America’s Rescue Dogs Got Talent!

Search and Rescue dog Frida at a training after finding a live ‘victim’

Watching one of the recent ‘America’s Got Talent’ and seeing the group of rescue dogs performing amazing tricks, reminded me of all the working rescue dogs out there. While we appreciate dogs, who were bred to relentlessly work on finding those roadside explosive devices or flushing out terrorists and criminals, there are more dogs coming out of a rescue situation, proving that they are just as excellent in doing their job. The National Search Dog Foundationis a non-profit organization, founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville, after she worked with her dog at the terrorist-bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City and realized, that there are not enough search and rescue dog teams in the Nation. The organization has volunteers and staff members combing through shelters throughout the country to find canines who fulfill the extraordinary skills it takes for them to become a search dog. They train the dogs, once rescued and now to become rescuers, and their handlers. Some of their dog teams have been at the 9/11 grounds, searched areas after Hurricane Katrina, went to Haiti and Japan, working hour after hour to find any living survivors. However dire the situation, when the search dogs appear, everything just seems a little bit better and a glimpse of hope returns.

Searching for bed bugs

But the Search Dog Foundation is not the only organization who employs former shelter dogs. Many groups turn to shelters in order to find those unadoptable high drive and toy crazy dogs. Often these dogs have been turned in by their owners, because they were not able to handle them, in some cases, they may have turned aggressive over their toys. Sometimes, the dogs would jump the fence over and over again, because they were just too bored. Dogs, who need a job, cannot be tired out by a brisk walk in the morning. They need a lot of mental exercise, high drive play, strenuous physical exercise and obedience training – not necessarily something, a typical pet dog owner knows how to do.

Finding a dog at the shelter and train it for work is as rewarding as winning the lottery for me, but it is also very hard to turn away a dog, who almost has the potential and may be too much for a pet, but is not quite there. For most sad stories, there are successes though. My own personal dog, Frida, who got rescued from a shelter in Los Angeles, is a Search and Rescue dog and I have been fortunate to since find and train dogs for many other jobs, such as cellphone, explosive, narcotics and contraband detection, even e.coli and bed bug detection. With the right dog, any K9 job can be done – there are many talents and hidden treasures in our shelters!

If you are toying with the idea of rescuing a dog, here is a starter on how to find the right companion for you. And how to select a dog from a breeder vs. a rescue. Most shelters and rescue organizations are looking for volunteers to walk or foster their dogs. This may be a good idea to get started and find out more about the responsibility of what it means to own a dog!

Contraband detection K9 during a break

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Bed Bug Hunting with Dogs

Most people have heard about the steady advancement of bed bugs in our cities. Maybe you have even been a victim of their bites. But did you know that help is on the way in form of our furry, four-legged friends?

Dogs have been trained to detect everything from explosives and narcotics, live human scent in disasters, even sea turtle eggs or e.coli and certain forms of cancer. Now they are being trained for finding live bed bugs – and they come with a powerful weapon! A dog’s mighty sniffer boasts over 200 million olfactory receptors, while ours has a modest 5 million. But that’s not all: the part of a dog’s brain that analyzes scents is roughly 40 times larger than ours. This makes dogs perfect for helping us finding the literal needle in the haystack.

Bed bugs produce a distinctive scent that even we can smell, if the infestation is large enough. Once you have an infestation that big though, it is very difficult to get rid of it. That is why it is so important to catch the creepy crawlies before they multiply. Bed bugs are about as big as an apple seed and do not necessarily stick to your bed area. Dogs can be very effective and find a single bed bug – or even live eggs in a room within minutes. While they certainly are not always 100% spot-on, they are far more effective than any alternative. They are trained to give a specific cue, mostly a passive sit, once they found the requested scent. It’s quite a sight to watch a dog catch a faint whiff and work its way towards the source of the smell. Once found, the dog sits and waits excitedly for the reward – in most cases a toy or food.

It takes special dogs to work day by day, hunting for that specific critter. Typically they are overly active and very focused on either their toy or food – so much so, that they would do anything for it. They can not be fearful or frightened by dark rooms, shiny floors or confined spaces. They should be social, as they will encounter many people during work. Although many people believe, that beagles are the ideal breed for this particular detection, there are many breeds and mixes that work at least as well. The training typically takes 4 – 8 weeks, depending on the dog.

Here are a couple of common bed bug myths:

  • Bed bugs are so small, they cannot be seen by the naked eye.
    This is probably the one line we hear the most. It seems, many people mistake bed bugs for mites. Depending on when their last meal was, they are 3mm to 5mm in size and dark to a lighter brown. They are flat if they haven’t eaten for a while and blow up after a meal. Freshly hatched babies and eggs are more difficult to spot. Bed bugs are not clean and evidence can often be found: shed skins, blood and empty eggs.
  • Throwing cloths and pillows into the freezer for 24 hours will kill bed bugs.
    You may have a chance to freeze the bugs to death if you keep the clothing and pillows in the freezer for several days. A better chance, however, is your dryer – put everything in there and dry it at high temperature. Don’t forget the shoes!
  • Washing the bed sheets will get rid of bed bugs.
    Although this may get rid of the bugs that are on the bed sheets, it is likely, that you have more of the nasty buggers crawling around.

For more information about bed bugs and bed bug detection dogs, visit  rocksolidk9.com.