If you've spent any time around any of the "working" dog breeds, you know how they look on the job: Ears pricked, eyes intent, every fiber of their body focused on the job at hand. The job could be almost anything: Running an agility course, herding livestock or saving your life. Because when it comes to finding lost people, search and rescue dogs have a tool we humans cannot hope to match: their noses.
"If you see how observant we are with our eyes, dogs are the same way with their nose," explained Eeva Latosuo, one of several veteran search dog handlers with Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs who met last week on the Alaska Pacific University campus to demonstrate their search teams' capabilities. Emphasis on "team": The dog's extraordinary nose may do the finding, but it's the handler who steadies the dog, cares for it and ultimately guides the search strategy.
... As we followed Brooks through the woods, the purpose behind Primer's zig-zagging slowly became clear: Brooks was the hub of his dog's search pattern, with Primer coming back and "checking in" every so often, making eye contact or bumping Brooks' fingers with his nose before heading back out for another sniff.
Paul Brusseau, another Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs handler, came along to explain how the searches work. The organization typically responds to about 25 missions a year statewide, including searches for people who are lost, drowning and avalanche victims, and firearms or other possible evidence. The Alaska State Troopers decide which search resources, including Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs, should be deployed. Search activity varies by month, with more wilderness and water searches during the summer and mostly avalanche work during winter and spring.
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