Search Dogs

Steve ‘Gruff’ Garofalo and Finn, Oct 2011

The partnership between dog and man is a very ancient one. Dogs being the very first animals to be domesticated. I once read an article which stated that without dogs civilisation would never have progressed in the way it has because, the presence of dogs with their superior sense of smell hearing and night vision increased the chances of our ancestors surviving nights out in open country where they were vulnerable to predators. Dogs have played a very large part in our history as guards, hunting companions, war dogs, rug rats, sledge dogs, disability dogs and of course search dogs. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to train and work my three search dogs. Over the last 24 years they have been my closest companions spending more time in my company than family members and friends. It’s an ancient fraternity and one which is very satisfactory for both parties.
Dogs are predators you only have to look at the business end of a dog to realise that. Their jaws are set with teeth which are designed to either seize pray or shear through flesh and bone. People are very rarely actually bitten by dogs they are usually given a painful warning squeeze. You only have to watch a dog breaking up a raw bone to realise how much they hold back with us and each other. Their eyes are set forward to give stereoscopic vision, they have good hearing and a sense of smell which is probably only exceeded by that of bears. The whiskers are there to detect the wind direction.
Dogs have been bred to all shapes and sizes. But in the working and hunting breeds which are most free from exaggeration you can still see the lines of the running machines they are descended from. Being descended from wolves they are also cold adapted many breeds still retain double coats. Arteries and veins pass close to each other in the limbs to act as heat exchangers warming blood as it returns to the heart. Much heat and moisture is reclaimed from exhaled air as it passes through the dogs nose and blood flow to extremities is retained in cold conditions so they do not freeze as easily as ours do. The main muscle blocks which operate the legs are placed high up and close to the body so they stay warm and work better in the cold. Compared to humans they are well hard and really will survive in conditions which will kill many other domestic animals. Think of Captain Scott’s ponies and ponies are not soft. I know of two search dogs which have been lost in severe winter weather and were found several days later none the worse but for a little weight loss. Both dogs were lost in blizzards and ended up sleeping in the snow with no food. Unfortunately the down side is that if you lock one in a car on a warm day it will die.

Photo Steve and Finn Widdop
Dogs are descended from wolves which spend most of their waking hours on the move looking for prey. Hunting is a war of attrition where the next meal is chased and harried until it turns at bay and can be pulled down. Like humans wolves live in groups. Unlike humans they do not operate the hypocrisy of equality and every dog and bitch knows its place. But the pack mentality is the reason why they fit so well with us. Mountaineering like many hobbies is a substitute for hunting, most things that dogs are trained to do are merely corruptions of the dogs pack and predatory instincts, we merely channel what the dog does naturally.
Thus we come to mountain rescue. The history of mountain rescue dogs in Britain really begins with Hamish McInnes the fox of Glencoe. Prior to that dogs had been used during the wars to locate soldiers and civilians. In the Alps dogs had been used to locate avalanche victims for centuries. It was during an Alpine trip that Hamish McInnes saw some dogs being trained and had the idea of introducing them to Scotland to rescue climbers who’d been avalanched. It was soon realised that trained dogs could be used to locate any missing mountaineers and the Search and Rescue Dog Association was born. The meetings were biannual and took place in Scotland and the Peak District. The association soon broke up into Scotland, England and Wales. The Celts have always liked to divide and be conquered and so we now have North Wales, South Wales, Highlands and Southern Scotland. England stayed intact until the Lockerbie air disaster caused a massive influx of wanna be dog handlers. The pressure proved to much for some in the existing regime and then the Lakes split off because they could. The separate associations each like to think they are the best but the they are roughly similar the trained dogs all being highly competent. The people living in areas with the densest contour lines like to think they are the better hill men but as the majority of British mountaineers live in towns and cities they are deluding themselves. British mountaineering is the sport of the urban proletariat and the more urban teams have access to a good stock of mountaineering types. They are just a bit more rough and ready, that’s all.
I belong to SARDA England and we are the charity which takes responsibility for training mountain rescue team members and there dogs to become competent search units. Rossendale team has ancient links with SARDA previous dog handlers were Brian Beavors who’s now dead, Joe Cummins a lass, Peter Durst who had two dogs, Ian [Kip] Brown who had two dogs, Bill Jennison who is now in SARDA Southern Scotland, myself still current and on dog number three, Helen Morten two dogs and now on dog number three with North Wales, Mike Tynan, Anita Hargreaves and her husband Dave Herbert. The list is in chronological order and spans four decades. Brian Veavors and Jo Cumming were active in the seventies, Peter Durst graded his first dog in 1978 and retired his second dog in the late nineties, Ian Brown had the son and grandson of Peter Durst first dog Jan and was active during the eighties and nineties. Bill Jennison defected to Rossendale from CRO during the eighties. I graded my first dog Skye in 1990 she was a daughter of Ian browns first dog Roscoe and Roy my second dog was Roscoes grandson and could trace his line back to many illustrious dogs and bitches. Of all the teams dogs Roy truly stood out as a character. He was like a dog out of a Jack London story.An intelligent rogue of a dog I really miss him. Next came Helen Morten who trained and graded two dogs while she was with the team from the early nineties to the noughties. Mike Tynan graded a dog in the nineties and the last two new dog Handlers were Anita and her husband Dave Herbert who parted from the team soon after getting married. Roy wore well and consequently I left replacing him a little to long. His successor is Finn who passed the grading test in January of this year Roy having died in 2008.


