By Lyonel Doherty
A “little sweetheart” within the Oliver Osoyoos Search and Rescue family can’t wait to “find” something so she can play tug of war.
Kaya, a 19-month old German Shepherd, will soon be the squad’s first validated search dog under handler Mike Arychuk.
She is currently in training awaiting certification from the RCMP before she officially begins working for the team.
When that happens, Kaya will be the only validated wilderness search dog in the South Okanagan.
Validated search dogs are expected to have a high level of obedience, no aggression towards other dogs or people, and excellent fitness.
Arychuk got Kaya when she was about eight weeks old, and by nine weeks she was in training and learning how to track.
“In choosing a (search) dog, you’re looking for a high drive work ethic that is toy and play motivated,” Arychuk said. “Basically, the dog is trained to find stuff, and when he finds stuff, he gets to play a game of tug.”
Kaya is being trained to search for lost people and evidence, such as an article of clothing. For example, if she was searching for a lost child and found him/her, she is trained to stay there, bark and wait for Arychuk to come to the lost child.
If she was searching for a person who was stuck over a rocky ledge, Arychuk would have to be extremely careful as Kaya will try to get as close to the person as possible.
In the end, it’s all about fun for her. When she finds the person or article, her bark says, “Hey dad, come over here. I found something. Can I have my toy (now)?”
This is Arychuk’s second search dog. He was the handler of a human remains detection dog (Jaida) in Alberta and Saskatchewan for more than eight years.
As soon as Arychuk began talking about Kaya’s validation again, she started whining in anticipation. Does she really know what you’re talking about? You have to wonder.
But she does have a very keen sense of smell. In fact, the percentage of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human, Arychuk said.
“It’s been estimated that dogs can identify smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than nasally challenged humans can.”
To a dog, the scent of a human is as powerful and distinctive as the smell of a freshly baked apple pie (to a person), the handler said.
Experts estimate that a single search dog can accomplish the work of 20 to 30 human searchers.
“It’s not just about smell either – dogs’ superior hearing and night vision also come into play,” Arychuk said.
When in the field, a handler must always be aware of the risks of working their dog in any type of environment. These risks can include ticks, bears, cougars, snakes, wire fences, old abandoned wells or mine shafts, cliffs, swift water, ice, aggressive dogs, broken glass and hunters.