Search dogs were first introduced to UK Mountain Rescue in the 1950s. They had previously been used in the Alps for many years, especially for avalanche rescue.
It takes up to 3 years fully to train a dog to work in a rescue team, with an expected working life of 10 years. In the right conditions, a fully trained dog are magnitudes more effective than a human searching. Search dogs use their incredible sense of smell to pick up ‘air scent’: they can detect a human scent from 500 metres, in optimum conditions. The dog teams are also the first to be mobilised for night searches or in bad visibility.
Search dogs play an important role in searching for missing hill walkers, and members of the public who go missing in rural areas. Urban areas can be a lot more challenge as there are many more scents for the dog to get confused by. The Search Dogs are non-discriminatory, hence they look for any human scent, not a specific one – which is why they can get confused by many scents in urban areas, possibly hunting down the wrong scent of a person.
The team currently has 3 members with Search Dogs! To become a search dog handler it takes a huge amount of commitment and dedication. All Search Dog handlers are fully operational team members first and have then chosen to progress on to become handlers. On top of normal team training our handlers put in many more hours during the week including Saturdays and Sundays to maintain their dog’s level of training and fitness. They are away training once a month around the country and locations include The Lake District, Northumberland, Peak District, the Yorkshire Moors and our own backyard – Dartmoor National Park. All training of the dogs and dog handlers is governed by Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England.
Our Search Dog handlers can be asked to attend any incident in the country by MRSDE and they are not just limited to Dartmoor. The Dogs all belong to their Handlers and the handlers pay their vet bills, sometimes a very expensive feat.
Some of our Search Dogs have been called as far as the North of Wales!