How to train a SAR dog

Only dogs of sound physical condition and temperament are suitable as search and rescue dogs. A dog that lacks stamina or responds badly to strangers is not a good candidate for the work. The dogs must endure the attention of a distraught family when a victim's body is found so a gentle nature with people is necessary. Search and rescue dogs need confidence no matter where they work, so socialization must include exposure to different conditions, surfaces, people, and surroundings. Dogs must be accustomed to traffic noises, strangers, and boats and other modes of transportation so they can concentrate on the task at hand without fear or distraction. They also must often learn to ride on ski-lifts and in helicopters for avalanche rescue.

The handlers need training as well — training to read the wind, weather conditions, and water so they know how scent travels and training to trust their dogs. Trust is the main ingredient in a dog-handler partnership for search and rescue.

Training for an SAR dog begins when the pup is born. Exposure to different conditions and encouragement to solve problems open the puppy's mind to the more difficult tasks he will face when he goes to work. Young puppies can be taught to find people and things, and hiding places can become more obscure as the training goes on. Rewards are critical to the training — food treats and lots of praise make sure the dog enjoys his work.

Scent training is the most complex part of the program. It requires that owners learn how scent travels and that dogs learn to distinguish the scent of humans from everything else. Some dogs scent these particles by sniffing the air; others work with their noses to the ground, picking up clues from grass and soil. Scent can cling or be diffused, depending on the wind, weather, terrain, or humidity. It travels differently in mountains than valleys, on rainy days than on clear days, in dry, cold air than in warm, moist air. Handlers must be aware of the differences in order to give the dog the best chance for success.

When training a dog to follow a particular scent it is customary to begin with short sessions in which the dog "finds" his master. Gradually increasing the distance, the owner hides in the house or the yard, behind furniture or shrubbery, in all kinds of weather. Next step is to work in unfamiliar terrain with the owner and to introduce other "victims." The dog must learn to find people when the tracks aren't fresh, so aged tracks must be used. And they must learn to pick up scents in a random pattern, because lost kids and old people seldom travel in a straight line. Dogs doing land or disaster searches must learn to walk on debris, rocks, and other uneven surfaces. They must also learn how to deal with the risks involved and cannot become so intent on the search that they cause more rubble to fall or end up victims themselves.

Search Rescue Dogs Puppy's Life Stages Puppy's body language All about search and rescue dogs Training Process Tracking Dogs Trailing Dogs that search by scent Disaster strikes Search Rescue Rescue Dogs Handlers A dog's best ally Retrieving Tracking Training Search Bark Alert The Basics Search rescue SAR dog SAR jobs SAR Dogs Water Rescue Dogs Water Rescue Wilderness Search Dogs Rescue Missions Search Strategies Avalanche Rescue Avalanche Rescue Missions Canine training Techniques Environmental Technical Analysis Aptitude tests Signaling a dog Dog Training Practice "victims" dog rescue training tips Signaling phase Search buried person Dog Stimulus Chained search Blocking technique Techniques Feasible Localization Technique Support Chained search no body Basic behavior Emergency notice Recognizing catastrophe Security Rescue Different Structural Intervention plan Search-Rescue Operations Rope Knots Ascending rappel equipment techniques Rescue guides Rescue Maps Injured Victims Search and Rescue Medical Emergencies SAR dog accidents SAR dog injured SAR dog broken bones SAR Dog Shock Bloated SAR Dog Hazardous poisoning Heimlich maneuver Diarrhea Dog fainting dog drowning Dog frostbite Heat stroke Dog asphyxiation Electric shock Artificial respiration Poisons Dog insect stings Poisoning Bleeding Bone Fractures