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The history of search and rescue dogs


Ambulance Dog

The dog is used as a working dog to help with tasks since thousands of years.

In the 17th century monks at the Hospiz auf dem Grossen Sankt Bernhard (Switzerland) were breeding their own dog breed, which were the first St. Bernard dogs. At first their task was to find the track, which was covered in snow, back to the monastery. But there are reports of multiple incidences where these dogs have helped lost people in the snow and showed them the way to the monastery to bring them to safety. Apparently a dog called “Barry” has saved 40 people´s lives alone between 1800 and 1812.

Later the war gave an impulse to further development of the training. Around 1885 the German military started thinking about using dogs as carriers for ammunition and to alarm intruders.

Jean Bungartz, a painter of animals, started to develop training of dogs, who should help by finding wounded soldiers. In 1890 he founded the “Deutschen Verein für Santiätshunde” (German Association for medical dogs), which took over the training of dogs for the war on a volunteer basis. The costs for this were taken over by the army, but the training was done by private people.

In 1903, the general staff chief called Berdez in Bern (Switzerland), released the book “Anleitung zur Dressur und Verwendung des Sanitätshundes” (How to train and use a “medical dog”), where a picture of Bungartz can be found.

There was no further support and in 1911 the war ministry disposed the use of the dogs completely. But with the beginning of the first world war, the use of these dogs was on the rise again.

To begin with, there was only a few of these “medical dogs”, but with the continuous war, the number rose to more than 4000. These dogs were private dogs or dogs recruited from breeders.

All in all over 30000 dogs were used in the first world war, and only 10% made it back to their owners.

In the war the training techniques were further developed and the interest of keeping the „medical dogs“ was there. The general entity of the dog changed in Germany and became more popular. This rise was mostly carried by private people, but the training was still a matter of the military.

In 1940, Ferdinand Schmutz, was the first to start systematically training search and rescue dogs for avalanches.

There were considerably more dogs used in the second world war. On all frontiers there were over 200.000 dogs in service, of which 25.000 died on the German frontier alone. The need for dogs in the military was so high, that pet dogs were taken away from their owners to be recruited for the service.

Now there was two types of dogs: The air scenting dog, who was supposed to find wounded soldiers and the avalanche dog. In the last years of the second world war, the rubble search dog was developed. The development of the rubble search dog started out with what was thought to be coincidences, when dogs continuously found people under the rubble of bombed houses. Over 35 people were found alive of just 4 dogs.

After the second world war the idea of a rubble search dog spread over from England and one thought about how to train these dogs properly.

Switzerland, 1968. The work with “disaster dogs” started. In 1972 the „Schweizerische Verein für Katastrophenhunde“ (Swiss Association of Disaster Dogs) released a guide on how to train these dogs. Slowly but surely, the public realised how important these dogs can be to locate missing people in catastrophic situations, such as the earth quakes in Italy, 1967, 1977 in Rumania and 1980 in Algeria. This enhanced the trust in the dogs dramatically.

In Germany people were still lacking believe in the capabilities in these dogs and decided to invest further into technology rather than the dogs. Again it was private people that took it upon themselves to keep training Search and Rescue dogs.

The responsibility for the protection in catastrophic situations laid with the countries themselves and each Search and Rescue team could help and join e.g. the fire station. There were privately formed team as well. By now there is the “Bundesverband für das Rettungshundewesen e.V.” , which acts a regulating body.

The first Mantrailer used for the Police service in Germany was a Belgian Malinois in 2004. The use of operational Mantrailers is fairly new, but is starting to become more recognised.


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