Sonar, A Shelter Pit Bull With The Best Ears Ever, Becomes Search & Rescue Dog

Written by: Levity Tomkinson

April 15, 2016

When you first happen upon Sonar – an aptly-named dog – his most striking feature is, of course, his ears. Something that may not be so apparent when you see this dog is the incredible work that he does as a Search and Rescue dog for Missouri Task Force One as part of a “70-member team that is qualified and equipped to search for and rescue victims entombed in collapsed reinforced concrete and steel structures.”

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Perhaps surprising to some – but not to us here at BarkPost – is that Sonar wasn’t born into this line of work but rather was a dog who ended up as a stray at Animal Protection Association (APA) of Missouri, a “non-profit organization dedicated to bringing people and pets together, advancing humane education and creating programs beneficial to the human/animal bond.”

Sonar, then named Patches, when he was at APA.

Sonar, then named Patches, when he was at APA.

When Mary Roy first met Sonar at APA, besides noticing his incredible ears and “rippling muscles,” she knew that in order for Sonar to be able to succeed as a Search and Rescue dog, he had to have an innate and extremely high toy drive.

The first thing I look for is toy drive, obsessive toy drive, such so [that] he will cross wobbly, scary footing to get to the toy….Whether it is tugging or fetch, the dog must not get distracted and leave the toy, it must not abandon the toy to check out other things it is curious about. The dog needs to have more interest in the toy than anything else presented in the environment.

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Sonar fit the bill and was adopted by Mary, who also has another dog who she has trained to do search and rescue work. There is, however, one main difference between the work of Sonar and her other dog.

I do have another dog I trained and certified with FEMA prior to training Sonar. That one is trained to find living people where Sonar is trained to find those [who are] deceased….I trained him for this particular discipline as I have a live find dog and it is very important when someone is deceased that their body be recovered for the family to have closure and to be able to have a proper burial for their loved one.

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Sonar’s training to find those who are deceased not only requires him to be “extremely high drive…because you don’t have the benefit of a living person to be able to tease them in with a toy,” but it also requires rewards — repetitious rewarding.

The key is to always reward the dog when his nose is on source and barking so that he learns to keep his nose on the scent he is looking for as he alerts. This allows your accurate pinpoint of the location.

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While Missouri Task Force One currently has nine dog handlers, some of which have multiple dogs trained to do this kind of work, Sonar has the distinction of being the only Pit Bull-type dog.

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When asked by BarkPost if there has ever been a moment with Sonar that made Mary think that this is exactly what he’s meant to do, she didn’t hesitate to respond:

Every training moment when it involves him on the search for scent, makes me think that. He loves the job. He loves to work.

Mary remarked to BarkPost that during duty, Sonar is “100% on” and “focused and driven” to find the scent that he is trained to find. Off duty, though, can be a different story.

We momentarily left a pizza on the seat of our car and the window was down. When we returned to the car the box was very much undisturbed looking but the pizza was GONE. It wasn’t hard to know who was the guilty party of that caper.

The one thing that may not be so sweet about Sonar? His affinity for another furry creature.

His most annoying trait is he seems to be very fond of skunks and routinely seems to get blasted by one.

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Steve Kaufman, Executive Director of APA, seemed to concur with Mary’s stories of Sonar as he relayed that:

…[Sonar] was a goofball. Happy-go-lucky and energetic.Very smart and eager for a job.

Steve also shared with BarkPost a heartfelt reminder of the limitless potential of shelter dogs.

The APA believes that there is a ‘Sonar’ in every dog we place. The potential abilities of shelter pets is only limited by the amount of time and energy each new owner puts into the pet. Dogs have an amazing ability to adjust to new environments and you can most certainly teach an old dog new tricks.

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Mary also wanted to impart some knowledge to others who may have a dog like Sonar.

If anyone has a dog that has an incredible undistractable toy drive but is way too much dog for them to handle, it is not uncommon for that dog to get passed from home to home and eventually land in a shelter which is why I look at shelter dogs to find a candidate….if those dog owners would please contact a Task Force or a local search and rescue team to see if they would like to screen the dog to see if it will fit into their program. Then you can make a donation of the dog to them instead of turning the dog over to a shelter. You will most likely save the dog’s life and might be saving someone else’s life as well.

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To donate to APA, the shelter that cared for Sonar prior to his adoption, you may do so by clicking here. To donate to Missouri Task Force One, you can ask that your donation be directed to canine expenses and send your donation to:

MO-TF1/Boone County FPD
2201 I-70 Drive N.W.
Columbia, MO 68202


Images sourced from Mary Roy unless otherwise indicated.

Featured image via APA

Written by: Levity Tomkinson

April 15, 2016