Monday, March 26, 2012

My Boys




Andrew and Satchel, how I love you two.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Real Newfoundland Water Rescue Work In Italy, Part Two









(Courtesy S.I.C.S.)


Real Water Rescue Work in Italy


SICS Operative Water Rescue Certificate®


This chapter describes the tests, which enable the SICS K9 Unit to be operative. The tests are not performed in a single day but during one or more years depending upon the different opportunities; they may be performed during some events that SICS itself promotes or during practical training or service events in cooperation with the Coast Guard or the Rescue Helicopters Organization.

The Operative Water Rescue Certificate was developed by the Italian School of Rescue Dogs SICS and it is the result of many experiences and situations the school itself has worked in with the cooperation of the Coast Guard – Port Authorities. It meets the operative specifications of Rescue Cruisers, HH3F Pellican SAR Air Rescue and AB212 Air Force pilots and crews. After sixteen years of experience, I believe that only these tests can truly be defined as operative tests. Tests to be passed are included in the following performances and studied on the basis of the operative grids.

The level of technical knowledge and physical ability required to obtain the SICS Water Rescue Certificate will naturally lead to achieve the SICS Operative Certificate: without this last level, the training is incomplete and if lacking, influences the reliability of the SICS Water Rescue Certificate in a negative way.

But do not misunderstand me, there should be no confusion between the Water Rescue Certificate and Operative Water Rescue Certificate. The latter requires sporty and technical abilities which are much more demanding than what is required in the first one.

SICS Operative Certificate aims at pointing out the K9 Unit’s ability to work in real rescue situations. It is clearly a remarkable performance which is required from both the handler and the dog to pass the operational tests, which include the over 2 kilometer swim. Even the dive from a height of at least 2 meters is clearly difficult, as we have to consider that directly after the dive, the K9 unit has to swim at least 600 meters to retrieve a person simulating drowning. If we combine this with the fact that the drowning person is not the classic little man wearing a suit, who turns into a graceful, still, floating form when being towed, as we have seen many times in various rescue demonstrations, the whole rescue is harder. In these exercises the drowning person is an experienced diver with a ‘negative attitude’ and a clear intention of making the rescue as difficult as possible for the rescuer. The idea is that the handler clearly understands how to rescue a person in panic. Rescuing a person in panic should not be taken lightly. It is vital to fully understand the philosophy of the SICS Operative Rescue Certificate. The dog is asked to rescue a victim and when starting from shore or a rescue boat, it has a rope tied to its floating marine rescue harness with a quick release safety clip. Our Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers may be considered fully trained only when they reach such a high level of experience. The handler will have to possess a high level of professionalism as he is asked to rescue a person in need of help, sometimes near undertow or rocks; he has to prove his skills in managing a rescue boat and to be able to give directions or transfer his directions to a third party while engaged in a rescue operation. He has to be able to give his dog clear and precise commands so that the dog can head for the victim with the floating rope.

At this point, there are myths that need to be debunked once and for all.

Some clichés describe Newfoundland dogs (or any other breed) as able to rescue a drowning and panicking person on their own. It is clear that if we send our dog alone in such a situation, we’ll never see our dog come back.

Newfoundlands’ ability is not in rescuing everything with his strength alone: it would be immediately hauled underwater by the panicked victim. We use and exploit the breed’s ability to swim long distances with ease and minimal effort.

The two members of the K9 unit have two distinctive and specific tasks: the handler has the task of calming the shaky, panicked, drowning person and to support and prepare them for the tow back; the dog has the task of towing both to shore. In this way, the handler does not need to waste his precious energy for dragging the person because this is the dog’s responsibility. The handler is responsible for ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

In cases where the dog has to perform the rescue alone, it should always work with a rope tied to its floating marine rescue harness with a quick safety release clip. Thus, in the very unlikely event that the drowning person, clinging to the dog to save themselves drags the dog underwater, the handler who remained at the shore or boat during the rescue, will have the very important and fundamental task of saving the dog and the drowning person by keeping the rope taunt. In fact, when the handler pulls the rope, the dog and drowning person will in essence glide over the water keeping the dog’s head above water. This method has been used a lot, and it truly works! This technique is only limited by environmental conditions, as it cannot be used when there are floods with heavy currents or in river rescues. The techniques for river rescues are in fact different and too complicated for me to go into more detail.

Let us examine the Operative Water Rescue Certificate.


