Molly, the Search Dog

Molly was born in September 2000.

Molly as a puppy

Back in 2005, some people in a forum suggested that owners of any kind of dog should try "search". So, out of interest and because I thought it would be fun, I and my Pembroke corgi Molly joined a team training dogs for searching people in the forest, in the field, and in the ruins of buildings. In our team were Labradors, Golden Retrievers, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Newfoundland.

Trainings were once a week and often took place far from home so I had to take the whole day off. Because most of the training was in winter it was often very cold.

The dog's task is to search the area on command and when detecting a human to alert by barking and stay at the place of discovery until the dog's owner/handler arrives. As the dog can move quite a distance away from the handler, it is necessary that he issues a bark alert on finding the victim so that his position can be located.

This is how search dogs are trained.
The easiest part is to teach the dog the command "Bark!"

Phase 1
The dog sits next to his handler. A subject (assistant) starts playing with the dog and shows him a treat or a toy depending on the dog's preferences. The subject then runs away and hides, e.g. around the corner of the building or, if you are in a forest, behind a big tree. This should arouse the dog's interest to catch and find the subject. On the command "Search", the dog will run after the subject and when he finds him, he will be given the command "Bark" and as soon as he barks, he is rewarded with a treat or his favorite toy. The same routine will be repeated with a number of other subjects. It is important to train in different terrains and with many different subjects because the dog must learn to pick up the human scent and not the scent of a specific individual.

Thus the dog will learn that he must search for a human in a given area and that by barking on finding the person, he will be given a treat or a toy. My Molly was very keen on food so she was trained with treats.

Phase 2
The task becomes more difficult. The dog is now prevented from seeing the subject running away and where he is hiding: in a pit, behind a tree, under a plywood plate or in a box, etc. The handler then gives the dog the command to search; when the dog finds the hiding place, he barks. The subject waits a few moments before coming out of hiding, then praises the dog enthusiastically and rewards him with a treat or a toy. Gradually the dog is trained to wait for an increasingly longer time at the site of discovery and not to leave it before the handler has arrived.
If the dog has found the place where the subject is hiding, but doesn't bark, the subject gives the "Bark" command and tries to make the dog bark.

Phase 3
The subject waits very quietly in the hiding place, without talking or moving. The dog must find the human and alert by barking. If a person buried under rubble is unconscious, he can't make himself heard.

Once the dog has understood what it is all about, the subjects hide in places where they are more difficult to find. We trained in the forest and in the field. We also trained in abandoned buildings. Dogs learn to walk carefully on broken glass, though they can wear special boots.

Dogs that like to work and know what is expected of them don't need treats or toys. But dogs are different. For some dogs the handler's praise is enough, others you need to play with to keep their interest going.

Corgis undoubtedly are intelligent dogs. Molly understood everything she was requested to do and did her task well. However, it was quite difficult for her to walk in deep snow or to search in wreckage because of her short legs.

The final test took place in an unfinished building. There were 2 or 3 hidden "victims" (I can't remember exactly how many). I was to send Molly off. She was expected to search the entire building, room by room, for human scent. When she picked up a scent she stopped and barked. One man hiding in a shelter sat quietly and without moving as if he was unconscious.
Molly found all the hidden people and passed the test. As I hadn't planned to use Molly as a search dog, I gave up training.

Molly, alias Smollett (Dannidaks Mon Repos x Ingermanland Amor), was also shown.
She died in March 2014.

Svetlana Moiseenko, Russia

My thanks go to Margarita Vychugzhanina (Dannidaks Welsh Corgis) for putting me in contact with Svetlana (ANo).