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How to train Labrador rescue dogs

Law enforcement and natural disaster response teams are often largely dependent upon the help of rescue dogs (or search-and-rescue dogs) to find trapped or lost human beings, or sometimes, in the worst cases, corpses. The most common breeds favored for this kind of work are Burmese mountain dogs, Saint Bernards and, last but certainly not least, Labrador Retrievers. The successful training of a Labrador rescue dog in particular is dependent on several factors, including the dedication of the handler, and the disposition of the dog.

Burmese mountain dogs, Saint Bernards and Labrador Retrievers are among the most common breeds favored for search-and-rescue training. Their roles may include all or some of the following: wilderness rescue, avalanche searches, drowning searches, natural disasters, and in some cases, corpse retrieval.

Training a Labrador rescue dog is as much about becoming a trusted friend of the dog as it is about the dog learning the skills necessary to become successful at search-and-rescue. Rescue training is very intensive and lasts for many months or years, and typically begins when the puppy is between eight and ten weeks old. It is important that search-and-rescue dogs begin training and discipline early in life. Deployment may begin as early as six to eighteen months after the training has commenced.

Like human beings, Labradors have their own personalities and eccentricities. It is important for the handler to become familiar with the body language of the dog that they are training. For example, a dog may have a distinct stance when they have made a find in the field. The dog may return to the handler, sit, and give him a very distinct look, or perhaps even bark. As a result, one of the most important things to keep in mind while training a rescue dog is the bond that is being developed between the handler and the dog.

For the typical Labrador rescue dog, obedience, socialization and agility should be trained daily, between two and five times, for anywhere from ten minutes to one hour. Scent training can be conducted slightly less often, three to seven days per week, for five to thirty minutes.

The dog's abilities will improve daily. As the dog gets more and more proficient with the skills, daily obedience training should be continued along with agility and socialization sessions. Over time, scent training can decrease in frequency to three to five times per week, but increased in duration to between twenty and sixty minutes each.

Focus sessions should be frequent, and conducted three or more times per week for anywhere from five minutes to one hour. An example of one such focus session may cover scent discrimination, but should be done with caution and only after the dog is performing reliably within the training area.

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