Test A: Endurance test

Dog and handler must swim TOGETHER for over 2 kilometers. This exercise is designed to highlight the close relationship between handler and dog in a water environment, as both have to be able to deal with difficult and exhausting long-distance swimming.

Additional notes:

The K9 unit is asked to perform a long distance swim. The pair has to swim together and they are usually required to cross a lake to check the real understanding existing in the pair and the ability to maintain a harmonic swimming rhythm. The test is not times. No sprinter performances are required; on the contrary, both handler and dog have to convey a sense of tranquility and understanding. They should swim side by side and it is desirable that the handler adapts and adjusts his swimming rhythm to the dog’s. The handler often wears a diving wetsuit and fins.

I consider the technique of the handler swimming before the dog as ineffective: in this case, the dog tends to get tired more easily as it tries to swim faster to keep up with the handler. In this case, we would have a dog which cannot easily swim with the handler. Many of the dogs which are trained this way, as well as those trained to swim behind boats, are usually too excited to be able to operate in a calm and dependable manner. The pair has to demonstrate harmonious rhythm of swimming and the ability of both to deal with the considerably long journey is assessed.

The test will not be timed, as the purpose of it is to closely monitor the degree of stress and fatigue experienced by the K9 unit, which is dictated mainly by the long distance, atmospheric conditions, currents and the state of the sea.

The purpose of the long-distance swim is to build the trust in the relationship between the K9 Unit, bring security and complicity between the two, and to verify the actual physical ability of the pair.


Test B: Diving from a Great Height

The handler and dog must dive together from a height of minimum 2 meters in the port area. The test is designed to evaluate the operational status of the pair, which is understood as the ability to proceed without hesitation to the person in need of help in test C.

Additional notes:

The dogs used in real rescues must know how to dive safely and quickly from a minimum of 2 meters, so that they can act effectively in cases where the place of departure of a rescue is a port area, a reef or an elevated boat. The diving technique, the confidence with which the rescue is brought to completion and the harmony between the handler and dog are assessed. The exercise does not end with the dive, but it is combined with test C (long distance rescue).


Test C: Long Distance Rescue

The K9 Unit will rescue a person simulating real drowning (see note A), located at least 600 meters away from shore.

Note: the drowning person in water is a diving instructor showing a ‘negative attitude’ and willing to create severe difficulty to the rescuer, just like a real drowning person.

Rescuers, especially those performing at the operational level, MUST know how to address dangerous situations by implementing all the necessary precautions to complete the rescue. The test is a difficult one, as dogs may become disorientated from the dive.

Additional notes:

After diving into water, the K9 Unit must head straight for the victim without any hesitation; the victim is located at a distance exceeding 600 meters from shore. Dogs may become disorientated from the dive, and this type of stress is carefully evaluated in this part of the test, as well as the determination of the dog to reach the victim right after diving. The handlers are required to act in a way to prevent any danger or injury to themselves or their dog. Therefore, the steward (a diving instructor) plays an important role in the evaluation of the test: he will judge how the whole rescue is carried out and, being very close to the handler and dog, he is able to gather particulars the judging committee may not able to see from far away ( despite them using binoculars). At the end of the test, the handler will deal with the security of the drowning person, providing resuscitation and first-aid if necessary as well as alerting those needed for assistance if it is deemed necessary.



Test D: Rescue from OGNITEMPO coast guard cutter

The K9 unit has to show that it is able to take part in a rescue operation from a OGNITEMPO coast guard cutter. The dog has to be equipped with a harness approved for marine rescue helicopter operations and bound to the handler with a rescue floating rope equipped with a quick release safety clip. In this occasion dog work by itself alone, bound to his handler by a floating rope which is stopped on the top of dog’s harness by a quick release clip. The test will primarily evaluate the determination of the dog to rescue the person in need of help, while it won’t take into account the floating rope and the difficulties caused by the jump from an elevated height of the Rescue Cruiser fighter. The handler must know how to re-enter the RC-fighter, and how to work closely with the RC crew.

Additional note:

This test has been added in order to know how to work in co-operation with the crews of Coast Guard rescue cruisers, real unsinkable rescue cutters with an auto straighten up system and a long functional autonomy. The K9 unit is required to know how to dive into water from the high board of the cutters. The dog has to demonstrate that it knows how to dive and rescue a person located at a distance from the rescue cutters (always tied to the handler with a safety rope). Furthermore, large sea waves created by the rescue vessels make it difficult to approach a drowning person. The dog is entrusted with the task of diving from the Rescue Cruiser and swimming to people in need. The handler and the RC crew monitor and facilitate the recovery of the dog and the shipwrecked to their fullest capabilities. They also try and bring them aboard as quickly as possible.


