Category Archives: search and rescue dogs

How We Use a Dog’s Prey Drive


By Linda Cole

If there’s one thing dogs do better than anything else, it’s searching out prey (or what they consider to be prey, anyway). A dog’s prey drive is what makes them good at searching, retrieving, search and rescue, herding or running. Working dogs have been trained to help us with difficult tasks that make our lives easier, and some can even do things better than us, or perform tasks we can’t.

No matter what breed of dog you have, all dogs have a prey drive. Anything moving will initiate their instinct to chase. Some dogs, however, have a stronger drive than others and they are the ones that excel in performing different jobs that help us. Responsible breeders are careful to make sure their dogs have the specific qualities and characteristics inherent in their chosen breed.

Using a dog’s prey drive during training can make the sessions more fun for you and your dog. Games of tug-of-war and tossing a ball or Frisbee are good motivators for some dogs, and you can use it to your advantage while training. After all, even dogs need a break from learning and rewarding them with a game of catch helps keep their prey drive satisfied. If a dog’s drive is strong and he has no way to release pent up energy, he becomes bored and may develop behavioral problems.

There are five parts to a dog’s prey drive: the search, stalking, the chase, the grab, and the take down. They see another animal, or an object like a ball, which begins the search. Eye contact initiates the stalking phase just before they begin the chase. When their “prey” is overtaken, they grab it and take it down. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a ball—each phase of their prey drive is real and the capture and kill have the same meaning to dogs whether it’s a ball or something else.

We use a dog’s prey drive to our advantage when we train certain breeds to do different “jobs” that aid us. Each specific job takes advantage of one of the five steps associated with a dog’s prey drive. Working dogs love having a job to do and thoroughly enjoy it.

Huskies and the Northern dog breeds love to run, and without their help to pull sleds loaded with supplies and mail to remote villages, Alaska would have been a much different environment to live in. Man was able to use the Northern dogs love of the chase in their prey drive to aid them by pulling heavy loads for miles at a time.

A good retriever will seek out whatever prey they are taught to chase. The dog is trained to stop at the capture stage and suppresses the last step in his prey drive. Returning a duck or rabbit to his human goes against his natural instinct, but because of specific breeding and training, a good hunting dog will bring back his quarry intact without any bite marks in the flesh of his prey.

Usually used for herding sheep and sometimes cattle, Border Collies are well known for their intense eye contact while stalking and chasing sheep. The portion of their prey drive that’s been modified through years of careful breeding is the capture and kill part. For them, they get satisfaction in stalking and chasing their “prey.”

Search and rescue dogs and drug or bomb sniffing dogs have a strong desire to search. Search and rescue dogs are sometimes required to perform for hours at a time when going through the rubble after an avalanche, earthquake or other natural disaster. It’s a job that can be discouraging, and the best dogs are the ones with an extremely high prey drive who love to search.

A Bloodhound will happily plod along following a scent, never giving up until he either finds his prey or loses the scent. For him, following his nose gives him joy and satisfaction. And a beagle loves the chase and has a dogged determination to corner his prey. Excited baying when he’s located it is all the reward he needs. Like any good search and rescue dog, Bloodhounds and Beagles also use their love of the search to root out “prey.”

Years of responsible breeding and training has taken the prey drive in dogs and turned their instincts and what they love to do to our advantage. Using dogs who were born to retrieve, herd, search or run benefits both man and dog when we allow a dog do what he does best.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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Inspirational Dogs With Jobs


By Julia Williams

It’s estimated that around 77 million dogs are kept as pets in the U.S. today, but there are no similar figures for working dogs. I’m guessing this is because the list of canine careers is impressively long, and there is no central reporting agency to keep track of all the amazing canines that are willing to work for praise, toys, treats and love instead of a paycheck. In my last article I talked about police dogs, detection dogs and military working dogs. Today I’ll cover a few more dogs that have important jobs.

Search & Rescue (SAR)

These hard-working heroes of disaster relief are called upon to help in the aftermath of avalanches, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, bombs and other catastrophes. With their keen sense of smell and the ability to navigate through debris, confined spaces and unstable terrain, “Disaster Dogs” save countless lives every year. SAR dogs are also trained and used to help to locate missing persons and prison escapees.

