February 2023

Carol and I had the honour of being able to tag along to the Northamptonshire Search & Rescue (NSAR) dog training last week whereby we handed over some donations of dog harness lights. NSAR is a Registered Charity made up of trained volunteers. Regularly assisting the Police, this dedicated team are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to search for vulnerable missing people across the county.

The pre-planned location for the evening was just above Kettering and included access to a wooded area and fields. The rain stayed away, mostly, but team were prepared with warm and wet weather gear just in case. Sally was there to answer any questions we had and to guide us through the terrain.

We started off with Spaniel Spike and his handler Chris. Spike is a playful family dog who loves cuddles and attention. His current qualification is In Training (Level 1) and he specialises in air scenting. Working with food based rewards, Spike is hyper focussed when on-the-job, sniffing his way through an area to locate a missing person. On this occasion, team members Martin, David, Andy and Simon were on hand to be planted as missing people, also referred to as a ‘misper’ (used by the police to refer to someone who has disappeared). Spike listened to Chris’ commands and successfully found the three mispers that were planted for him.

Other dogs, at different levels of their training were also practising. Duke the German Shephard, another In Training (Level 1) dog and his handler Emily practised finding misper Martin at the edge of the woodland. Duke, like all the other dogs, seemed to fully enjoy his time searching as a member of the NSAR team. For the safety of the dogs, handlers and members of the public, the dogs wear lights so that they can be seen at all times. Some, such as Spike and Ted, have a harness with coloured lights, added bells and torches.

Border Collie Ted and his handler Ian demonstrated finding a missing person in a field of high grass. Ian explained how the dogs use a ‘scent cone’ to find a person. This natural scent cone spreads outwards from the stationary missing person. The dogs pick up on the scent at the outside of this cone and zig-zag back and forth. When they break through the other side they know to turn around, eventually following the scent until they meet the missing person in the middle of the cone. Ted is qualified as an Operational dog (Level 3) and his reward was time playing with a tuggy-toy. Just like Spike, Ted successfully found all three of his mispers.

Otto, the German Wirehaired Pointer, is the newest canine volunteer. At only 9 months old, Otto is training with his handler, Annalise, and is currently (Level 1) like Spike and Duke. He also found his misper, making it a hugely successful evening for all four dogs and the team.

It was fascinating watching the dogs and handlers at work. We were super impressed with how the dogs are trained and the explanations for how the search processes work. Many thanks to Sally and the rest of the NSAR team for allowing us an insight into their work and showing us these amazing dogs in action. Best of luck to Spike and Chris who will be heading off for their next assessment in just a few days – our fingers are crossed for you!

NSAR is operated solely by volunteers and fundraising. The dedicated team members do not get paid for their time, fuel or equipment. To find out more about NSAR, including the roles involved and the equipment used, visit their website here: NSAR. You can also visit their ‘Support Us’ page to find out how you can donate and what equipment can be purchased for them from their Amazon Wishlist.


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