Test E: Helicopter

The K9 Unit has to demonstrate that it is able to work with helicopters by using a winch or by diving from the helicopter hovering 1-2 meters above water surface despite the flow created by the rotor blades (wind, waves, water spray, noise), conditions which most resemble the stormy sea. During the rescue operation, the helicopter crew may help, but the handler has to know all the technical equipment used.
Once the rescue action is ended, the handler is required to re-enter the helicopter by using the winch in cooperation with the helicopter aircrew.


Additional notes:

The K9 Unit is required to know specific techniques in presence of a helicopter equipped with a winch. The rescue action with helicopter has to be a ‘round-trip ticket’: it is impossible to re-embark rescuers and victims without using the winch. This involves the knowledge of winching techniques, the use of special man/dog harnesses specifically tested and approved for the winch use as well as special manoeuvres, safety hooks for man/dog, lanyards and AISI 316 steel spring clips.

The whole rescue operation has to be carried out with the utmost precision and regularity. The handler has to perform the tasks in a specific sequence, with the assistance of the helicopter winch aircrew and a steward specifically devoted to the dog’s safety. The handler and dog are lowered by the winch into an area the helicopter pilot consider as appropriate, after which they unhooked and carry out the rescue operation.

A detailed and accurate knowledge of how to perform the maneuvers of recovery, including the international water-air signals, is also demanded for a safe handler/dog/victims re-embarking. Working during the hovering phase will be also evaluated: operations under the rotor flux (wind, waves, water spray, noise) are those that most resemble the stormy sea.


These techniques are the result of many operations and suggestions SICS studied and experienced with:

- Helicopters Pilots and aircrews belonging to:

S.A.R. Air Force AB212 and HH3F, Coast Guard AB412, Carabinieri helicopters pilots (an Italian Police force which is a branch of the Army) AB412, Firemen AB412, Guardia di Finanza NH500 (body of police officers responsible for border patrol and frauds investigating operations), Police AB212, Emergency Number “118” A109, Helicopter Rescue Organization Lama Ecureil B2 B3, Sokol PLZ – AB206.

- Port Authorities and Coast Guard belonging to:

Gregoretti and Cavallari cutters; Class 200, 2000, 100, 800a, 800b, 800c, 600, 6000, Alfa GC, 300, BW Coast Guard cutters; SNSM 200, 100 and DGzRS cutters.



Test F: Bringing a rope from one boat to another

The K9 unit, specifically the dog, will have to bring a rope to a person unable to manage their boat, which is located at a safe distance.

Additional notes:

The dog must be able to go from a rescue boat to another which is simulating difficulties. The rope may be tied to the harness or the dog can hold it in its mouth.


Test G: Rescue using an in-shore boat with the presence of reefs.

The handler of the K9 Unit has to be able to direct a rescue boat from a port in order to rescue a drowning person with the presence of reefs. The task is to start the rescue operation from offshore while maintaining a maneuverable vessel, to rescue the victim and return to the boat.

Additional notes:

The K9 Unit has to be able to use a motorboat, to properly steer it and, if necessary, pass orders to instructed and designated people. The exercise ends when the drowning person is safely on board with the dog and they all return to port.


Test H: K9 unit basic control and dynamics

The Down-Stay for at least 10 minutes during which the handler will perform technical operations on the beach.

Sit or Down/Stay and recall from a distance of least 100 meters in an environment that presents sources of distraction for the dog.

Off-leash obedience in an operative environment.


Additional notes:

The test assesses the pair’s control, operative skills and mutual understanding. Dynamism, self-control under difficult circumstances, capacity to solve unexpected situations will be also highly evaluated.


Test I: Rescue and resuscitation - Alerting Coast Guard-Solas- SAR rescue authorities

See directions manuals – S.A.R. Search and Rescue – RDM padi – sea rescue

Additional notes:

Further difficulties have been introduced to the Advanced Certificate. The handler is required to solve different issues where only the use of logic and intelligence are enough to find a solution.


Test L: Entrance into water in rough sea conditions from beach/boat

The K9 Unit has to be able to operate in rough sea conditions, starting from shore and boats. The dog has to operate even with in the presence of large waves, while showing determination in the rescue work.


