RINGWOOD, N.J. – When a person goes missing – whether an adult gets lost during a hike or a child wanders away from a campsite – law enforcement often rely on dogs to assist in the search.
But not just any dogs.
Search and rescue dogs must undergo hours of training to be proficient in things like finding human scent, detecting human remains and locating persons submerged under water, according to Diana Bzik, of West Milford, vice president of the Search and Rescue Council of New Jersey.
Bzik and her dog Storm are members of the Eagle Valley Search Dogs, a non-profit search and rescue team based out of High Falls, N.Y. Last month, the group along with Amigo Search and Rescue Dogs, hosted the Seventh Annual Water Workout Weekend at Monksville Reservoir in Ringwood.
The two-day event drew rescue K9 teams from North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. With the assistance of Ringwood Underwater Search and Recovery, the Mahwah Fire Department Dive Team and the Oradell Volunteer Fire Department, the dogs and their handlers went through a variety of training scenarios.
“It is kind of a joint training for the dive teams,” Bzik said. “They get to test their equipment, and go out and submerge themselves under water so the dogs can find them.”
Beginner dogs got used to people in dive gear first, on land, then in the water, when they swam to divers holding their favorite toys. “It teaches the dog when they are going to be around divers, they don’t have to be afraid, and that human scent in the water is actually very rewarding,” Bzark said.
The most advanced dogs searched for submerged human scent training aids, from the shoreline and an air boat. They test the water for scent and give an alert, like a bark, indicating something is under water.
Bzik said, when selecting dogs, it is important for them to have a high play drive. “The dogs are working hours upon hours during a search to find a human subject because they know they will get rewarded with their favorite toy.”
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