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The dog's profession - rescuer

Back in the 1500s, the monks of the monastery of Saint Bernard, high up in the mountains, used large dogs, which they later called Saint Bernards, to quickly find people under the thickest snow. When a blizzard hit the passages, they would tie small barrels of rum around their necks and send them out to look for people. When the dogs sniffed a person under the snow, they would use their powerful paws to dig them out, revive them and run back to the people to find help.

Dogs nose

There is no better device than a dog’s nose. In all Alpine countries, the rescue dog is a member of the relevant mountain service. St Bernard dogs are now rarely used. They have been replaced by Belgian Shepherds. French mountain gendarmes consider them the most suitable for mountain service.

A young male dog aged one and a half to two years is trained in a special course for two to three weeks. All training is based on the principle of play. The handler works with the dog for at least two hours three to four times a week. Gradually, the dog learns to find the human at a deeper and deeper levelin the following locations. This is also influenced by the experience of the guide. To reduce the search time, the handler, knowing how snow covers obstacles in nature and using his intuition, sends the dog to places where a human is likely to be.

The work has to be done quickly

Time is counted in minutes. A trained dog can smell the scent of a person and his belongings under two metres of snow. Without a dog, the chances of finding a person alive plummet: it takes a dog only 12 minutes to comb a 100 x 100 metre square, while it takes twenty rescuers 4 hours to probe the same area. When searching in open terrain, the dog finds a person within a few hundred metres of the rescuer.

After the devastating earthquakes in Mexico City and in Spitak, Kobe and Neftegorsk, dogs are not only serving in the mountains, but also helping to sweep up building collapses that occur in emergencies.

Today, the number of trained and certified dogs in Switzerland is the first. here more than 100. And the top spot goes to dratharas. But there are also shepherds, spaniels and rottweilers. The most desirable breeds are those that can cope well with the climate of the current area, or the area where the dog will be working.

There is as yet no scale for assessing dog breeds in terms of their ability to find victims. The main qualities required for the tasks are control, physical health (necessary when overcoming obstacles) and smell.

The dog must not only find but also show the handler the object of interest. To this end, special training introduces new elements into the dog’s work: it must be able to identify an object that is not characteristic of the area and be able to identify its owner from it.

When it finds a person, it must stop and give voice accordingly. People try their best to take care of their four-legged helpers. Although low-weight dogs are less likely to get their paws caught in concrete and glass debris, almost everyoneems wears special socks made of Kevlar (a material used to make soft bulletproof vests) on its paws when working.

It is difficult to say what helps the dog to find the human. A Russian spaniel, Lenia, and a Scottish Setter, Leslie, from the Central Aeromobile Rescue Team working at the Neftegorsk earthquake site, have found around 35 people alive. This was their first serious work. Neither the smells of ammonia nor petrol disturbed them. Eight hours a day of uninterrupted searching. At first, in order to check the quality of the search, they were made to go over the same places repeatedly and, when they were convinced that the dogs were pointing to the same victims, they were entrusted with independent searches.

By the second or third day, they could be considered veterans. The dogs were finding people even at a depth of 9 metres and seemed to have understood the tragedy that was unfolding here.

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