Test M: CPR resuscitation performed in water during re-entry to shore (100 meter after recovery) with a steward simulating asphyxia.

The handler has to know how to perform CPR resuscitation during the tow to shore by the dog. By being able to give artificial respiration, the handler can save precious moments in the life-saving process. A special rescue harness designed for this technique has to be used throughout the exercise.

Additional notes:

The K9 Unit is required to have full knowledge and perform a perfect execution of CPR resuscitation in water while the dog is entrusted with the task of towing to the boat or to shore.




WHAT YOU MUST KNOW TO ACHIEVE THE CERTIFICATE:

The dog must have microchip identification, the device has to be in compliance with FECAVA or ISO directions and inserted into dog’s body at least 15 days before the test. The dog must be registered to the Kennel Club.

The dog must be insured against any damage.

The dog must have all the standard vaccinations.

The dog should have a veterinary certificate attesting good health.

The dog must have a rabies vaccination valid throughout the swimming season and made at least a month before the test.

The handler must have a certificate of good health for rescue activities in water.

The result of the test will be notified 7 (seven) days after the performance.

The Certificate is valid for one year, and if allowed to expire, the designated Port Authorities will be informed.

The Certificate is personal; it clearly identifies the dog and its handler.

A dog may be patented only with its handler. The certificate will not be considered valid with another person, unless the same has passed the test with the same dog.

The dog must always be on-leash when on a beach; the handler must have the proper devices for dog droppings.

The handler is solely responsible for his own actions and those of his dog towards a third party or third party assets. In no case is the Judging Committee or the SICS organization responsible for K9 unit’s improper or wrong behavior.

The K9 unit has the moral, penal and civil responsibility to safeguard human lives at sea.

The K9 unit operatively depends on the Port Authorities – Coast Guard both directly and indirectly through recognized voluntary organizations.

Tests cannot be repeated.



REASONS FOR REJECTING THE CERTIFICATE

If even one part of the Certificate tests is not fully performed, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler does not have the appropriate equipment (diving wetsuit, dog harness, flippers, leash for the dog, shoes), this will be considered as a failure.

If the dog is forced to perform at any point of the exercise, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler loses sight of the drowning person when wearing his flippers, when swimming or during the paddling test, this will be considered as a failure.

If the dog does not help and interferes with the rescue process, this will be considered as a failure.

If the dog soils on the beach, this will be considered as a failure.

If the dog does not wear a harness or the handler does not wear his wetsuit before entering the test area and throughout the whole examination, this will be considered as a failure.

It is peremptory forbidden to punish the dog in any shape or form during the exercise, be it physical or verbal punishment. Otherwise, this will be considered as a failure.

If the transportation of the victim on dry land or in water is incorrect, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler is not able to co-ordinate the assistance actions on shore, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler is not able to properly use the dolphin-technique, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler cannot properly wear flippers, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler does not row with sufficient power, this will be considered as a failure.

If the handler behaves in a way that could endanger the life of his dog, this will be considered as a failure.

If the dog shows any signs of aggression towards strangers, even in the event the dog is stimulated in a negative manner, this will be considered as a failure.

If the dog shows aggression towards other dogs, this will be considered as a failure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Real Newfoundland Water Rescue Work In Italy



By Donatella Pasquale, DVM
(Translated by A. Salmelin & SICS)




The Italian S.I.C.S. rescue dogs are based on an idea by Ferruccio Pilenga, who founded the Italian Dogs Rescue School (Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio) in 1989 and began training his female Newfoundland “Mas”. At this time, the first Italian Newfoundland Club’s waterworking groups (C.I.T.- officially recognized by ENCI – FCI) arose. They were based on the French experience, a country where established regulations and specific sports tests for Newfoundlands' waterwork already existed. Initially Pilenga and his coworkers trained their Newfoundlands for these tests and for obtaining patents in Italy and later in France and Switzerland. However, they soon realized that this was not the right way for those, like them, who wanted to spend their time in water saving human lives with the aid of their dogs.

In the end of 1980s Pilenga and his coworkers turned to the Coast Guard and Air Force officers to develop a better suited system for Italy with the main aim of involving dogs in real rescue work. They wanted a new system which would better suit their needs. As an example, the international rescue organization’s (IRO’s) work is mostly based on working on land, not water. In addition, in the IRO patent the handler has to be able to carry their dog alone and this is usually impossible for a dog the size of a Newfoundland. The SICS patent does not require this, as in real-life situations there would always be two people patrolling on the shore, and if the dog was injured it would be carried to shore on bars.

