Parents with young children know that the shiny exhibits, lights sparkling off of fast-swimming fish, and the "unique" smell of penguins can be quite distracting for a child - can you imagine what the Aquarium must be like for a dog? Turns out, this sensory wonderland is the perfect place to train search and rescue dogs, which need to be ready to face any distraction!
Recently, the K9 Search & Rescue Association of the Western Cape made use of the Two Oceans Aquarium for some after-hours dog training!
K9SARA is a group of volunteers that trains air-scenting search dogs. These dogs assist Wilderness Search & Rescue and emergency services in activities like search and rescue for missing hikers, following the trails of missing persons. These trained dogs are much faster than human searchers, and can often find people hidden in areas humans wouldn't think to look.
Search and rescue dogs need to be confident in all situations, and to achieve this, they need to be habituated to all sorts of surfaces, lighting situations, noises, and distractions. This includes a wide variety of smells, especially the "human scents" left behind by the Aquarium's staff, volunteers, and visitors after a day's work.
When these dogs see real-world action, their search operations can sometimes take place inside buildings. Having a complex building layout with all sorts of nooks, crannies, industrial pumps, equipment hums, and glass barriers is a pretty great test of their canine skills!
It's not just the dogs that need to have their skills on point - over the two years that it takes to train a search and rescue canine, their handlers need to become well-acquainted with reading the dog's body language and signals so that they don't miss anything the dogs are trying to indicate.
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