How You and Your Dog Can Become a Certified Search and Rescue Team
By: Jeff Noce, Voyce President
Have you ever wondered if your dog had “the right stuff” to do search and rescue (SAR) work? Or maybe you have dreams of training with a dog in the future to become a search and rescue team.
Search and rescue dogs and handlers are certainly among the elite when it comes to assisting and serving others. We all know about the heroics of these amazing teams who help save lives in the aftermath of a tragedy or track down missing children.
But did you know that there are a variety of SAR specialties and almost all SAR dogs are trained in only one? Not surprisingly, dogs who are trained in more than one specialty are highly valued and in demand.
According to the United States Search and Rescue Task Force, dogs can specialize in any of the following disciplines:
- Air Scent Dog – Can pick up traces of human scent drifting in the air.
- Trailing Dog – Directed to find a specific person by following their scent.
- Tracking Dog – Physically follows the track of a person without relying on scent.
- Disaster Dog – Finds scent in structures and areas affected by tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters.
- Cadaver Dog – Trained to locate only human remains.
- Water Search Dog – Able to detect human scent either in or under the water.
- Avalanche Dog – Detects human scent under snow (sometimes up to 15 feet or more).
So how do you and your dog become a certified search and rescue team?
The first step begins with your dog. It’s generally thought to be easier to start with a puppy so that you can control important behavioral aspects like socialization. This doesn’t mean an adult dog can’t do SAR work. However, it’s important to objectively evaluate your dog (or ask a trainer to do it) to make sure they have the right temperament for it.
Potential SAR dogs should be healthy, intelligent, energetic, confident, have a high level of play drive (especially with a ball), and be able to focus for a long period of time without becoming distracted.
SAR dogs do not need to be any particular breed but most tend to be German Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers.
If you think your dog has the necessary qualities for SAR work, you can start laying the foundation early. Enroll in a basic obedience class to work on basic commands and self control. Play games of hide and seek around the house (you hide, the dog finds you, big reward!). And of course, reinforce your dog’s innate desire to play by engaging him in “tug” and fetch.
At the same time, you can start looking for SAR clubs in your area. These organizations will help evaluate your dog and guide you during your training.
Becoming certified is a time-intensive proposition. About 600 hours of training are required for a dog to become field ready. This can take anywhere from 8 months to two years, depending on the specialty and the amount of time the handler is able or willing to devote to it.
For more information on becoming a Search and Rescue team, visit DisasterDog.org.
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