Rescue dogs are used to rescue people trapped in all sorts of situations. They can search faster than any mechanical means as they are mobile and have a sharp sense of smell. A dog can use its own initiative to search without the handler.
A dog is selected for training in rescue work based on its temperament and confidence. It must have a strong drive for searching and a high tolerance of different environments. A rescue dog must love humans to seek out the human in adverse conditions and environments. This is a self-rewarding experience as it performs its search and rescue.
The 3 stages of rescue dog training are:
Basic obedience, which is necessary to give control to the handler. The second stage involves exposing the dog to different people from a wide spectrum of types. It is also exposed to different scenarios that may imitate the future missions. A rescue dog needs to focus on finding the human without getting distracted by adverse environments.
The last stage of training is the search and indication. The handler wears a vest on the dog to signal the start of the rescue work. Training involves using a toy to play hide-and-seek with the dog. When the dog finds the toy, it is removed from it which makes the dog bark. This is the indication training that mimics the indication of a human found by the dog.
A second person is now introduced to the dog. He plays with the dog using the toy. When the dog is familiar with this assistant, he then goes into hiding with the toy. The handler asks the dog to search for the assistant and the toy. When the dog finds him, it is rewarded with praise and the toy. The assistant carries on playing these hide-and-seek games with the dog but with progressively complicated hiding places in different terrain.
Slowly, different people take the part of the assistant to get the dog accustomed to seeking out different people. The people may hide above ground or below ground. The dog must use its sense of smell to search for the human.
The handler uses motivation and encouragement more than any other reinforcement. Usually, a dog takes about 1 year to be a confident and successful rescue dog.