SARDA England is the association which controls the training and standards of mountain rescue dogs in England outside of the lakes although there are no bars to lakes handlers joining England. After all the ancient kingdom of Cumbria which used to stretch from Lancashire to Strathclyde has been part of England for a long time now. The principle purpose of the association is to train mountain rescue team members and their dogs to be competent search units. There are three principle groups within the association: the graded handlers who are all members, the bodies many of whom are honoury members and the trainee handlers of whom it can be said many are called but few are chosen. The road to becoming a dog handler is a long one. For me it started in 1982 when I first joined the team. I bodied [acted as a volunteer who hides for the dogs] for the first time in July 1985 at Wasdale. I got my first dog a border collie bitch called Skye in 1987. Registered her in 1988 at eight months old and graded her in 1990.Seven years after becoming a full team member in 1983. All the members of SARDA either are or have been dog handlers and because you have to be a mountain rescue team member to train a dog we are all part of the same fraternity. Training a search dog is something you do largely alone away from your team. Consequently the association attracts a high proportion of individualist, mavericks and eccentrics. Training a dog requires an odd combination of stubborn determination and pragmatism. This is reflected in the personalities of many of the dog handlers who react to knock downs by getting up and attacking from a different direction or in a different way. It’s the members who provide the trainers, assessors and administrators of the association. Although some of the honorary members perform invaluable offices. The majority of offices are performed by full members of the association the major difference with the team being that we have three training officers each taking care of a different level of training. Funding come from voluntary donations and sponsorship.

A very important arm of the association consists of the bodies. These are the people who hide for the dogs. They come from a wide range of backgrounds some are mountain rescue team members, some are serving their time as bodies before they train their own dogs, some are friends and family of dog handlers and others are just there for the social side of the association and the opportunity to take part in an activity which saves lives. Being a body requires the ability to survive in the British climate for several hours at a time without moving and thus bodies tend to be bivouac kings and queens. Some take great delight in finding devious hiding places and others just use bodying as an opportunity to sleep off last night’s beer. Some perform offices for instance both the booking officer and the web master are bodies and others are happy to be social members either way the bodies perform an invaluable service and make a massive contribution to the training of search dogs. I bodied from 1985 untill 1988 and at Lockerbie there was not a single English search dog which I had not contributed to the training of in some way, I could not make that claim now. For team members bodying offers not only the chance to improve your bivouac skills but also the chance to meet MR personnel from all over the country and develop a more cosmopolitan attitude to mountain rescue. For anyone with a vague intention of training a dog it’s best to start bodying before you get the dog, The most important abilities of a body are to do as you are asked and to be able to take care of yourself in a hostile environment, also it helps if you like dogs.
To become a trainee handler you have to have be a mountain rescue team member and you have to have bodied for the association for at least six months. Dog handlers cannot act in isolation. We are only truly useful with the back up of a team. A team is necessary to provide co-ordination, communication, sophisticated casualty care and ultimately casualty evacuation. Being a search dog handler is a specialisation and before embarking on this course a team member should have a good all round back ground within mountain rescue. Because once you embark upon training a dog you will have much less time for your team and acquiring the skills and experience necessary to follow your chosen course. The only thing that sets an M.R. team apart from a St Johns ambulance unit is that our members should be able and competent enough to cope with an upland environment in virtually any conditions. There are many people out there who could train a search dog but they are not mountaineers. As a dog handler you can expect to be called out to any part of the country and the team calling you will expect a competent hill person who does not need to be looked after. Dog teams often work in small groups or alone, often at night and conditions have to be pretty grim before they will not be turned out. To be effective you need to be a master of the environment. An experienced team member and very competent on the hill able to cope with being on steep ground, winter conditions, night navigation and the fact that you may have to look after someone else besides yourself. I said earlier that among the trainees many are called but few are chosen. This was more true when I started and as many as two thirds of prospective dog handlers never made it onto the call-list. More recently things have improved but there is still a very high wastage rate among new trainee members. Many find that that they cannot commit the time, others realise that they are out of their depth and a very large portion do not have the ability to train a working dog to a set standard. Most skills can be learned and with application and practise experience can be gained. Whilst training animals is a discipline where the application of technique will gain a desired result. There is also a deeper element where some people just seem able to communicate their wishes to animals better than others. Much depends upon body language and attitude, much of which develops as we grow up and cannot easily be undone in adulthood. There are no short cuts in dog training, but if you have the relevant skills and experience and the kind of resilient personality, which in the words of Rudyard Kipling “can meet both triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.” Then it might be worth getting started and it starts with securing the support of the team leadership and six months bodying.

