Search Dogs South United Way of the Mid-South sponsored agency.

CFC #67552
Volunteer K-9 Search and Rescue Team

SDS dogs are trained to be scent specific. A scent specific dog is taught to search for one particular person. The training process is a simple one that begins when we start a new dog. By working the dog from his very first puppy trail to look for just the person we want him to find it becomes second nature for the dog to expect to hunt just one person. An example of what that allows us to do is to follow a subject through a crowded fairgrounds to a successful find, or to follow the trail left by a criminal 2 weeks previously.

We don't teach our search and rescue dogs as much as they teach us. The handler receives a tremendous amount of new information. Think about it for a second. If you were not there to feed your dog what would he do? He would find something to eat. He would hunt for his food. Dogs are natural hunters. Search training is simply channeling that natural hunting drive to find a specific person when we ask them to do it. The major learning is the handler's responsibility. They have to learn what the dog is 'saying' and how to read the dog's body language.

Probably the toughest challenge for a handler to master is to learn to trust the dog. An important element in training is for the handler to learn that dogs never lie. It is not in a dog's nature. When the handler learns that regardless of how unlikely the indication may be that the dog is indicating that the scent they are seeking goes 'this way', the more effective the handler becomes and the dog and handler become a true team.

In a rural setting, or in an urban environment, either a residential subdivision or even the tall buildings and all paved areas of downtown, the search dog will encounter many people on his way to the missing person. By teaching the dog to look for only one person, he will ignore the crowds on the streets of downtown and work his way through them to his target. Another advantage to teaching scent specific is that if we are in the unusual situation where we just cannot obtain a usable scent article our dogs will work without one. If a dog has never worked with a scent article they will not know what one is.

A natural extension of searching for missing people is cadaver search. When we begin a search we never know if we will find the person alive or dead. For this reason, and also to assist in cases where we already know a person has died, we train all our dogs to do cadaver work. If we begin a search for a live person and at the successful end of the search find that the person is deceased we want our dogs to know that we expect them to take us to the body. In a related situation, because we train our dogs to search for cadavers we are able to assist authorities in body searches for missing persons, accident victims and victims of crimes. As in all searches we never know what type area we will be asked to search so we train for water search also. We have assisted in a number of searches for drowning victims.

Safety Tips
A scent specific dog means they search only for the person we ask them to find based on the scent material collected. This saves time and confusion and with proper support, evidence is admissible in court.
  • SDS has located evidence in a bank robbery by taking scent material from a suspect picked up on the highway and backtracking his steps to find his discarded clothing used in the bank robbery.Then by trailing from the abandoned vehicle (using the same scent) 1/4 mile in the woods and located the stolen bank money in a plastic bag at the base of a tree.
  • Following an attack on an officer, using scent from the suspects clothing, the K9 team backtracked to find the suspect's weapon.This simple action refuted the claim the officer had attacked the suspect.
  • In several cases we have worked, the suspects have either turned themselves in and/or have admitted to the crime. The added pressure of pursuit with the dogs sometimes proves to be too much for the suspects.
  • Following a murder, law enforcement wanted to know where the victim had been prior to being killed. The K9 was scented from a pool of blood where the victim bled to death(victims body was removed from scene prior to K9 team being called.). The dog followed a trail for approximately 6 or 7 blocks to a house where the dog sat at the curb. Law enforcement confirmed that the victim had been there.
  • A number of years ago we were asked if we could assist in a murder investigation. A woman had been beaten, raped and left for dead in her home and the home was set afire to cover up the entire crime. The police had a suspect in jail on other charges and were unable to place him at the crime scene. He willingly gave up this t-shirt for the dog to use saying, "the dog will set me free". The dog was scented about 1/2 mile from the crime scene without the handler having knowledge of where the crime took place. The dog worked her trail. The end result being that the dog tied the suspect to the crime scene. Others involved came forward with additional information. Three suspects were given life without parole murder convictions, others received lesser sentences