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Search dogs

Search dogs were first introduced to UK Mountain Rescue in the 1950s. They had previously been used in the Alps for many years, especially for avalanche rescue. Hamish MacInnes of the Glencoe Team and ‘Guru’ of British Mountain Rescue successfully adapted their use for British rescue conditions. One significant difference was the move from German Shepherds to Border Collies as the predominant search dog breed.

search dog at workThe Search And Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) controls operations on a regional basis. Under SARDA guidance the training and assessment (grading) of search dogs is carefully regulated. It takes up to 3 years fully to train a dog to work in a rescue team, with an expected working life of 10 years. In the right conditions a fully trained dog is 10 or 12 times more effective than a human rescuer. Search dogs use their incredible sense of smell to pick up ‘air scent’: they can detect human scent from 500 metres in optimum conditions. These dogs are especially useful in forestry where human search is compromised by dense branches and undergrowth. The dog teams are also the first to be mobilised for night searches or in bad visibility. Handlers and their dogs usually work on their own and will often be the first to reach a casualty and it is therefore essential that the handlers have excellent first-aid skills.

SARDA could not operate without their ‘bodies’. Bodies are volunteer members who act as live casualties for the search dogs during training and assessment sessions. If you would like to become a SARDA body or want to find out more about SARDA, go to www.sardalakes.org.uk.

David Watt with Flash and Dynamitedavid watt
David Watt, long-standing Kirkby Mountain Rescue Team member and search dog handler, died on 5th of May 2011 when his light aircraft crashed close to his home at Ladthwaite on the slopes of Nine Standards Rigg. David Watt was with Kirkby Stephen MRT for more than 30 years. His expertise and long experience with search dogs also made a very valuable contribution to the Search and Rescue Dog Association in the Lake District. He and his search dogs Jack, Dynamite and Flash took part in a huge number of exercises and incidents. David's skill and experience will be sorely missed not just by the local teams to which he belonged but also by dog handlers around the country who benefited from his guidance and support. He will be remembered for his unfailing commitment to Mountain Rescue, his passion for flying and his great enthusiasm for life.


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