The association insist on six months bodying for a number of reasons: it gives prospective dog handlers and the association a chance to get to know each other, it gives you a chance to see how we train our dogs and handlers, it test the commitment of people intending to join the association and finally getting people to lie out on the British moors and mountains all year round in all weathers is not without it’s dangers. It gives you an opportunity to learn what you are asking of people and realise the dangers. I bodied for two and a half years before I started my first dog and to this day I never forget to thank the bodies. I can honestly tell you that unless the sun is shining directly on you it is never warm in this country. From the team leaderships point of view besides considering the applicants competence with respect to technical skills personality issues such as integrity and self honesty should also be considered. Dog handlers frequently work alone and liars and people who constantly overestimate their skills will not give accurate information during a debriefing and make poor ambassadors for their teams.
If after a period of acting as a body you still want to train a dog. Then it is time to get a dog. Broadly speaking the best dog to start with is a Border Collie bitch. They are highly trainable mature quickly and have long working lives. Dogs are marginally better than bitches, being stronger they can accept a greater work load and tending to have bigger heads they are thought to have a better sense of smell. The down side is that they are more wilful and easily distracted and to get the best out of them you have to get them on your side. Whilst to a novice I would recommend a collie any breed of working dog will do depending on the abilities of the trainer. But common sense applies you need a dog that will cover ground easily, is not to big to manhandle into a helicopter and which is hardy enough to cope with the British climate. A dog from a tractable breed would also be a good idea unless you like challenges and want to minimise your chances. Most search dogs are border collies, which have completely displaced German shepherds and Labradors as the primary choice over the last thirty or so years. Whilst border collies and border collie crosses are by far the most popular choice other breeds represented over the years include golden retrievers, Labradors, German wire haired pointers, German smooth haired pointers, German shepherds, Springer spaniels, a smooth collie [like mine], Lakeland curs and a variety of mongrels. Many people have tried and failed with different breeds. But as it is generally the handler and not the dog which fails it would be unfair to write off alternative breeds. Any free moving, trainable and hardy breed of dog should be able to do the job. Trainability is something which has been selectively bred into dogs and some have it more than others regardless of intelligence. If you are thinking of obtaining a dog to train seek advice and choose carefully.
The training of a dog starts the minute you get it. If you start with a puppy which I think is the wisest choice then you are going to bring it up. Getting an older dog can side step a lot of issues, but you may have to sort out somebody else mistakes. In order for the dog to be registered and progress through search dog training it must pass an introductory assessment and a stock test. Much of Britain’s open land is farmland and much of Britain’s upland is grazed by sheep. Therefore our dogs have to be safe to work around an through sheep. The stock test usually takes place in a small field where a flock of sheep will be encouraged to mill around your dog and its behaviour monitored. Not only will the feelings of SARDA members be monitored but also the feeling of the farmer. This is because the stock test is also a PR exercise where we aim to maintain the confidence of those who own the stock on the land we train on. Stock training should start early and largely consist of redirecting the dogs instinct to chase away from animals and onto an inanimate object like a ball and then through the ball onto people acting as casualties. The dog may be stock tested many times throughout its life especially if there are doubts about its safety with sheep. In the introductory assessment you must demonstrate that the dog will bark on command, sit, lie down, come when called, stop and lie down on a recall, walk to heel on and off the lead and do a stay for ten minutes with you out of sight for five minutes. All the above is useful to the dog throughout its life. We rely on our dogs to bark as a means of indicating a find. Basic obedience is necessary for the dogs safety and the drop on recall can save you in a precarious situation where the dog is hurtling back to you. The stay is very useful when you are busy with other things and need the dog to lie still and out of the way. Obedience training is very important. It builds up your relationship and understanding with the dog and gives you a chance to gain experience at dog training, The standard is not very high but the handler must demonstrate that he can control his dog and do a few basics. The good news is that we now have an introductory group and you will be trained in your training and be taught the subtleties of action, reward, repetition and reward links. But often the hardest part of training a dog is training the handler.

