Continuing on our exploration on discovering the world of canine units and rescue dogs, after having explored the work of search and rescue dogs, the time has come to focus on the job of rubble search dogs which, especially in recent years following the tragic earthquakes in Italy, we are now used to seeing in action.
As our friends from the Federazione Italiana Cani da Soccorso di Valdagno (the Valdagno Rescue Dog Federation) can attest, the relationship between man and dog is always an essential requirement to be able to carry out a rescue operation. Above all, it is crucial that this relationship is positive, trusting and equal.
All breeds are equally as suitable. What matters is that the dog has a balanced character and good temperament, excellent olfactory qualities and an agile physique, allowing it to work on rough terrain for entire days. Amongst the best are the mixed-breeds, Maremma Sheepdogs, Labradors, German Shepherds and Border Collies.
Thanks to their first-rate sense of smell, dogs can quickly identify people buried under rubble, accelerating their rescue and increasing the change for survival. Dogs are therefore irreplaceable components during emergency operations, such as following earthquakes or natural catastrophes.
How does training occur? Training usually takes place through play and positive reinforcement techniques, whereby man’s best friend is rewarded each time they respond correctly to a command. The dogs are trained to sniff out the scent of a human, being a difficult task given that it depends a lot on how the rubble has collapsed and how many air holes there are, being that the more space there is, the simpler it is for the dog to detect the smell as per its training.
Training exercises are effectuated in fields of debris set up ad-hoc or in large open spaces. For example, Federazione Italiana Cani da Soccorso (FEDICS – the Italian Rescue Dogs Federation) usually offers training sessions at Forte Sommo Alto, in Folgaria, being a fortress built during World War I that today is a perfect location for simulating an earthquake-affected area. It is not easy to manoeuvre between narrow and dark tunnels and the ruins, but it is definitely crucial to learning the fieldwork and becoming used to the most risky situations.
By regulation, Fido is the first to be able to “trod” over the rubble, being fast, light and with greater balance even on disjointed and dangerous terrains. Upon locating the person beneath the debris, the dog’s task is signal and begin to bark, thus indicating the presence of a missing person. Only at this point is the pooch removed from the area and the rescue workers intervene.
Rescue dogs are truly courageous, capable of facing improbable and dangerous situations, such as the tremors and dust caused by collapses, all whilst saving lives. Theirs is not a simple tasks, but we know all too well just how altruistic and generous animals are in being prepared for anything – even to sacrifice themselves – to help those who are in trouble. To them, a sincere thank you!