After a lot of cooperation the first patents for the rescue SICS were drawn. The patents, which undergo constant reviews and adjustments due to real-life experiences and suggestions from the Coast Guard and Air Force officers, led the SICS rescue dogs to European summits and global rescues, allowing them to participate in numerous combined efforts with specialists such as the Coast Guard, Air Force Rescue and Fire-Rescue SAF.

In rescue SICS patents, it is not important to be the first, in fact there are no final standings. It is important to demonstrate to the examining board (which consists of three members) good teamwork between handler and dog, the ability to overcome difficulties together without impeding each other, the calmness of the handler, the ability to reason in critical situations, and the shared desire to carry out the rescue at all costs. The rescue work must always be completed. In order to make the dogs more recognized as rescue dogs, the Italian rescue dogs are subject to annual reviews , which occur from January to December,. The patent lasts for only a year after which it has to be renewed. The patents are personal and only the specific handler is allowed to work with the specific dog with which they passed the patent with. One reason for failing the patent can be because of insufficient organizational skills when performing first-aid on the victim.

The Patent Rescue SICS aims toward realism. This can be seen in the distances that the Canine Unit has to swim. If the distances were kept short, the pair would not be physically or mentally ready to work in real conditions where accidents may be hundreds of meters from the shore. The Coast Guard officers, who have had a lot of input in designing the rules, recommend long distances to fully evaluate the pair’s ability to work in realistic conditions. The patent requires the pair to start each exercise quickly and with great enthusiasm.

The dog is never left alone in rescue situations, but it is always with the handler. The handler has the task of calming the shaky, panicked, drowning person, supporting them and preparing them for the tow back to safety, which is done by the dog. The handler must reach the person about to drown before the dog, in order to make sure that the dog’s life is not put in danger. If we sent a dog to save a person in panic without any help form the handler, the task would be extremely dangerous for both the person in need of help and the dog. A person in panic may cling onto the dog pulling both underwater. By calming the drowning person and making sure they are secure before the dog arrives, the whole rescue is instantly made safer. The handler is responsible for ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

The dogs are therefore used more for their ability to swim over long distances without fatigue rather than for performing rescues alone. When the dogs are used for towing, it saves the handler a lot of precious energy. In addition, as the handler is released from having to swim back to shore with the victim, they can dedicate their time and energy for giving first aid and if necessary, mouth-to-mouth while still in water.

In some of the exercises, the person simulating drowning will exhibit a ‘negative attitude’ i.e. start to “panic” and thrash around, therefore making the exercises much harder to complete. In such cases, the behavior and calmness of the handler and dog are carefully evaluated. Only after the person is secure and in no danger of drowning or pulling the dog underwater, can they be towed back to safety. The handler is not allowed to start any exercises where there might be a person with a ‘negative attitude’, until it is known and clearly established on land that they know how to address a person in panic in the water. Only by being able to rescue a person in panic, can we talk about a real rescue.

In the very rare cases where the dog has to perform the rescue alone, the dog should always work with a floating rope tied to its’ floating marine rescue harness with a quick safety release clip. In case of an emergency, the handler can pull the rope and the dog and the drowning person will glide over the surface, keeping the dog’s head above water. Though one cannot use this technique in situations where there are flooding rivers (where the currents are too strong).

The handler is also required to know how to use fins and diving equipment as these are used in the majority of the exercises. The equipment is not always the same. E.g; the boat can be an ice-rescue boat, an inflatable boat like a raft, or a fiberglass boat. Also in some cases, the handler is allowed to start the engine and drive the boat in order to reach the person in need of help.

The techniques used for the rescues are decided by the handler in all cases except the combined swim. The SICS trainers do not believe that patents should impose or judge training methods. For a Canine Unit to work efficiently and in a positive manner, there must be good communication and teamwork between the pair. The patent requires excellent handler-dog relationship, as without this it is impossible for the pair to pass the tests. Particular attention is paid to how the pair reacts to each other.

The number of variables in the tests have been tried to keep to a minimum, so that the patents may be held in the same manner with the same conditions keeping the standard required to pass the patent the same. The Judging Committee consists of at least three people, in order to make the judging fair, unquestionable and not limited to a single point of view.

