he Ground Zero campus includes a welcome center, education center & exhibition hall, kennels, courtyard, handlers lodge, and acres of land for mock disaster zones and training courses where the dogs hone their skills.
A disaster scene is an extremely dangerous area for a search and rescue dog. The dogs must be able to navigate quickly and safely through the area to complete their task of searching for possible victims located beneath the rubble. There are often small spaces, pipes, crumbled walls, unstable footing and toppled cars that they must go over, under or through to complete their jobs. This is why agility is one of the most important skills that the canine team must master.
The Agility Field is where the dogs train to navigate particular obstacles, that will in turn increase their confidence to search without feeling like it’s in a dangerous situation and does so without wearing a collar and leash and is independent from the handler. This in turn will transfer over to actual disaster sites.
The dogs learn to climb ladders, cross elevated planks and unsteady surfaces, and crawl through dark tunnels or tubes just to name a few.
Foundation Training Rubble Pile
The view of a disaster scene can be overwhelming when responders first arrive. Collapsed and destroyed buildings, twisted metal, and broken concrete that provide ridges of jagged edges that promises an extremely hazardous situation to the responders that must try and traverse this area searching for the wounded that may be trapped or incapacitated. These rubble piles could range from a single structure to an entire town.
The training for these situations starts on rubble piles specifically designed to progress the abilities of the dog to better prepare them for the challenges that these teams may face in the field.
Foundation Training Wood Pile
Not every damaged building at a disaster scene is constructed of concrete. A large percentage of the buildings will be wood frame structures and homes that have been compromised, thus the reason for the Foundation Training Wood Pile. Wood piles are different from concrete rubble piles in the sense that the wood is constantly shifting and moving, which in turn requires the dog to adjust its body to these ever changing conditions.
This pile simulates the wood frame structures that the First Responders frequently encounter and is very important in the development of the USAR dog mainly due to the fact that wood piles are different from concrete rubble piles, in the sense that the wood is constantly shifting and moving.
Foundation Training Puppy Rubble
The task before the crews can seem vast, but to quote the philosopher Lao Tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So, where does that “single step” begin?
For our young puppies, it begins on our Foundation Training Puppy Rubble. This Rubble pile is similar in nature to the large rubble piles that we use for our older dogs, just on a smaller scale. The growth plates for young dogs are not fully developed until they mature, so to reduce the risk of injury but still get our young dogs accustomed to unstable footing, thus the reason that we start our pups on “puppy rubble”.
Puppy Play Yard
From the time they are born, puppies begin to take in the world around them. Each new experience is associated with a reaction and helps shape the dog they will eventually become. The first 16 to 20 weeks of a puppy’s life is a very important time in the development of working dogs. As a puppy’s body grows and develops, of course so does their mind.
The Puppy Play Yard is designed to assist the puppy’s in their development both mentally and physically. The puppies gain their confidence and ability to adapt to ever changing conditions, all while learning in an environment designed to keep them safe.
For any canine team to be successful, the team must have effective communication between the handler and their partner. In relation to obedience, this communication could equate to keeping a canine partner safe. The dog must be able to accept and understand basic commands given by the handler that may keep it from traversing into an area that could cause injury or harm.
On the obedience field, the canine team must learn and master various obedience tasks such as:
- Heeling: The dog must stay with the handler while navigating around groups of people or other dogs. These exercises are completed both on and off lead and may include Right, Left and About turns, as well as fast and slow walking paces.
- Emergency Stop: The dog must be able to come to a complete stop at the handlers command and is done at a distance from the handler. This could be used in an actual search area if the dog is travelling toward an area that may be dangerous.
- Long Wait: The dog is placed in a sit or down and is required to stay there while the handler walks out of sight. The handler can be out of sight for as long as 5 minutes.
Direction and Control Field
When working as a team on a disaster scene, there may come a time that the handler may need to direct their partner to an area that needs to be searched or direct them away from a particular hazard. The handler, of course, has a distinct height advantage over the dog, and can naturally see areas that the dog may need to search or stay away from. Because the canine works totally of lead and away from the handler, the handler must be able to clearly communicate directions to guide the dog. This is done by voice and hand signals.
On the Direction and Control Field, there are elevated targets that can be up to 25 yards (75 feet) apart that the handler must use voice and hand signals to direct their dog to. That means, that at one point, the dog can be up to 50 yards (150 feet) away from the handler. These exercises will relate directly to the handler being able to direct or cast the dog toward or away from areas at a disaster site.
Confined Space Trainer
Although the definition of a confined space varies between jurisdictions, it is generally recognized as a space that:
Has limited or restricted means of entry or exit; enclosed in nature, is large enough for a person to enter to perform tasks, is not designed or configured for continuous occupancy and has the potential for a significant hazard to be present.
These are the kind of conditions that our teams perform in during a disaster. The Confined Space Trainer allows the teams to train in a safe and controlled environment that can be constantly changed to provide different scenarios for the teams to challenge.