We've been hearing a lot about rescue dogs lately. Hundreds of search and rescue (SAR) dogs have been out there saving lives during recent back-to-back hurricanes and back-to-back earthquakes. When you watch their incredibly brave work on news clips, does it make you think about getting involved in SAR? Here's a few things you should know.
1. You will be training along your own dog. Your dog will be a 'search and rescue dog', and you will be a 'search and rescue handler.'
2. Training for SAR is difficult and time-consuming for you and your dog. This is an avocation much like being a volunteer fire-person. Both you and your dog must train together several times a week and both be in excellent physical form. You are not paid for your services, if called to volunteer in an emergency.
3. Though you can train a dog at any age, the best search and rescue dogs start young, very young, like almost as soon as they are weaned. No, they are not sent out in the field that young, but elements of the training, like fetching a toy and being rewarded for it, start very early and get progressively harder as your dog ages. (Here are some good beginner exercises to do with your dog.)
4. If you and your dog commit to SAR work, your career might look like this: Training starts at 8 -10 weeks of age. Dog and handler are deployed into the field at 12 - 18 months of age. And dog retires at 5 to 10 years, depending on how he continues to perform.
5. Any breed of dog can be trained for SAR, but the breeds that tend to succeed have traits that naturally draw them to performing SAR regimes. Those dog breeds include those of the larger working and sporting breeds of dogs, like German Shepherds, Dobermans, Bloodhounds, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Giant Schnauzers, and Labradors.
6. SAR dogs may not be aggressive. Regardless of the kind of dog you choose to be your partner, she has to be alert and be of good temperament - on the gentle side with other people and dogs.
7. Although you may want to start training your dog at home, it is encouraged that you join a group training program as soon as you decide to train for SAR. The interaction with other handlers and dogs will be good for you and your dog. Most of all, you both will benefit from having an experienced trainer at the helm.
8. SAR dogs can be trained for air scent (general detection of life), tracking (single scent), or trailing (a combination of air scent and tracking). Situations for which the handler and dog might be trained include wilderness, disaster, cadaver, avalanche, desert, and water search and rescue or recovery. You and your dog might excel in one or more of these categories. Some kinds of training may be more available in your local area than others.
9. It is estimated that there are 150 SAR local training units throughout the U.S., and that number is growing. Information about standards of training and local training organizations can be obtained from national organizations such as the National Search Dog Alliance (NSDA), Search and Rescue Dogs Of The United States (SARDUS), and the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA). They are a wealth of training materials and other professional information.
10. The best way to get introduced to SAR training is to visit a local training program while it's in session. To find local SAR training, either contact one of the agencies above or do an Internet search for "search and rescue dog training schools."
Also read, Scent And The Scenting Dog, by William Syrotuck, called 'the pioneer' of SAR dog training.
This video offers a great look at Frida, the hero rescue dog, her job and her training.
photos: YouTube video