Of the three types of SAR dogs, Air Scenting is the most common. This SAR dog is trained to pick up traces of human scent that drift in the wind. Air Scenting dogs are always worked off lead and are more successful in isolated areas. This is because they normally don’t discriminate scents, and if other people are nearby there is a possibility of false alarms.

A Tracking Dog is trained to follow the physical path of a certain person, without relying on air scenting. Tracking Dogs are nearly always worked on a lead about 30 feet in front of their handler, and are trained to follow each footstep.

A Trailing Dog uses a combination of tracking and air-scenting. They’re trained to follow minute particles of heavier-than-air skin cells that are cast off by a person and land close to the ground or on foliage. Because of this, Trailing Dogs frequently travel with their nose to the ground.

Bloodhounds are renowned for their prowess as search dogs, and have long been used by U.S. law enforcement to track criminals. They’re extremely athletic and can follow even the faintest of scent trails. Newfoundland and St. Bernard dogs are often used to find people lost in challenging environments like mountains and thick forests, or buried in an avalanche. Other breeds used for search and rescue work include the Black and Tan Hound, Doberman, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.

Cadaver Dogs

This specialized search dog is trained to locate dead bodies, either above ground or buried, as well as underwater. Also known as Human Remains Detection Dogs, these hard working canines are vital to police investigations because without a body, it can be difficult to prove that a crime took place. Cadaver Dogs are also used to locate deceased victims of explosions, fires, avalanches and other disasters.

According to Cincinnati search and rescue handler/trainer Gina Flannery, Labrador Retrievers are “the best cadaver dogs in the world. They love things that smell bad.”

Therapy Dogs

Research has proven that animals can dramatically improve the quality of life for the elderly, they can help sick patients recover faster, and can bring a renewed zest for life to the lonely or depressed. Therapy Dogs are trained to provide affection, comfort and joy to people in nursing homes, retirement homes, hospitals, schools and even some prison facilities.

In addition to standard canine training, Therapy Dogs receive specialized training to learn how to behave around people with difficult medical conditions. However, they aren’t classified as Service Dogs because they’re not trained to stay with people and do not directly assist them with tasks.

Therapy Dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic is temperament –a good Therapy Dog enjoys human contact and is patient, gentle, confident and comfortable in a variety of situations.

Service Dogs

These working dogs are specially trained to help disabled individuals with daily tasks. Service Dogs can dramatically improve the quality of life for their human companion. In some cases, they can even mean the difference between life and death. Some of the different types of Service Dogs available are guide dogs for the blind or visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, seizure and diabetes-alert dogs and psychiatric service dogs. The breeds most commonly used are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.

CANIDAE sponsors many of these hard working dogs with jobs, including Avalanche Rescue Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs. You can read more about these Special Achievers on their website.

Although my “pet of choice” is a cat, I greatly admire these remarkable dogs that contribute to our society in so many ways. Life without these hard working dogs just wouldn’t be the same – for any of us.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Meet Scout, an Avalanche Rescue Dog Sponsored by CANIDAE


By Suzanne Alicie

The CANIDAE dog sponsorship program began in 2006 as a way to support extraordinary dogs and the people who love them. Among the many canines chosen for sponsorship are teams who participate in dog sports, therapy dogs, K-9 units, assistance dogs and rescue dogs. These dogs are all fed CANIDAE products to provide them with the energy, strength and nutrition required for their demanding jobs.

One of these CANIDAE-sponsored special achievers is Scout, a Chocolate Labrador retriever who works for Copper Mountain as a Certified Avalanche Rescue Dog. His handler, Rich Silkey CMSP, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for me about Scout and the job they do together at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado. What an eye opener it was to learn about this dog and his amazing job.

Rich is not just Scout’s handler, he is his owner. Many places have rescue dogs that are owned by a resort or company and live on site. Scout, however, is a hard working dog that gets to go home at night. Socializing is a big part of Scout’s job. On a typical day, which means a day that an avalanche doesn’t occur, Scout enjoys riding up to the duty station on the chair lift, sleeping in the duty station, patrolling with Rich and interacting with the guests. But don’t assume he’s a lazy dog sleeping the day away. The playful and friendly Scout gets a lot of exercise playing with the kids from ski school when he’s not busy. Sounds like a tough job huh?

