Healthy Living

These Rescue Dogs Are Trained to Find Children with Autism

These Rescue Dogs Are Trained to Find Children with Autism

These Rescue Dogs Are Trained to Find Children with Autism

The South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association (SCSARDA) is a non-profit organization that was established in 2002. It consists of a search-and-rescue team of professionals who are dedicated to helping find lost and missing individuals, including specific training for those with autism. As stated by the SCSARDA, the dogs and their handlers provide their support to emergency service agencies in Upstate and Western North Carolina, as well as other areas in South Carolina and Eastern Georgia. To date, SCSARDA volunteers have responded to hundreds of cases.


For the past 15 years, the nonprofit organization has been on a mission to provide K9 search and rescue services. Sarah Hey, an independent marketing strategy and brand management consultant, and Nancy Jocoy, a senior quality engineer with the American Red Cross, are both members of the SCSARDA. Using their dogs’ strong sense of smell and their ability to track scents, the two women help law enforcement authorities find lost children and hikers, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, drowning victims, and others. “Dogs experience the world through their noses. And it allows them to do amazing things,” said Hey.

According to experts, one search and rescue (SAR) dog can achieve the work of 20-30 human beings. However, not all SAR dogs conduct the same type of search. Some are trained to follow a trail of human scent, while others are trained to follow air scent in order to sniff out the living or the recently deceased. Jocoy’s dog, a German shepherd by the name of Beau, is trained to detect human remains on both land and water. “There are some breeds that are more suited to the work than others. But I think many dogs can participate in search and rescue as long as they are obedient, attentive, friendly, and possess a strong desire to please,” said Jocoy.

Training of a SAR dog

SCSARDA teams must complete demanding training exercises and be able to pass yearly certification tests before they can go on to participate in search and rescue operations. It can take well up to 3 years to train and certify a dog in trailing, human remains detection, or search and rescue services. “The most important step to training a SAR dog is getting them to associate human scent with something they want. Dogs only work for a reward, whether it’s a game of fetch or tug of war. That’s why a handler has to associate that reward with each thing they want the dog to do – in this case, locate the human scent,” said Hey.

SAR dogs are trained to follow basic commands, but they must also be able to act independently from their handler and solve problems on their own. For instance, Jocoy, who has 14 years of experience training dogs for search and rescue operations, uses a unique set of tools to train Beau – human remains. “Some of the things we search for include bones and bodily fluids, which are easier to obtain than most people think. We order bones through online sites and ask for surgical donations. New moms even donate placenta sometimes,” she said.

Read on to learn more about how these dogs are trained to find kids with autism.

Photo: Greenville news