Service dogs of all types perform many specialized behaviors that are critical to their success as partners with their humans. As a search-dog trainer and operational handler for 25 years, I continue to be amazed by dogs’ abilities to solve problems and to collaborate with people in seemingly confusing situations, often under grueling circumstances.
Hearing-assistance dogs are trained to distinguish between sounds and to tell their people when the phone or doorbell rings or when the smoke alarm sounds. Guide dogs are trained to stop at curbs, and to look and listen for traffic to prevent their handlers from stepping into the street until it’s safe to cross. Search and rescue (SAR) dogs are trained to find missing people, to notify their handlers when they’ve located lost or missing people, and to take the handlers to those people.
Search and rescue dogs are used to find people buried in avalanches, lost in the wilderness, drowned in lakes or rivers, and buried in rubble during a disaster. SAR dogs can even locate human remains years after a person has died. A dog trained to scent discriminate works until the person matching the specific target scent has been located. The dog is trained to ignore all other scent during that search.