Training the dog

Obedience: A disaster search dog must be obedient to its handler's commands, yet independent enough to search at a distance without constant reliance on the handler's direction. Although a small amount of obedience work must be done in group training session, most of your obedience work should be done independently by you the handler, on your own or with a private instructor. This allows the handler to focus the dog's drive on the job at hand and fosters good communication and trust between the handler and the dog.

The well-trained search dog should have mastered all basic obedience commands, as well as extended down-stays, emergency stop on recall, and other more advanced maneuvers, both when near the handler and when at a distance from the handler. The dog must respond to directional commands such as, move right, left, away from handler, toward handler, in order to be directed to search specific areas at a distance from the handler. The dog must be able to work off lead, and must also be well-mannered and able to deal with crowds at airports, public training demonstrations, and other public venues. Due to the travel distance that disaster search teams encounter, the dog must be able to travel safely and quietly on all forms of transportation, either restrained by a lead or harness or in a crate. In addition, the dog must not show aggression toward other dogs at any time.

Agility: In order to be effective and safe during search operations, a SAR dog and handler must be agile on all types of surfaces and able to negotiate obstacles with confidence. Moving over the rubble should become second nature to the dog, so that it can concentrate on its job of searching. Extensive agility practice takes place during group training, and handlers also work at home to improve their dogs' abilities in this area. Disaster search dogs must be able to climb a ladder to a second-story window, traverse a high walkway, negotiate a seesaw, crawl under low surfaces, walk and balance themselves on unsteady and slick surfaces, and go through dark tunnels. The dog must move slowly, stop or turn as commanded. All of this training teaches the dog body awareness and how to work safely and confidently on the unstable surfaces and debris inherent in a disaster site.

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