Saturday, 23 January 2010
Haiti - Sniffer dogs
Rescuers from all around the world converged on Haiti in the wake of the earthquake which totally destroyed Port-au-Prince. Finding survivors amid the rubble is a job tailor-made for dogs. They can cover a larger area and smell and act more quickly than robots and listening devices.
The magnitude of the disaster is so great that rescue teams who have never before gone into an international operation are being pulled into action. China, Russia, Peru, Mexico, France, Britain, Belgium, the US all had sniffer dogs on their team. Taiwan sent one dog!
Breeds such as labradors, golden retrievers, border collies, German shepherds and Belgian Shepherds are ideal as working dogs.
The dogs are trained to recognize a specific smell: the scent of a live, not a dead, human. Sniffer dogs are adept at detecting a scent that doesn’t match the people surrounding them. This is how it goes: the dogs are saying to themselves, "This is it ... oops, that's you ... then, this is it ... ah, there's nobody there". At that point, the dog barks until it receives its reward.
During training, the dog is given a tug toy by the supposed victim. That's why the dog always wants to find the victim. That's where the fun is. It's a hide-and-seek game.
In the field, the dog's handler has to find a way to give the dog its toy as if it had come from the disaster victim, to reinforce the hide-and-seek behaviour. And if the dog doesn't find anything, a rescue team member might have to hide amid the rubble to give the dog a chance for positive reinforcement. Once the dog finds a survivor, other methods come into play for the actual recovery. It's not that dog's job to tell the rescuers exactly where the victim is. The dog’s job is to tell its handler where the strongest human scent is. At some point, the live-scent dogs will have to be replaced by cadaver dogs. The search teams will head home, and Haiti's rescue effort will become a recovery effort.