Finn as a puppy

On passing the introductory assessment the prospective dog team will pass into stage one training. This is where the dog will learn to do a find sequence. A find sequence requires the dog to perform a series of actions these are: find the body, bark for the body, return to the handler, bark for the handler, return to the body, bark for the body and keep doing this until the body and handler are together and the dog gets its reward. Human beings let alone animals struggle to perfect complex activities and we usually know what the objective is. A dog has no way of knowing what its trainer wants until it has been shown and it has to be shown a bit at a time otherwise it will be confused. To train animals complex actions dog trainers use a process known as reverse chaining where you teach the very last part first and then work backwards. The very last thing the dog gets is a reward so it must be taught what the reward is and be made very keen to get it before training can progress. If the handler has been listening to advice the dog should already be “ball pissed” that is mad keen to play retrieving games. We prefer toys to food because toys are more portable and a dog that is focused on a food reward is possibly more likely to treat a victim as a meal. The dog is then taught that when it barks it gets a game, and then its taught that when it barks for a body it gets a game and then its taught that when it finds a body and barks it gets a game and so on until it has learned the find sequence. This all takes a considerable amount of input from the body and ideally only a body who is good with dogs and enthusiastic should be used or a dog handler, For the novice it’s best to have a dog handler present as he or she will be able to spot when things are going wrong at an early stage before problems become ingrained in the dog. The find sequence is the most important thing that a search dog learns. It must be an automatic response that upon crossing a cone of human scent the dog will do its best to locate its source, indicate its find and lead the handler to the missing person. It must be what trainers call a conditioned response. The find sequence is not always easy to teach some dogs are to body focused which is not all bad and some are to handler focused and would rather bark and interact with the handler than return to the body. This is where the toy comes in as it becomes easy to shift the interest of the dog to where you need it. Getting the dog to air scent rather than ground track is also introduced at this stage as the distance between the handler and the body is increased the body will run off in a “c” shaped line ensuring that the dog will cross the scent cone as it runs out to the body and very quickly learn that this is the fastest way becoming a dog that hunts with its head up rather than down. Find sequence work can be boring for both handler and dog so it’s best if the training is done in short sharp burst with a strong emphasis on play and regular changes of bodies and terrain. Once the dog is proficient distances can be gradually increased and obstacles introduced giving the team chance to gain experience and confidence. However, at the slightest sign of a fault the dog handler must not be afraid to take a step back and re-enforce the dogs find sequence. Throughout the dogs life the minimal amount of training it should receive is regular find sequence work.
Of course throughout writing this I have assumed that the prospective handler being a mountaineering fell walking type has been taking his dog out onto the hills on walks of gradually increasing length as the dog has matured and grown stronger. That first twelve months where the dog transforms from a puppy whose joints have to be protected to a young dog boiling over with life soon pass and so does the opportunity to make a mountaineer out of the dog. Taking your dog onto the fells is as important as the rest of its training so that it can acquire field skills, learn to recognise hazards and build up its fitness at a steady and sensible rate. You must always bear in mind that up until being twelve months old a dog should not be over exercised.
Once the dog has demonstrated that it has a bomb proof find sequence it will be moved up to stage two training. This is where it will begin to work areas and have to start using it’s instincts to hunt. As with all dog training the trick at this stage is to make sure nothing goes wrong and give the dog every chance of success. To begin with there is nothing wrong with the dog knowing that there is someone out there. Letting it see the bodies going out and even having them call it’s name are all legitimate practises. The bodies should have radios to tell the handler when the dog has been to them, or at least the handler should know exactly where the body is. The handler should not make a “B” to line for the bodies but should try to make the dog do the work by crossing the wind so that the dog gets the opportunity to pick up the air scent and hunt up to the bodies. Always remember that the apparent and true wind direction seldom coincide. At the level of a dogs nose ground features play a much larger part in the behaviour of the wind. So be patient and let the dog work it’s magic. When the dog finds the body, the body should be at least if not more enthusiastic in rewarding the dog as the handler. Most people’s stay in stage two is very short, the majority seem to move onto stage three very quickly or as in the case of a few get bounced back down to stage one. The principle problems arising out of lack of consolidation in the training of the find sequence. Once the dog shows that it can work enthusiastically for over twenty minutes between finds and that it is not fazed by run of the mill obstructions that it encounters whilst running down a scent to find a body. Run of the mill features being streams, gullies, scree and small crags. It is ready for stage three.