Well, when an avalanche happens Scout is all business. He began his training at 8 weeks old. Now at almost 4 years old Scout is a certified and professional avalanche rescue dog who knows when it is time to stop playing and start working. Labradors aren’t the only breed suitable for avalanche rescue. Copper Mountain utilizes 6 avalanche rescue dogs that rotate through each week, including Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and German Shepherds. However, Rich selected a Labrador to train as an avalanche rescue dog and as a pet because of the breed’s agility, work ethic, stamina, loyalty and excellent nose.

Unlike dogs who trail or track a specific person or scent, avalanche rescue dogs are trained to air scent for humans, in and under the snow. Victims buried in the snow as a result of an avalanche are just one type of snow rescue. Youth and elderly that have fallen due to injury or hypothermia can become covered by snowfall. Even a healthy well-prepared hiker or skier who holes up in a snow cave after having become lost or exhausted is another type of rescue for an avalanche rescue dog. Because once a person becomes buried, detection by the naked eye is impossible.

These awe inspiring rescue dogs can detect the human scent more than 15 feet deep. Dogs can cover the dangerous terrain of an avalanche area approximately 8 times faster than a human. This means that Scout is usually the first on the scene and helps make sure that people get rescued in time thanks to his wonderful nose and excellent training.

According to Mr. Silkey, Scout performs his task of air scenting to locate a buried person and does an aggressive double paw dig as an alert. But he doesn’t stop there; Scout continues digging and sometimes has the avalanche victim dug out before his human backup arrives. For performing his job so well, Scout gets to enjoy a good game of tug-of-war with his favorite toy.

To make sure that Scout and the other dogs stay on task and don’t forget valuable training, the crew does a mock search once a week to help them stay sharp and practice their skills. Helping teach and lead younger dogs like the two new dogs that are just beginning their training also keeps Scout and the other avalanche rescue dogs at Copper Mountain on top of their game.

Due to the rigors of their job, the cold and unyielding snow and the pressures of the searches, avalanche rescue dogs usually work until they are between 7 and 12 years of age. CANIDAE dog food helps provide the extra nutrition and energy these dogs need to stay healthy and happy from the beginning of their hard working lives through their retirement and lazy days.

The CANIDAE team is proud to sponsor Scout as he goes about the business of saving lives with his partner Rich in the cold and snow at Copper Mountain.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Are “Working Dogs” Harmed By Not Working?


By Linda Cole

Humans have used pack animals for centuries to move belongings and supplies across distances great and small. Without them, the expansion of America would have been a lot slower. “Working dogs” not only found a place at man’s side as efficient workers, they also found a place in our heart as companion dogs. Working dogs were bred to do specific jobs for us, from guarding and herding sheep, to search and rescue. Working dogs reside in a variety of homes nowadays, but are dogs that were bred to perform a specific task harmed if they’re not used for it? Can working dogs be happy just hanging out with us on the couch?

A working dog is defined as one that performs a task for us. Ranchers use Border Collies to help herd sheep. Service or assistance dogs help handicapped people deal with tasks that make it easier for them to live at home or navigate busy intersections and streets. And sled dogs continue to pull heavy loads to and from hunting grounds or to transport goods between villages.

A companion dog is a pet whose sole purpose is to keep us company. But all dogs, companion or working, have a dual role in protecting us and our property. Some do a better job than others though, and in some households, a cat is a better protector than the canine. Nevertheless, a dog has no sense of what being a purebred or mixed breed dog is, and each one is as individual as we are. Dogs will do anything to please those they trust, and a dog who was bred to work loves to do what he does best.

Even mixed breeds from the working dog group want to perform tasks. I had a beautiful Border Collie mix who believed her sole purpose in life was to herd my cats around the house. At least once a day, she would round up stunned cats that had been blissfully relaxing in a patch of sunshine on the floor or couch. I also quickly discovered that if we missed a game of Frisbee or tug of war, I would return home and find the remains of my dog’s boredom lying in tatters on my living room floor. My poor couch pillows were never the same! But, I learned about her need for exercise to curb pent up energy, and her love of herding. The cats weren’t too thrilled about the herding part, however.

