East Oklahoma K9, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit organization, hosted its first K9 search and rescue training for people and dogs from across the country.
Led by six certified and professional trainers, 38 dogs and 34 handlers learned about locating live subjects, trailing a scent and searching for cadavers during the three-day event near Vian this weekend.
Linda Myers' dog Shyanne, a seven-year-old Golden Retriever, is trained to search for missing people and detect for human remains. She says not all dogs are cut out for this type of work.
"A search dog has to have a really, really high drive," said Myers, a Booneville resident. "Our dogs, particularly this Golden, her paycheck is this tennis ball. She will do anything for this tennis ball."
Myers has trained Shyanne to find a particular odor, and when she does, Shyanne is rewarded with a tennis ball.
Keith Hightower and her three-year-old Border Collie, Echo, traveled to Oklahoma from Kanab, Utah for the training. Hightower has been training Echo in search and rescue techniques since he was eight-weeks-old.
"I really wanted to get out and work with some new people, some new trainers so I just decided it was worth a 17 hour drive," she said.
Hightower was eager to work with Echo on tracking down "missing people" in an abandoned building.
"What he does is he sniffs out the subject, then comes back and jumps on me to tell me he's found something, and takes me back to the subject," said Hightower. "In training the subject then plays with him to reward him."
All of the handlers and their dogs volunteer for various search and rescue teams. Steve Gann with East Oklahoma K9 says consistent training is important in order to perform with the elite groups.
"We train with the dogs every week," he said. "We put them through different scenarios. We come up with scenarios, and they don't miss. They find the person."
It may be fun and games for the dogs, but they're also learning invaluable skills that may someday save a life.