Italian Rescue Dogs’ School (SICS) are the result of the advice, experiences and collaborations of many experts of their respective fields. After sixteen years of experience, I believe that only these professionals can truly define operational tests. The patents undergo constant reviews and adjustments due to real-life experiences and suggestions from the Coat Guard, Air Force and other professionals.



Let us examine the Water Rescue Certificate updated on January 16, 2009


1. SICS Water Rescue Certificate® (The first patent to be completed)

The tests will evaluate the Canine Unit’s abilities, knowledge and physical readiness to participate in real rescue operations.



Test 1: Obedience on land (Dynamic Test)

The dog and his handler must run 200-400 meters on the beach in order to simulate with maximum reliability their ability to work on shore. The other participants to the test will form a group near the shore and the unit performing the test will have to run through or near them. The purpose of this test is to demonstrate the mutual understanding on dry land in a dynamic action, how well the pair works in unison. During the test, one or more “stop” commands may be also given among the other K9 units. After completing test 1, the pair will immediately continue on to test 2, to verify that handler and dog have the necessary physical conditions to work in real situations.

Once the test is finished, the K9 unit will return into its group that, meanwhile, has to remain near the shore for all the duration of the test (an exception is allowed only in the event that a dog shows physiological emergencies).

The final judgment is based on a positive execution of the whole test.

Additional notes:

This dynamic test has a few distinctive features; it aims to verify whether the handler and his dog are able to work as a team in a quick run action which is a characteristic that, on the contrary, cannot be seen in a static heeling on-leash test.

Dogs used for rescues must be able to run for 200-400 meter distances with sudden stops, to pass through crowds and dogs, to come to shore while being still perfectly able to dive into water and swim to the person about to drown.

Therefore, K9 unit is asked to carry out a “sporty performance” which is exactly what the pair has to be able to do in real situations.

In addition to the physical test, the character of the dog is also assessed. Dogs must not be aggressive towards other dogs or people during the course of the dynamic test and the dog’s character is further assessed throughout the duration of the examination.


Test 2: Saving using the Dolphin technique without fins

A person simulates drowning in a realistic way at least 110 meters from shore. The handler and his dog will have to carry out this rescue action soon after test no.1 without any interruption. The handler must demonstrate he knows how to use the “Dolphin” technique without the use of flippers. When reaching the water, the dog must follow the handler without hesitation, and tow them through unsafe waters to the person simulating drowning. The handler has to make sure the person they are rescuing is secure before grabbing the dog’s harness again and entrusting the dog with the most challenging part of the rescue, the towing of the two back to shore. During the tow back, the handler must NEVER let go of the victim. They must make sure that the drowning person’s head is above water at all times. On their way back, around 15 ms from shore, the handler will let go of the dog at the judges’ request for at least 3 (three) seconds. On the handler's call, the dog should turn back so that the handler can grip the harness and the dog resumes the pull. The exercise ends when the victim is safely on shore.

Additional notes:

This is the first real water rescue test that the handler and his dog must carry out. The distance the K9 unit has to swim is more than 110 meters. Shorter distances are not considered as reliable or trustworthy. The Coast Guard officers highly recommended such distances to be done soon after a 200-400 meters run to fully evaluate the pair’s sports/technical ability to work in realistic conditions.

The dolphin technique, which the K9 unit has to demonstrate, is very important to know as the dog tows his handler directly to the person in danger, saving the handler’s precious energy. The dog is asked to do the most demanding and hard work: tow the handler and the victim to shore while sometimes facing strong currents and winds. As the handler is released from having to swim back to shore with the victim, they can dedicate their time and energy for giving first aid and if necessary, mouth-to-mouth while still in water.

In the “dolphin” technique, the dog must not be forced to work; he must unwaveringly swim to the victim while his handler has his heels an inch above the surface of the water, lying sideways to the dog and holding the rear-ring of the dog’s harness. The handler is required to keep hold of a little part of the dog’s fur together with the harness: the idea is that the dog will “feel” it is not alone and that its handler is there with him.


Test 3: Saving two drowning people

Two people, located at least 110ms from shore and at least 40ms apart, simulate drowning in a realistic way. The distances may be made longer at the discretion of the judges. The dog will start from shore and the handler is required to wear fins. The handler must put on the fins in 8 seconds. The handler may swim a bit in front of the dog, never losing sight of the people about to drown.

