An inside look at K9 search and response training

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s 9:34 on a Saturday morning, and Diesel, the K-9, is digging through a pile of rubble. His mission is simple: find the victim.

Diesel is one of the few K-9s training with the Indiana Search and Response Team. Dogs like Diesel start training for this career at around 12 weeks old and continue training until retirement. Most of the dogs that were training Saturday morning are between one and eight-years-old, and according to their handlers, they’re the best at what they do.

“It’s in their head,” Jason Fuhrman, a handler, said. “They’re looking for a human…The big thing is to let the dogs work and do their job.”

Fuhrman, a Fort Wayne police officer, has been a K-9 handler for 16 years. In that time, he’s had five cases with two different dogs. He said there’s a key to the success.

“Just a matter of getting the right wind direction and sending them the right way, so you get the fastest find that you can,” Fuhrman said.

In order to be a rescue dog and find victims, the K-9s have to certify on the state level and put in at least 16 hours of training a month, although they train much more than the requirement.  The dogs have to devote significant time to agility training such as balance, strength, and endurance. They also have to be skilled in social and detective work. On Saturday, the dogs were training on finding humans in a rubble pile which simulated a collapsed building or natural disaster. The dogs are trained to sniff out human or cadaver scents. The rubble pile is the most difficult training course the dogs will go through because it combines all of the skills they’ve learned.

“When it’s that bad of a scene and everything looks collapsed, and it looks like there’s no hope, and you find somebody in there it’s a big gleam of hope,” Fuhrman said. 

Once the dogs complete the course, they are examined by the handlers to search for any possible injuries. Handlers said the dogs are beneficial because they have better noses than humans which allow them to cover more ground and do the job more efficiently which aids the emergency response crews. 

“To either find a live victim or to find a deceased family member in order to give the family closure,” training coordinator, Jan Harkner-Abbs said.

Harkner-Abbs said last year they had about 17 cases where the dogs were used, but in the past 20 years there’ve been more than 400 cases in the Northeast Indiana area.

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