11.05.2020Training a search and rescue dog: From puppy to hero

The giant schnauzer Flint con todos los Santos, Malinois male dog Dakar de l' Arcane des Loups and Malinois female Dora vom Lothar Sturm are search and rescue dogs of the IRO member organisation SKV-KHD Feuerwehr Wien Rettungshunde. They were trained by the two experienced dog handlers Magdalena Koczera and Peter Schüler.


Magdalena has been working as a search and rescue dog handler since 1988 and Peter since 1992. For the selection of qualified search and rescue dogs they both not only have the experience needed but also the necessary intuition. "Flint was offered to us at the age of 14 months by a dog sportsman and it was immediately clear to us that this dog belongs to us. His eagerness to work and courage had convinced us within seconds", Magdalena describes the moment when they first met Flint. Dakar and Dora, on the other hand, were specifically selected by the two dog handlers. The trust in the breeder plays a very decisive role in finding puppies that can work as search and rescue dogs.


After a few days of getting used to their new home, Magdalena and Peter start to familiarise the puppies with different impressions they will be dealing with in the near future. "Especially the contact with people should be a pleasant experience for the search and rescue dog. That is why the puppy is confronted with as many positive contacts as possible during the socialisation phase", explains Peter. One of the first steps in the training is also to teach the dog to come immediately when it is called.


At the beginning of the training the puppies learn to search for their food in connection with a person. Later, depending on the dog, food is exchanged for prey (ball, bite tug, etc.). During training the dog is always kept in tension, because it never knows from which person found, it gets its reward or prey. "The tasks are always varied so that the dog does not know what to expect", Peter explains the process. Flint, Dakar and Dora quickly proved to be true masters in solving the search tasks and completed the several years of training with distinction.


In the organisation SKV-KHD Feuerwehr Wien Rettungshunde it is common that the dogs do not only work with one handler, but can apply their skills at any time, even with other handlers. "This system is important for us especially if the main dog handler is injured during a deployment or is temporarily unable to participate in missions for other reasons," explains Magdalena the background of the concept.


Flint is a true rubble specialist and has completed several missions in his career as a search and rescue dog, which started in March 2008. One mission, however, is still particularly vivid in the memories of the two dog handlers: the earthquake mission in Sumatra in 2009, when the IRO sent search and rescue dog units from Austria, Hungary, Germany and Slovenia to the badly hit region. Among them were Magdalena and Peter with Giant Schnauzer Flint. During the seven-day mission there was a situation that made their blood run cold: "Flint fell two stories down and was lost for us for a short time", Magdalena describes the frightening seconds. Fortunately, however, the male dog was not injured, but continued his search unperturbed by the crash. Search and rescue dogs are so concentrated and focused in their work that even such events do not harm their will to work. They are true heroes.


The two Malinois search and rescue dogs, Dakar and Dora, are not only trained for rubble operations but also for area and track searches. They have also successfully participated in national search and rescue operations on several occasions.

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