After reaching the first drowning person, the handler must wait for the dog before heading to the second victim. The handler instructs the dog to tow the first victim, after which they can head to the second one. The second drowning person will exhibit a ‘negative attitude’ for at least 15 (fifteen) seconds and make it impossible for the rescuer to secure them for the tow back. Once the handler is able to secure the second victim, the dog will start the tow back to shore with both victims and the handler. During the tow, the person ‘in panic’ will try and wriggle out of the secure hold. This exercise will evaluate the handler’s reasoning skills and athletic ability as the handler has to reach the drowning people before the dog and start the tow of the second drowning person before the dog arrives. The handler must also stay alert and calm during the whole exercise.

Additional notes:

This test features longer distances and two victims, one of which with a ‘negative attitude’, who will not be willing to cooperate during the rescue action and the handler has to know how to address and calm the person simulating panic.

This test resembles a real situation more than the previous exercise. The handler must know how to use flippers and diving equipment.

This part of the test also evaluates the handler’s reasoning and athletic skills as he has to rescue and secure the second victim before the dog arrives with the first victim attached to its harness. If the handler does not manage to calm the situation, the life of everyone will be in danger. In fact, in real water rescue situations, if the dog arrives before the handler, the person in panic will very likely try to roughly grab the dog, which puts the dog and the victim in serious danger of drowning.



Test 4: Saving a drowning person using a boat

A person at least 200ms from shore will simulate drowning in a realistic way. Often in real situations the drowning person is situated at distances exceeding 200ms from shore, requiring the handler to use a boat or raft. The handler and dog will jump into the boat and the handler will paddle the boat 100 meters from shore, after which they encounter “natural barriers” such as rocks, waves, nets, swimmers, shallow reefs…The Unit must dive using any technique they see fit and swim to the person in need of help, never losing sight of the victim. The dog will tow the handler and drowning person to the raft/boat or if the handler sees fit, to shore. The type of geographical area the patent is held in, determines whether the pair has to return to the boat. There is an assistant in the raft/boat who will do everything they are asked by the handler, except help the dog into water. If the handler decides to direct the dog to tow them to the shore, the assistant will paddle the raft/boat back to shore. In this part of the tests, the ability to arrange and co-ordinate other people and to complete the rescue are evaluated.

Additional notes:

The test is performed at a distance of 200 meters and this requires the handler to use a boat. The ease at which the dog jumps into the boat and the handler’s paddling ability will be evaluated (this is not merely a paddling test but it deals with paddling in the realistic situations).

Rocks, fish nets, bathers, sea undertows, low sea beds may disrupt the whole rescue operation; in this case the handler and the dog have to dive with the technique they deem most appropriate and swim to the person in need of help who is at least 100 meters far away. The type of geographical area the test is held in, determines whether the pair has to return to the boat. The nautical ‘vehicle’ may be a lifeboat, a life raft, a fishing boat, a fiberglass boat or even a motor life raft (if it is a motorized life raft, the handler has to be able to start the engine and drive to the area in which the unit has to dive from). Damaged or undamaged oars, paddles or emergency oars will be used. The test aims to fully evaluate the handler’s ability to arrange and co-ordinate other people and to complete the rescue action.



Test 5: Towing a drifting boat

The handler and dog are on a boat which is located at least 100 meter from the shore. The boat experiences “engine failure”. There are no oars or any other items in the boat which could be used to paddle the boat back to shore. The boat’s rope is tied to the boat. The dog will tow the boat back to shore with the aid of a rope. The rope can be tied to the dog’s harness or the dog can take it into its mouth. The handler may not enter the water, but they can help the dog into water and lean with their hands touching the water. This exercise will evaluate many essential aspects of the dog’s ability to tow the boat to the shore.

Additional notes:

This exercise evaluates two basic aspects of the dog’s ability: the steadiness by which the dog pulls the boat and the dog’s real towing strength. The evaluation also takes into account the jump into water and the actual strength of the dog. The techniques used for rescues are decided by the handler in all cases. SICS trainers do not believe that these tests should impose or judge training methods and believe that the only criteria is that the K9 unit works efficiently and the handler-dog relationship and good teamwork can clearly be seen. Forcing the dog to work is considered a failure.


