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December 3, 2013

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

East China’s biggest sniffer dog center saves lives

Their hearing is 16 times as sharp as a human’s, their smell is a million times as strong as a human’s, and their astonishing leaping ability and agility distinguish them as “angels” to search and rescue workers.

Whether it be a Labrador, golden retriever, border collie, German shepherd, springer spaniel or Belgian malinois, the sniffer dogs at the Canine Search Team of the Hangzhou Fire Brigade are trained to save people’s lives, and are invaluable in cases of earthquake and avalanche and in building collapses.

The team, with 25 sniffer dogs and 21 handlers, is based in suburban Yuhang, Hangzhou, and is the largest sniffer dog center in eastern China.

In March, dogs from the team saved three people from a collapsed building in Shaoxing (one hour’s drive from Hangzhou), and in June they attended an international exercise for earthquake rescue held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Shanghai Daily visited the dogs and their handlers over the weekend.

“It takes two to three years to train a sniffer dog, and lessons include search skills, obedience training, understanding passwords and physical practice,” said Jiang Guolian, the team’s instructor.

The team was established two years ago and all the handlers in the team were selected from firefighters of the Zhejiang Fire Brigade. After selection, all handlers received training at the Shandong Province Canine Search Base, the largest sniffer dog center in the country.

All dogs and handlers must pass an examination to get a certificate to work.

“Loving dogs does not mean you can be a sniffer dog handler,” says handler Wang Kefeng. “But loving dogs very much is a priority, because the job, which looks interesting, can be very dull.

“Also, the ability to put up with repeating easy things again and again is required, such as practicing passwords, combing the dog’s hair and cleaning up their feces,” Wang explains.

The team demonstrated how they train dogs. During physical training, the dogs walk on two wires like tightropes, jump through hoops, climb ladders and crawl through wire fences.

Other types of practice includes sending dogs to sniff out people hidden in haystacks and wrecked houses and cars, and also to have dogs find people and animals hidden in surroundings with disturbing food smells and sounds.

“We always make dogs feel we are playing with them, because it won’t work if the training annoys the dogs,” says Jiang.

The dogs are trained about four hours a day. The dogs are well fed: Besides Royal Canin dog food, they eat beef, chicken, carrots and cabbage.

The dogs:

Labrador: Good olfaction, compliant character. They are sent to reach the trapped first.

Golden retriever: Large size, strong body. They are smart, quiet and calm, and known for their retrieving skills.

Border collie: The smartest dog among all sniffer dogs. They are able to climb steep roads.

German shepherd: Stable temper and reliable character. The large size makes them physically strong and capable of jumping high.

Springer spaniel: This dog was bred as a “hunter’s pal” — it is known for its ability to search and find.

Belgian malinois: Vivacious but obedient. Its excellent jumping ability makes it able to reach high places.

Besides the six breeds above, the team also has one beagle — it has not passed the examination yet — a breed that has good balance. Its small size allows it to search in confined places.



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