Dog teams have a very special role in the world of search and rescue. The proper use of search dogs in search problems can drastically reduce the number of personnel and hours required on a search and increase the probability of detection of the missing subject.
Dogs as Search Tools
A trained dog uses extremely sensitive hearing, night vision, endurance, and keen sense of smell to continually prove to be invaluable in the effort to locate missing persons. Because of their extraordinary abilities, dogs are often able to reduce the search time and thereby increasing the chances that the person will be found alive.
Typically, between three and five dog/handler teams are assigned to a search. A single dog team, working down wind of their assigned search area, can quickly clear large sections of a search area.
The search area is divided into large sectors and each dog/handler team is assigned a separate sector. One dog/handler team can typically cover up to one square mile per day and has proven as effective as 100 grid searchers. This system provides the best possible coverage of a search area, however, factors such as terrain, natural barriers, and weather can affect the rate of coverage.
All VSRDA search dogs are trained to air scent. Air scenting search dogs are trained to seek the unique scent that is produced by the bacterial activity on human skin cells. As these cells are shed from the body and released into the environment, they become airborne.
Air scenting dogs are extremely versatile. They can be used at any time during a search, including during or after rain or snow and at night. They can work after other searchers have been through the area and can be deployed days or weeks after a subject has been reported missing.