Stage three is the point at which the handler really starts to learn to work the dog. It is very important that before the dog arrives at this stage that it has a sound find sequence and is motivated and enthusiastic to work. This stage often sorts out the mountain rescue people from the rescue people because the areas get bigger and more rugged and the final months of consolidation take place in the winter season. As the team progresses they will be expected to work larger and larger areas without knowing where the bodies have been placed. Working areas is theoretically easy all you have is a box with a few obstructions in it such as streams crags and gullies. So all you have to do is take your air scenting dog to the upwind end and start working. As with all things in mountaineering and war for that matter the best laid plans seldom survive contact with the enemy. Search areas can be very confusing places. It’s surprising how much the ground changes once you are on it and how obvious lines and boundaries evaporate or change shape once you are in close proximity. Also learning how to cope with your attention divided between working the dog, keeping your footing, finding your way around and maintaining a logical search pattern isn’t easy. These are all skills that can only be acquired with practise and experience. Methods of working areas vary from handler to handler. I am very conservative and tend to walk up the upwind or collecting boundary and then zig zag down from top boundary in a series of large sweeps being constantly ready to change my over all plan in the face of changes. It’s a good thing to remember that area searching is about clearing ground not finding bodies the bodies are only placed there to stop the dog from getting bored.
The three courses leading up to the annual course are in reality mini assessments where the dogs thought most likely to be ready for the annual course in January are sifted and tested to see if they have a good chance of passing.  Those who put on a good show in the closing months of the year are then invited to attend the annual course which is based in Borrowdale in January. The fact that you have been invited means that you are expected but not guaranteed to pass. The test takes place on the Cumbrian mountains and the areas are chosen for their steep chossy nature and the ease with which they can be observed from a vantage point in the valley bottom. For the handlers and dogs it’s three days of clambering around on scree and blocks which are either iced or greasy and sometimes a combination of both. I have yet to know the assessment stop for weather and it can be a stern test of all involved including the assessors and bodies. During the assessment the dogs are tested for reliability. During the course of each day the dogs are worked over a series of large areas and then marked on their performance. Features such as the dogs hunting abilities, its indication, its willingness to take the handler back to the body and the teams ability to cover the areas are scrutinised and weaknesses probed for. It would be possible to find everybody on the course and still fail through poor area coverage or an inconsistent performance by the dog or handler. Other big faults are if the dog fails to indicate a find or attacks a sheep. Membership of the association is about trust and during debriefing the handler is expected to know what he has done and own up to mistakes. The final question is would you trust that team to search for a close relative tonight. If through three days of winter weather slipping and sliding, depression and exhilaration you’ve cleared your areas and found all your bodies then the chances are that you’ve passed and qualified to join one of the most exclusive dog clubs in the world. Your reward will be a plastic dog tag, a couple of dog jackets, and a waterproof coat. The total value of which will not cover a fraction of the cost of training the dog and if it’s your first dog you can look forwards to repeating it all over again next year only to pass at upgrade you need to be better. The principle purpose of the upgrade being to ensure that the novice dog handler has continued to train and improve. Don’t expect to much adulation from your team either. Most of them took no part in that 18 month to 2 year labour of love. They never saw the ups the downs. They were sat in front of the telly while you flogged up and down dark hillsides cursing the winter rain. They have no concept of what you have done and what’s more when you get to the other end of the journey and it’s time to dig that dogs grave they won’t be there either.