Understanding breed characteristics before adopting any dog is part of being a responsible owner, because the right selection will mean a difference between a dog that fits well in your home and one that is disruptive or not what you expected. For example, even though a Beagle is small and might be fine in an apartment, they are sometimes yappers that don’t always know when to stop. Bred to hunt, a Beagle is always on the prowl for something to bark at. You might find a Jack Russell terrier appealing until you discover your flower garden has been dug up. They were bred to go after vermin underground and like to dig. A Siberian Husky, with those beautiful blue eyes and stunning coat, might be a good pick until you begin to find hair everywhere or discover that these dogs are masters at breaking out of their pen. Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds and love to run, and have a double coat that sheds heavily twice of year.

Dogs get into trouble in the home when they become bored, and they are experts at finding something to entertain themselves with while you are away. Many a couch has fallen prey to a bored pet who also lacks proper exercise. A working dog needs to be able to do what they were bred for in order to stay in good physical and mental shape. Like a well-trained athlete who gets up every morning to run 10 miles to stay in shape, working dogs also need the same type of stimulus.

Dogs that make up the working group are intelligent with lots of energy to burn, and when properly trained to do a job, they excel at their task. If you own a dog (mixed or purebred) from the working dog group, do them a favor by learning how to properly train them to do what they love and were born to do. Dogs can become depressed, overweight, insecure and anxious when they are bored and have a lack of exercise. It’s up to us to understand that working dogs are hard wired with a need to do a job, so rather than punish your best friend, give him an appropriate job. It will make all the difference in the world to him, and give you a happier and healthier dog.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Find CANIDAE Retailers Near You!

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

For 9/11: A Special Tribute to Search and Rescue Dogs


By Julia Williams

September 11, 2001 will always be remembered as the day two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. When the Twin Towers collapsed, they created a mountainous heap of smoldering rubble that burned for months. Countless firefighters and rescue workers risked their lives to search for survivors in the Ground Zero wreckage. Among them were an estimated 250 to 300 K-9 search and rescue dogs and their handlers.

I thought it fitting that on this fateful day, we take a moment to pay tribute to the heroic efforts of these amazing canines that have helped humankind for so many years. Beyond the 9/11 disaster, search and rescue (SAR) dogs have come to our aid during hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other calamities. Although most of the handlers maintain that their search and rescue dogs are just doing the job they were trained to do, many people – dog lovers and the general public alike – regard them as extraordinary.

Disaster response dogs are called upon to work under the most extreme conditions, in highly dangerous and often toxic environments. Most of the K-9 teams at the World Trade Center disaster site rotated on 12 hour work shifts. The SAR dogs bravely dug in the fiery rubble at Ground Zero despite getting their feet singed by white-hot debris. They courageously nosed through the noxious smoke and dust despite its potential to harm their lungs. Who among us mere mortals could withstand such an ordeal? Not I, which is why I consider these dogs to be heroes of the highest order.

Many different dog breeds are used in search and rescue operations, but they typically come from the herding, hunting or working breeds. Some of the more common SAR dogs are German Shepherds, Bloodhounds, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies and the Belgian Malinois. More important than the specific breed, however, is the dog’s disposition. Each search and rescue dog has its own unique set of skills and endurance abilities, but all are hard-working and focused on the task at hand.

I recently came across a wonderful book on this subject, titled DOG HEROES of September 11th:A Tribute to America’s Search and Rescue Dogs. Written by Nona Kilgore Bauer and the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, this oversized pictorial book is a riveting account of search and rescue work, and the dogs that play such a vital part in it. Profiles of various SAR teams show them hard at work at Ground Zero and the Pentagon, accompanied by descriptions of what they are doing. This is a very moving book, and a must-read for all dog lovers.

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 and based in Ojai, California. According to their website, their mission is to “strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.” There are currently 69 SDF-trained search teams located in California, Florida, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah. SDF offers the professionally trained canines at no cost to fire departments, and they ensure lifetime care for every dog in their program. If you would like to support on-going search canine efforts, contact the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation at 888-4-K9-HERO.

In memory of 9/11, please join me as I pay homage to all the remarkable search and rescue dogs that help us when disaster strikes. These dogs provide an invaluable service that saves lives, and they deserve our utmost respect.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.