Service Dogs on Public Safety Scenes

By: Thomas Powell

Often we discuss public safety operations, the extreme conditions, the extensive training, and the various attributes associated with public safety divers. One subject we rarely discuss is how many factors must come together to safely put divers in the water. These factors often include support personnel, shore-based equipment, and on many occasions, working dogs. So what is a working dog and what makes one different from the standard puppy roaming around our homes? Essentially, a working dog is a canine that has been taught to perform actions that can assist a handler or companion. These types of animals can help almost any type of public safety team, but oddly enough, can save time, effort, and energy for personnel during public safety dive operations.

Types of Working Dogs

There are many types of working dogs that have been used for good and bad purposes throughout history. For example, sled dogs are considered working dogs, as well as therapy dogs, herding dogs, and hunting dogs. The working dog category is filled with many types of animals and tasks, but for the sake of discussion here, we will focus on animals used within the public safety realm. As I move forward, bear with me as I categorize working animals in a fashion that is simple to understand. Sometimes titles and abilities cross, but the objective is to show what working animals can do to assist dive operations.

Rescue Dogs

Search and rescue dogs are often used to locate missing people. Understand that this is an expansive group I have given a name to that could include tracking, trailing, air-scenting dogs, etc. There are variations in how rescue dogs may be trained and in how they operate, but in most cases they use different methods to find those who have gone missing. They may be called in to help sift through debris piles after a storm or to search expansive wilderness areas that humans cannot search in a quick fashion. These animals are trained to find human scent. This scent may be present is sweat, blood, exhalation gases, and even skill cells or other tissues. The reality is that this type of animal can show the pathways taken by a human or multiple humans. It can show pathway deviation, and in the case of a dive team, show the most reasonable location that a person may have entered a body of water. If you know where a missing person entered the water, you at least know where to begin your search.

Cadaver Dogs

Cadaver dogs are trained to find deteriorating human tissue. In general, they are used to find the deceased, but they may also be brought in to find parts or pieces of individuals if needed. In many cases, cadaver dogs are tracking animals that have been cross-trained to find human remains. These canines have the ability to sense human remains that have been buried, submerged, or simply hidden. In regard to dive operations, cadaver dogs can be placed on shorelines or aquatic vessels to scent the water. In many cases, the animal will be able to sense where human remains sit below the surface. This type of support can prevent divers from having to perform expansive search patterns. If the cadaver dog can show the divers where a body may be located, the operation may transform into a recovery rather than a search.

Detection Dogs

Many people view detection dogs as the animal searching for narcotics at a place like the airport. This would be absolutely correct. Detection dogs are often trained to find narcotic substances, but they have also been trained to find explosive residue, blood, money, electronic devices, and even fecal matter for specific animals being sought or researched. Detection animals are used in many applications and have been proven effective in almost any environment. In regard to dive teams, detection animals can really help a team save time. A detection canine can search shorelines to search for the possible location at which a firearm was thrown into the water. Similarly, trace elements of narcotics, explosive residue, or other materials may be recognizable during a case-specific evidence search. This information could help a dive team establish search areas, determine the types of search patterns needed, and might cut down on the total area needing to be searched.

Types of Training

First off, let me say that many working dogs are cross-trained to perform multiple duties. The abilities of an animal are often developed through intensive and focused training, and that training may begin very early in the animals life. The training that working dogs undergo is comprehensive and involves both dogs and handlers. Obedience, agility, and socialization training is often the beginning of a working dog’s training experience. These critical educational points ensure that a trained handler can control the animal on a scene, and the animal can operate in a professional manner around the many people and other animals that may be associated with a search of any type.

As a puppy begins to develop good habits, scent training is often integrated into the educational profile. These sessions are often reward-reward based to show the puppy it has performed in a proper fashion. Over time, a trainer will have the handler perform agility, scent, and obedience sessions in regulated patterns (that may change) to ensure the animal is moving forward as needed and showing improvement. Eventually, training will be integrated to teach the animal to determine specific scents and to perform proper searches for the correct type of subject matter. Similarly, training may expand from localized searches to expansive searches over longer distances. Remember that not all dogs make the cut and become efficient working dogs.

Handlers must also learn to work with a canine partner. This means learning to work with the dog and train on a regular basis. This also means altering training based on the dog’s needs. There must be a good relationship between the dog and handler to yield quality results. Essentially, a handler must be able to recognize body language, actions, and even basic reactions that a dog may perform.

In regard to training, there are various accreditations associated with training that educated trainers can confer to animals once training levels are achieved. In many cases, animals used in public safety work are required to follow basic training requirements in different states in order to become an animal that is recognized for use in different types of operations. This can apply to civilian dogs and dogs owned by public safety groups. It must be mentioned that in certain situations, outside canines will not be allowed for use when law enforcement canines are available.

Types of Dogs

Many people view public safety working dogs as the iconic German Shepherd. This is true, but many dog breeds are commonly used in public safety operations. These animals may be the Beagles and Basset Hounds used to search for narcotics and explosives, to retrievers, pointers, spaniels, other types of shepherds, and various others. The reality is that the animal needs to have a good sense of smell, and the ability to adapt to training and the role of a working dog in the field. So in truth, you may see working dogs of all types arriving to assist on a scene if they have achieved educational success.

Operational Use and Experience

As mentioned earlier, working dogs in the public safety community can help a team find all sorts of evidentiary material. They also can find trace evidence of submerged bodies and even minute residue that may shift a search to a potential last known point where a weapon was hidden. These abilities can reduce time associated with searches and therefore improve operational safety for a dive team.

In my time as a public safety diver, I have witnessed dogs used to find entry points associated with weapons, cadavers in large bodies of water, and even show evidence of potential explosives in a search area. In every situation, the animal has provided some level of support that was much appreciated by the associated dive team personnel even if the actions of the dog still did not provide a positive search result. Instead, a negative search result when using a canine often helps a dive team in justifying that specific evidence is not located in an assumed search area. The one factor that I must point out is that using dogs is something that should be practiced. If you know local canines are available in your area, it is smart to request their assistance during training operations. Actions such as this improve the relationship between the dive team and dog/handler teams. It also teaches the dive team how an animal may operate and how the animal and handle may best be used during operations of differing types.

Again, understand that the description of training and uses for working dogs here is generalized. The world of training working animals is very complex and required training profiles can vary. To learn more, contact a local trainer or active canine public safety team in your local area. Working dogs can be a huge benefit to a dive team if used in a proper and effective fashion. If they are an available resource, using them can often assist in operations.

Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Clayton, NC

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