Test 6: Swimming with the dog

According to the judges’ commands and as per the sequence decided by the board of examiners, the handler and dog must swim for at least 20 minutes with varying styles: handler swimming in front (5 minutes), swimming side-by-side (5 minutes) and dolphin-swim (5 minutes). At the end of each swimming technique, the handler will swim at least 2 minutes of “support technique” [handler holds the dog in water while standing]. The dog must not disturb the handler’s swimming or swim in front of them. The handler must make sure not to swim too far from the dog and stay at shoulder height when swimming side-by-side. The pair must not show any fatigue and they must swim calmly throughout the test. This exercise is performed by all participants at the same time.

Additional notes:

The board of examiners will evaluate the pair’s understanding and swimming abilities for the whole duration of the test (in particular, the “dolphin” and side-by-side swimming techniques). Holding the dog in water in the stand position is also important: the dog stops swimming and remains still in the handler’s arms. A correct execution of this technique is important for judging the mutual trust existing between the handler and the dog, as otherwise the dog’s survival instinct will prevent him from remaining quiet and being still.

The test is not performed individually. Therefore, the dogs must not interfere with each other and the pair’s attachment and attention to each other are carefully evaluated. Handlers may choose to wear flippers, but being a technique designed to be used in real emergency situations or particular scenarios (long-distance swimming, dog’s sudden illness, approach of a helicopter winch), the lack of flippers may compromise the execution of the swimming.


Test 7: Emergency resuscitation

This test may be carried out between the second, third or fourth tests. The resuscitation will be carried out on land, and the dog must not interfere with any part of the operation. This theoretical and practical test will verify that the handler has the necessary ability and knowledge to transport an intensive care patient.

The main techniques used are mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, artificial respiration and cardiac massage, safety position in case of loss of consciousness. In addition, the handler must know how to transport the patient and co-ordinate relief efforts.

Additional notes:

The test aims to verify the handler’s CPR knowledge and patient’s transport techniques. The handler must be able to co-ordinate those who are far away such as Coast Guard, ambulance, police and people nearby, represented by people who only work after being told explicitly what to do and what not to do, as often happens in real situations. The handler must have a BLS certificate or have attended the equivalent First Aid courses.



All tests have no scoring and no ranking.

The achievement of the Certificate is subject only to passing the tests.



Final considerations:

All tests unequivocally point out certain facts about the K9 unit’s ability to work in realistic conditions:

They check the real ability to rescue a drowning person with realism; performances show evident difficulties and distances are considerable.

The rescue instinct of the Newfoundland, Labrador retriever and Golden Retriever breed are highly encouraged.

The pair must correctly use a boat, a rope; they have to swim together and use some commands in water such as: ahead, turn, go to shore, etc…

The number of variables in these tests has been kept to a minimum, so that they may be held in the same manner with the same conditions and keeping the standard homogeneous. The Judging Committee consists of at least three people, in order to make the judging fair, unquestionable and not limited to a single point of view.

For further reliability, the rescue Certificate must be renewed every year. It would be absurd to think that a certificate lasts for life. Dependable work, commitment and perseverance are necessary for preparing and maintaining efficient a K9 Rescue Unit.



2. Exercises in the Annual Renewal of the Rescue Patent

For further reliability, the rescue patent must be renewed every year. It would be absurd to think that a patent lasts for life. Dependable work, commitment and perseverance are necessary for preparing and maintaining efficient K9 Rescue dogs. In addition to the tests mentioned below, the Judging Committee may include tests suggested by the UUCC which are deemed appropriate for evaluating the physical condition of the Canine Unit, the harmony between the pair and the progress on obtaining the patent.


Test 1: Long distance saving

The K9 unit will have to retrieve a person simulating drowning from 500/600ms away from shore. The handler may use any technique he prefers, but never lose sight of the drowning person. The dog must bring the drowning person to the place at the shore from which they started.

Test 2: 30 minute swim

The dog and handler start from the shore, and swim for at least 30 minutes using the three basic swimming styles: dolphin, handler swimming in front and swimming side-by-side. Each style will be separated by the handler holding up the dog in water in the stand position for at least 1 minute (“support technique”).

Test 3: “Shark”

The K9 Unit will have to swim from the shore to a rescue boat or a patrol boat stationed at least 200 meters from shore and the handler must simulate re-entering the boat. The dog must not attempt to get on board. The dog will have to do the “Shark” swim from the boat’s bow to stern and back for at least 5 minutes without touching the boat. At the discretion of the Judging Committee, after 5 minutes the handler must return to shore with their dog or allow the dog to enter the boat.