WORKING HOVAWART

Home Guard Dog (Swedish Army) by
Karin Haglund with Scanderna's Svart Laser, Sweden

What is a Home Guard Dog?

The tasks of home guard dogs are to detect enemies or people attempting to sabotage strategically important buildings like radio stations, power stations and warehouses when there is an unstable situation. We call it “securing the objects” and “marking a patrolling path” around the area, which we patrol several times a day. The dog’s task is to hear if there is anybody out in the neighbouring area, if he can smell him or if someone has crossed the patrolling path. 

My task is to “read” my dog and tell my chief what he discovers. If he hears or smells anybody, the army will send out soldiers to check the area and the dog’s job is done for the moment. If somebody has crossed the path, we may need to follow the person by tracking. In those situations, we use a special formation so that the soldiers can protect the dog and his handler. In short, we use the dog’s well-developed senses to find the enemies.

Who are we?

My dog and I have been active in Home Guard for about 2,5 years. We participate on average in two training weekends every year. The purpose of these training weekends is to ensure that the dog maintains his knowledge and to practice teamwork. We are contracted to work a minimum of 20 hours a year for the Swedish Army. 

The Army also organises competitions for these dogs every year. First there is a District Championship, and the best dog will then go to SM Swedish Championship (SM). We have been to the SM for two years in a row. Two other Hovawarts have also participated in the SM in those same years. There are four parts in the competition: patrolling, tracking, obedience and finding objects. Privately we compete in obedience and tracking in the highest class, which is pretty rare for a Hovawart in Sweden.

Homeguard Hovawart Scanderna's Svart Laser
Homeguard Hovawart Scanderna's Svart Laser

How do Hovawarts perform as Home Guard Dogs?

The Hovawart is very well suited to being a Home Guard dog. They have got the right height (above 40 cm), they have the right coat to stand the winter and the cold and they like people even though they are guarding the area. It is necessary that the dogs like people so anybody can work with the dog in case something happens to the owner. It is also important that other colleagues can give them food or get to them when they are tied up in the base. As a dog guarding farms they naturally pay attention to everything that happens in their territory.

Air Force Dog (Swedish Army) by
Maud Gustavsson with Scanderna's Svarta Ofelia, Sweden

What is an Air Force Dog?

In practice, the work of an Air Force dog is almost identical to that of a Home Guard Dog. The main task of an Air Force dog is to guard the air bases or other important places against enemies. The difference between the Air Force dog and the Home Guard dog is that the contract with the Swedish Army is made with the dog, not the owner.

During the test, the Army only looks at the performance of the dog. So, if the dog does some marking and the owner does not notice it, the test leader will pass the dog anyway. Any dog who goes through the Air Force education and gets a contract, is called a "reserve dog" to the Swedish Army. The dogs will only be called in when the Air Force needs additional dogs. The Air Force dog must be pleasant to all people; they do not have a designated leader. Anyone should be able to work with them.

Air Force Dog Hovawart Scanderna's Svarta Ofelia

How do Hovawarts perform as Air Force Dogs?

My experience in educating my Hovawart to become an Air Force dog was that we became more of a team than before. A Hovawart is a very independent dog who will do well on his own. So, when we were going through the education, I had to learn to trust her and the marking she did. She became stronger and she has now got a task. That was very good for us. After the Air Force education, she also performed better in obedience! She wants to please me more than before. I think that this work is very, very good for our Hovawarts. They love the work.

Who are we?

 

In October 2000 my dog got her certification with the Air Force. It took five months to train her for the test. In other disciplines my dog and I have got through the first level in obedience with good results. We have also got through the first level in tracking. We competed in the second level in 2002 but she did not work too well because she was pregnant. Normally she is a very good tracking-dog! Last year she was invited to become a ”working-officer”. She spent three weeks in the Army, and it went very well!! She worked very well with the officers.

Air Force Dog Hovawart Scanderna's Svarta Ofelia

Search and Rescue, SAR, USA by
Christa Wendlandt with Varina von der Birkenheide and Anjo von den duenen Flitzern, USA 

What is Search and Rescue, SAR?

You probably heard of people missing in Wilderness areas, kids wandering away from home, elderly people getting confused and lost, and definitely of all the dogs that were working at the World Trade Center in New York, after the 11th of September 2001.

These are just some of the areas where trained search dogs are used. We also use them to find evidence, drowned victims and bodies. There are two major areas where search dogs are used extensively. One is for Wilderness searches and the other is for Disaster searches. Then some people will further their dogs training to include water searching, cadaver, evidence and trailing.

It takes lots of time and dedication and basically will turn into a lifestyle. Plus, its all volunteer and you have to pay all the training expenses yourself, so unless you have someone supporting your “hobby” it is very difficult. On the other hand, it can be very rewarding to be out tramping through the wilderness with your dog enjoying thoroughly the adventure, helping to clear areas and maybe even find a lost child!

Who are we?

 

My first search dog was a Mixed Breed out of the shelter. For my second dog I decided to get a Hovawart, Sonne (Varina). Sonne is now 12 years old and retired.

In my 15 years of doing Search and Rescue I have been on about 200 searches, from very small ones with only myself and my dog searching (15 years ago, there weren't many certified teams available) to huge searches with hundreds of people - all available dog teams of the US states (Oklahoma City). We searched at the San Francisco Earthquake, after the Oakland firestorm, after the Riots in LA and we searched for missing persons of all types – people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, very young children, runaways, suicides, drownings etc.

Sonne was a great Wilderness searcher, had endless energy and never quit. In our certification test the dog (and handler) have to search the mountains for 4 hours and after all that work, Sonne would still demand to have her ball thrown for her to fetch! For some time, she also was certified in Disaster and we both spent 10 long days in Oklahoma City after the bombing in 1995.

Dogs are usually used to clear areas, so we know for sure there is nobody there. Sometimes you actually never find anyone in your whole dog’s career. However, with my mixed breed we had several finds. We also had lots of finds where the person was already deceased. So, actually with Sonne, I was on 'only' about 50 searches with no finds of living people.

Finder (Anjo) started out training in Wilderness and Disaster and since Sonne was still working I decided to specialise with him in Disaster. Due to his relatively small size, he would just float over rubble and he loves the game. He is always very serious about finding the buried people and trying to dig them out. Nothing would distract him when he is working.

Due to some time constraints on my side, we did not get re-certified recently. We hope to be able to pick up the training soon and we should then be ready for our test relatively fast. There was one other Hovawart in the USA that was certified in SAR work and there are two right now which have started training. But the small number is mostly due to the fact that Hovawarts are so rare in this country.

Hovawart Search and rescue Oklahoma
Hovawart Search and rescue
Hovawart Search and Rescue Sonne

How do Hovawarts perform in SAR?

 

Especially for Wilderness searching the Hovawart is outstanding. He has a great rapport with his handler, has endless energy and can cover a large area of terrain in a very short time. Hovawarts are very versatile, have good prey drive and love people. They are also very easily trained although you have to be patient and take your time since they mature slowly. They are naturally very inclined to use their noses, so teaching them to track/trail is just an added bonus and doesn’t take very long. And if you have a Hovawart that is really confident on unstable surfaces you should have no problem training him for Disaster.

If you’re interested in doing SAR work with a Hovawart, make sure you get a very confident, outgoing dog with good prey drive and high energy.