The Central Virginian

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Air scent dog group trains at state park

Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 9:26 am

 By Gail Martin

Sharon Jones, president of DOGS-East and Louisa CERT team member, along with her dog, Hugo, before the search training on Sunday.

Pretend a violent man, after a night of drinking, wounded his wife and threatened his children. Pretend they barely escaped, ran different directions through the woods but became lost. What happens next could and would be real. Search teams would respond, hoping to find the terrified children and injured wife as quickly as possible.

All kinds of scenarios have involved Louisa County’s Sharon Jones, president of “Dogs Organized for Ground Search,” DOGS-East. 

She and her volunteer team can swing into action at a moment’s notice, bringing well trained dogs and their handlers. 

Their preparation starts with handlers joining such a group to receive training in search and rescue for the handler and his or her dog. DOGS-East trains dogs and handlers to search in the air for human scent– any human scent. 

As opposed to tracking dogs, who sniff the ground and need the specific scent of the individual, found on such things as clothing, these dogs keep their noses up to find and follow the a more general human scent. 

Almost any dog can be trained as an air scent dog, but usually the best are sporting breeds of medium size, weighing from 40 to 80 pounds. Training is usually 18 months with constant practice. Early in training, it becomes clear if that particular dog and handler can do it. 

There is no school for training but in DOGS-East, they learn from each other and through experiences, such as the session conducted on Sunday, Dec. 18 at Lake Anna State Park.

DOGS-East includes seven dogs and their handlers plus five others in early training. There are also search and rescue members without dogs. Using this mock scenario, the subjects were the violent man’s injured wife, Peggy Sue and the children, Bubba and Junior. They were placed deep in the park woods at hidden locations. A command post was set up, dividing the area into search sectors. The handler, dog and another person were assigned a sector and issued a topographical map and radio. Once it had been searched, they were assigned another sector. A sector may be searched again later on since subjects do move.

To read the entire story, see this week’s The Central Virginian now available on newsstands.