Search and rescue dog training looks to transform dogs into heroes

ROCKFORD, Mich. - The Kent Co. Search and Rescue Team is turning household dogs into modern day heroes through a special four-day seminar for dogs.

The four-day wilderness training at Camp Roger is for both canines and their handlers. It's a cooperative between the Search and Rescue Team and the Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States, bringing handlers and their furry friends from all over to learn new skills in three areas of study: wide area searches, human remains detection and trailing.

"We have a great air scent group here, so I brought myself all the way from Kansas," said Lillian Lockwood, one of the dog handlers.

Volunteers like Lillian are coming to West Michigan to turn their pets into some of the best and brightest rescue animals in America.

Ann Wichmann, an instructor and Evaluator with Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States (SARDUS), said there are about 30 dog handlers taking part in the four-day course.

"They're having to use their eyes, legs, and nose to locate hidden subjects they can’t see very well," Wichmann said. "We're just trying to teach people some new techniques and some new skills they can take back to their own teams."

Wichmann said search and rescues in the US are done by volunteers, so people give their time off work and away from families to come out and help people when they're lost or injured.

Kim Karr, Director of the Kent Co. Search and Rescue, says each year their dogs find more than 20 people during emergency situations, telling FOX 17 they're always looking for new recruits to join the team.

"It not only helps those handlers find the areas they’re good at but also pushes those limits and comfort zones while identifying those areas where they can improve," Karr said.

Sometimes training takes years for these dogs to become certified for official use. After the dogs and handlers complete state mandated testing and rigorous training, one day these dogs will help police agencies across the country locate and save missing people.

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