In avalanche searches, rescue dogs look for persons buried under snow and boulders. Here, every second counts, as avalanche victims’ lives are always in danger: there is the threat of death by hypothermia, injuries, exhaustion, or suffocation. For this reason, avalanche search dog teams often operate stand-by services in at-risk regions during the winter months, in order to be able to be deployed immediately in an emergency.
Avalanche teams must undergo special training, because searching in avalanches places special demands on man and animal: transport by helicopter, chairlift, gondola, and snowcat must be trained and mastered; the dog must learn to accompany his ski-propelled dog handler and abseil with him from great heights.
For this reason, avalanche training can only take place on real terrain. As a result, our teams regularly attend appropriate seminars in the Alps.
When are avalanche search dogs used?
Avalanche search dogs are always used when people are buried under snow or boulders due to avalanches. In these missions, the avalanche search team works as a biological location unit together with technical locating means. In this process, dogs cannot be distracted or irritated by human search chains with probes or approaching helicopters.
How does a avalanche search dog communicate a discovery?
As with debris searches, rescue dogs always indicate the point of the strongest scent in the avalanche. This is indicated by barking and/or digging in the snow.
The goal of training is for the dog to also dig through metre-thick layers of snow toward the buried person and bark until the arrival of the handler.
Why is avalanche search training carried out in areas far away from the Alps?
A question that is more than justified: if there is an avalanche in the mountains, our teams would never arrive at the area on time in order to save lives.
For this reason, in the Bundesverband Rettungshunde e.V. avalanche search is not practised with the aim of actual application in missions. Avalanche searches are trained in a mission-relevant way, but primarily serve the purposes of developing a habit of digging into the debris and motivating our dogs to search for buried persons.
In debris, as with avalanches, rescue dogs are faced with buried persons and must learn to clearly indicate their discovery at the point of the strongest scent.
This can be excellently trained in avalanches: snow is odour-neutral, and so young and inexperienced dogs quickly succeed. The fact that the dog is allowed to dig up its discovered person additionally increases the motivation for searching.
Avalanche searches are thus a great introduction to working in debris on the one hand, and also great fun for our experienced debris search dogs on the other hand.