Finn on exercise

Searches are the real business of the search dog handler. A dog is reckoned to be the worth ten men in daylight and possibly a whole team in the dark. Statistics show dogs to be about 99% effective and actual misses where a dog has been appropriately deployed are virtually unknown. An air scenting dog has the ability to cover vast areas of ground without actually going there. The wind does the work for it. It does not need an uncontaminated scent item or a scent line to follow it needs no start point and once an experienced dog is rolling it hardly needs its handler. A dog will work quite happily in conditions where a helicopter cannot fly and their noses are much harder to fool than even the most modern technology. The weakest link in a dog team is the handler which is why dog handlers should seek to be as hill fit and competent as possible.
In an ideal world dogs would be the first resource deployed on searches and would be deployed to high probability areas in the hope of providing a fast conclusion. In reality this seldom happens. Problems are caused by getting dogs to the search and the travel times involved, reluctance to involve outside resources in dubious searches and deranged team leaders who want to make sure their boys get the glory. I’ll never forget rolling up to one of our call-outs with Roy. It was a job on Pendle where someone had phoned in and reported finding a man with a leg injury. Heli-med was there and was ferrying team members up to look for him. In spite of being amongst the first to arrive we were the last to be flown up. I could have searched several square miles in that time and at least confirmed that it was a hoax. One can only wonder at what was going through the mind of the then leader, perhaps not much.
Once deployed dogs work in several different ways. In large spaces like fell sides and open moorland we can form a sweep line. With a spacing of 30m or around 100ft you can see what a ground eating machine such a sweep line is. At other times we work in pairs clearing opposite banks of a river or the opposite sides of a ridge. Mostly dog handlers work alone and this takes a strong mind set and the ability to set limits on your imagination. It also requires good hill skills because you will often not be on familiar terrain. Most of the teams searches take place on urban fringe areas. These searches often offer the hardest ground with human as well as natural barriers to contend with. For these searches I prefer to link in with a search party using the dog where appropriate and strengthening the party.
For most team members their chief point of contact with dog handlers will be to act as navigators. The idea being to pair the none local dog handler with a local guide, all to often with many teams you end up with the fellow who was always last to be picked for the school football team and who most members of his team can’t work with. The ideal navigator would be a mountaineering paramedic with a comprehensive first aid kit or at least someone who can navigate. Should you find yourself acting as a navigator for a dog handler make sure you know what his mission is and do as he ask. If he is not very communicative try not to get between him and his dog and try not to distract the dog. It goes without saying that if you are navigating you should keep a track of the party’s position, this has become much easier with the advent of sat navs but use your map and try to maintain a picture of what’s going on. If there is a high likelihood that the missing person is dead and you really have problems with such things it might be best if you find another role because there may be only two people at the find and the dog handler will need you to keep your act together. Should you be approached by a search dog on a search it is best to try and identify the dog and tell the handler or at least report your encounter to control. It’s generally best to let dogs go in front as they move much more quickly than a sweep line or even a party search and you will be less of a distraction to the dog if it is moving away from you.
Finally search dog are only trained and certified to locate living people using airborne scent. Whilst many great claims are made about dogs finding weeks old dead bodies and bodies festering under fathoms of water they cannot be relied upon for dead body searches. Search dogs like people get bored and will sometimes, when they have been working for a long period, indicate on a strong source of human scent. So the dog indicating on a river bank may have located a body in the weir 50m upstream or it might just be indicating on the spot where a fisherman sat for several hours earlier that day. I’ve seen many search dogs around dead bodies and they all treated them with supreme indifference. The problem is that dogs live in a scent orientated world and once someone dies within a few days all the residual smell that the dog identifies as human is gone and the body just becomes an object to the dog. The whole process is accelerated with heavy rain and a frozen body will give off very little scent (Though a dog is still the best tool for finding avalanche victims). In some ways a well trained dog is more likely to ignore a long dead body than an untrained one. Because when it’s being worked it will concentrate on its specific task which is to find live people not lumps of dead protein. However search dogs do find dead bodies. Many of these are people who have not been missing long, Sometimes the dogs actually locate not on the bodies but on objects such as rucksacks which may for some reason retain scent longer than a body. I also believe that dogs can have “Lassie moments” where they recognise the situation and respond appropriately, But I would not depend upon a dog to do anything more than it has been trained to do. The simple truth is that the longer someone has been dead the less chance there is of the dog finding them. Though Roy did once have a good roll in the ashes which had been spread on the lawn at the back of a crematorium. Maybe he was trying to tell me something or perhaps he just wanted more body in his coat.

Gruff 2011