Once the dog has an idea of the "game" of avalanche search, detecting their alert on an actual buried person shouldn't be very difficult if the handler is paying attention. Some dogs are more motivated than others (see The Reward) but all need to give discernable alerts in order to qualify as an avalanche-ready search dog.
Click for larger image: Tristan alerts during a training exercise while Aiko observes.
For dogs that are motivated, the alert is easy to spot because they will vigorously dig where they smell scent from the buried person coming to the surface. Depending on the scent and wind conditions, the dog may need to change its working style. For example, if the snowpack is very dense and the air is still, the dog will work in a very fine grid pattern in order to detect scent. If conditions are right, they may be able to smell the scent from some distance away and follow the airborne scent particles to where they're emanating from the snow surface before digging. This is called air-scenting.
In order for a handler to successfully read a dog's alert, she must be thinking of the snow and wind conditions (i.e., scenting conditions), the terrain of the slide and surrounding area, and possible distractions that the dog may be picking up. The successful team will be able to demonstrate a good working relationship and be able to quickly cover a large area. Along with the issues of scenting conditions, terrain and potential distractions, the handler should also consider the overall health and working capability of the dog for that day.
All of the scenting conditions listed above, plus any possible movement of moisture within the slide, may affect where the scent emanates and the dog alerts. Remember that the dog is finding scent and it may be coming from a slightly different place than where the person is buried.
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