'It's a game of hide and seek': Search dogs join first-of-its-kind Lake District training

  • Watch as 30 dogs and handlers from across the UK and Ireland attend a training event in the Lake District.

Search and rescue dogs from all over the country have been put through their paces in the first specialist training session of its kind.

The animals, which work with police and fire services, the coastguard and mountain rescue teams, took part in the training in the Lake District.

More than 30 dogs and handlers from all over the UK and Ireland were put through their paces, learning how to save lives and cover ground faster than a team of two-legged searchers could.

Search dog Nessie can detect a body underwater several metres down. Dog handler Matthew Skillen told ITV Border about the training she has done to prepare her.

Search dog Nessie can detect a body several metres underwater. Credit: ITV

He said: "As soon as her nose is picking up on that. She's isolating that scent, realising that's what I'm looking for and starting to show indication. So the handler generally is quite tuned in to the dog.

"Some dogs start pawing at the water because they're so keen to get to that scent."

Back home near London, Nessie and her handler Jane De Boisse work with the police or fire service to pinpoint a location for dive teams to search. Working in busy places, it takes a lot of training not to be distracted.

Jane said: “She's very animated, full of energy. But the minute she's on the scent, she's going side-to-side, the tail goes. When she finds what she's looking for, that's when she stops, freezes, barks.

"You can see she just really enjoys it. It's just a game of hide and seek, and she gets the ball at the end of it.

"There are lots of times where it doesn't go as planned, but they're the times that you really learn. Where you learn why she's doing what she's doing. And usually it's that I need to change myself, I need to change.

"She's trying to tell me something and I haven't noticed. To bring relief to a family is paramount. It's what we do it for."

Search dog training has been taking place in the Lake District. Credit: ITV

Land search dogs Archie and Max, trained to cover very large search areas, are also doing the training.

Karen Kelly, Irish civil defence volunteer, said: “They're guided by their noses. They generally get their heads down and that's it. So they'll follow their nose. And as a well-trained handler, you'll know to follow their dog.

"So what they do is they start in a really wide space, and they start to narrow down towards the scent. And as the winds and environments change, it can bring you in closer and closer until the dog indicates on whatever he's supposed to find.

"All the other dogs in the unit bark. My dog does not. My dog kind of he sits and he gives a little whinge, which can be a little harder to work with sometimes. But we know each other very well.

"To see your dog actually do what he is trained to do is rewarding in itself. But when you get a thanks from a family up until that point, you feel like you're just not training enough so you put in a lot of hours and then it just pays off. Even just one thank you or being able to reunite one family, unspeakable value."

Bloodhound India can specifically find the one scent. Credit: ITV

Bloodhound India can pick put the scent of one person in a sea of other smells.

Sally Smith, Cumbrian scent work and detection trainer, said: “Bloodhounds historically have been used to track and trail people over the centuries. But she's a youngster, still learning her trade, but she's already showing great aptitude because there are many, many distractions out there.

"It might be another human has walked in the area as well, or a deer might have passed across. She's learning that she ignores all of those things and follows that scent specifically to that person. Family members generally can unwittingly make it much harder for the dog. They can all arrive at the property that the person has gone missing from and then all disperse, going in different directions.

"They've got to work out that specific scent of the missing person from all these other human scents. An experienced dog could work through a very busy shopping centre if maybe someone had gone shopping with their father who was suffering from dementia and he'd wandered off.

"They should be able to work their way through that shopping centre, dismissing all the other scents of all the other people and hopefully have a happy conclusion and find him wherever he's wandered off to. But sometimes the person can be quite close and they get overlooked, but the dog's nose will not overlook them."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...