencies, RCMP dogs from off-island could be called in.
If the search occurs within Parks Canada borders or within the territory of the RNC in Corner Brook, our dogs are deployed.
RCMP and RNC dogs are usually one of the first resources deployed to a scene, and these dog/handler teams are masters at tracking (it is widely said that these teams are the best in the world in regards to tracking). Most of the time only one dog/handler team is deployed but occasionally more will muster. Usually the "dog-man" is called immediately while local law enforcement and ground SAR teams are mustered to the scene. The dog and handler are regarded as a first priority to get in there, with good reason (statistics show that dogs offer good probability of detection).
The police dog handler is usually deployed as soon as possible in the most likely areas, preferably before the areas are heavily contaminated with searcher's scent. Since a track is the quickest way to a lost person, the officer usually tries to find a track. If in a heavily contaminated area he may try to air scent or he may request to be placed past the contaminated area to try to track. Tracks can be used in a variety of ways...obviously, if possible the dog would follow the track to the victim. If that is not possible, a track can at least point you in the direction the victim walked, which gives other SAR resources valuable information for planning the extended search.
In many cases, however, tracking can be difficult due to the contamination of the area to be searched. In most cases, the missing person's families and friends do a quick search before calling law enforcement. This means there are multiple fresh tracks in the area to be searched which can be confusing to a tracking dog. Many people think that all search dogs are trained in scent discrimination (in which the dog smells an article belonging to the victim and then searches for only that scent). This is simply not true for most search dogs, which are trained to find the freshest track only...and it means that in a contaminated area, it will be difficult if not impossible to find the victim's track. Weather conditions can quickly erase a track, and scent quickly fades with time. The likelihood of detecting and following a track successfully grows lower with adverse weather conditions and amount of time that has passed.
Under ideal circumstances, however, a track is by far the quickest way to get to a lost person.
If the search has gone on for a long time, or the area is heavily contaminated and impossible for tracking, the next choice is air scenting. Air scenting means that the dog uses its powerful nose to find scent on the wind/in the air. RCMP/RNC dogs must pass an air scenting certification, and K9SARNL dogs have been trained to specialize in this area.
Dogs that have been trained for air scenting seek fresh human scent and follow it to its source. Think of smoke blowing on the wind...if you follow the smoke, you will find the fire. The same is true of human scent and a dog's nose. The dog can "see" the scent as clearly as we can see smoke. The dog gets into the scent, and follows it to its source.
When we began organization of our team, we took a hard look at how things might pan out in the future. We knew that if called, we would probably be entering areas that had already been searched for tracks and were already heavily contaminated (family members and friends that began the search, law enforcement and ground search and rescue personnel etc). For these reasons, we made several decisions about what specialties we would train.
We train our dogs primarily in using scent carried on the wind (rather than a track on the ground). Our dogs can and do use tracks when they are present, but in a heavily contaminated area they rely on the scent in the air. They have been trained to find a fresh source of human scent on the wind, locate the source, and then bring us to it. This can be done in unison with people on foot searching at the same time. Our dogs have also been trained to indicate articles or clues, and to look for scent coming up from underneath snow (avalanche training techniques).
What this translates to in real-world situations is that we can deploy our dogs alongside ground SAR teams, law enforcement, and each other. We can put several dog teams into the woods at the same time. Our handlers go into the woods with an additional person (flanker) for navigation and as an extra pair of eyes. K9SARNL-certified dogs have been extensively trained to work with larger groups of people in the woods and can work in areas that are heavily contaminated. Also, our dogs are temperament-tested to be non-aggressive toward humans and other animals.
If you're a police officer or GSAR person, you probably want to know just one thing...how will using dogs help us find lost people?
Let's take a look at a real-world example of how civilian dogs are used in conjunction with RCMP, local police forces, and an RCMP Police Dog Services team. This is a very common example of how these agencies and teams work together all over Canada. Many examples of RCMP news releases that demonstrate this are available on our examples page.
So what do you do?
You know that the trails have already been heavily searched. You know the area around the playground is heavily contaminated but you are fairly sure where the contaminated area ends. You send your best tracking dog (RCMP) to the edge of that area and he searches for a track.
You know that dogs can cover the most ground in the least amount of time, so you deploy four of the best air-scenting dogs into areas A, B, C, and F to work into the wind. Dog/handler teams take a flanker with them for map and compass/GPS and radio handling.
At the same time, you get most of your GSAR (on foot) going from the north sides of trails 4 and 5, "behind" (downwind) of the dogs. Foot searchers will proceed into dog's area if necessary by simply continuing their path.
Within one hour, the child is found. He got scared when he saw a mama moose on the playground and ran away. He didn't realize where he was and kept on going trying to find his campsite but was going in the wrong direction. He got scared and hid away after he realized he was lost. He's got a lot of mosquito bites and he's scratched up, but he's alive.
And that's the way you plan a first-response search with GSAR, civilians, RCMP and civilian SAR dogs. You've used all your resources and done it well. Because everything was so time-sensitive, it was necessary for you to try to deploy as much as you could as fast as you could, you did it and it worked. It was fluid and easy and you covered a LOT of ground in a very short amount of time.
*Notice that at no point was it indicated who found the boy. The facts are that the entire search found the boy and the efforts of every individual that participated are the reason he is alive. No matter whether it was RCMP, GSAR, a dog/handler team, or a civilian, when we respond to a search we are part of a team, and the team is the thing that finds the person, not an individual.