The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is training K-9 patrol dogs to find people buried in rubble after a major earthquake.
During a training exercise Wednesday at Curtis Sand & Gravel in Canyon Country, the dogs searched out a sheriff's deputy concealed in a pipe and "buried" under rocks and concrete debris.
They hit every time.
"There he goes. That's a find," Deputy Ernie Burwell said as Marko the patrol dog barked after finding his mock victim.
Most of the patrol dogs are Belgian Malinois, bred in Europe and trained as puppies for use in the K-9 unit.
When they are 2 or 3 years old, they are brought to the Sheriff's Department for advanced training.
"They are full of courage, happy-go-lucky, and afraid of no one," Burwell said.
"The patrol dog has a high search drive. It will search and search and search until it can't search anymore."
It was a K-9 patrol dog named Nero and his handler, Deputy Steve Wilkinson, who located the body of a woman killed in the collapse of her San Fernando Valley home in the Northridge earthquake, Sgt. Robert Guilbault said.
The dogs are accustomed to working in yards and houses, not to searching over uneven, unstable rubble of a collapsed structure. The training exercises will help the dogs become familiar with those circumstances.
"This is what it would be like in an earthquake," Guilbault said of the mound of rubble used in Wednesday's exercise. "There's no doubt in my mind the dogs would be successful when the Big One hits--and it will hit. So far, we have been 100% successful."
Patrol dogs are different from other varieties used for search and rescue in that they will "protect themselves and apprehend," Guilbault said.
"If someone is aggressive with them, they will bite. But 99.9% of the time, a buried victim isn't going to be aggressive."