The Office of Emergency Management recently held a class of "Working With Canine Search Teams". A Search and Rescue (SAR) team member will often work with volunteer canine search teams. Dogs are especially useful in searching for missing people. SAR team members must know how to work with canine teams without interfering with the dog's search ability.
Search dogs fall into three different categories: tracking, trailing, and air-scenting. Tracking dogs are trained to follow a specific scent and are not necessarily affected by other humans. An article of the missing person's clothing is held under the dog's nose until he gets the scent. The dog is then capable of tracking that scent on the ground, through the woods, to the missing person. They can be confused by additional scents that mask the target scent. These dogs may also be confused by a broken track. For this reason tracking dogs are deployed early in the missing person search before the scent fades.
Trailing dogs are similar to tracking canines, but pick up scent that originates in addition to the original track. A person brushes against items and leaves a trail of dead skin and other items fallen from the body.
Air-scent dogs are specialized for underwater, avalanche, cadaver, drug, and weapon searches. Air-scent dogs are deployed downwind of the search area and are trained to detect human scents traveling on the wind, and are usually the preferred resource.
It is important when working with canine rescue teams to stay downwind of the animals. Also, canine teams move at a very fast pace and so team members should be in fairly decent shape to keep up. Team members should take extra to protect the canine and handler from hidden dangers such as cliffs, traffic, pits, streams, and ice.
Search dog teams have an approximate 50 to 80 percent probability of detection on any given mission for a well trained dog.