Mountainpathfinder>> Georgia SAR>> "What Does It Take?"
Allen Padgett, Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia (SARDOG)
What does it take to become a search dog team? First and foremost it takes a commitment to excellence.
As a search dog team people's lives are often in your hands just like a doctor or surgeon. You are replacing
an entire twenty person ground search team so you must have all of the skills and knowledge that entire team
would possess. This takes time and training, not just for the dog but for you as well.
For the first time handler starting with a puppy becoming mission ready takes about 18 months to two years.
For the first time handler starting with an adult dog it takes two years if they ever make it.
If you are looking for something fun to do with your dog, go do something else.
Searching is serious work. When you are called to help is never convenient. It's often late at night,
you have to work the next day, and the weather is miserable and getting worse. Statistics show that about
one-third of search incidents end when the missing person is found alive by some part of the search effort.
Another one-third are found dead. You must be mentally prepared to find a dead body. Even harder is the
remaining one-third in which nothing is found. The search effort is simply scaled back and everyone
goes home. Not knowing can be very stressful. The idea of finding the lost child, wrapping them in your
team jacket, and returning them to their grateful mother is a once in a lifetime event. Reality is often
very, very, different. Get ready for it.
A typical search dog assignment is a hunk of woods about 160 acres in size. It will take you about
four hours of hard work to cover it with your dog. It is very likely to be at night in rotten weather.
The skills you need are the ability to use a map and compass to actually find that area to search,
then document exactly where you searched while in it and if you locate a clue or the lost person exactly
where that is. You will use a public safety radio to talk to the command post. You will need a fitness
level adequate to handle this assignment and after a short break another one just like it. You will have
to understand the National Incident Management System so that you know how to work within the search
organization. You will need first aid training for humans and dogs. If you find the lost person,
you are the medical crew among other things. Somewhere in this heavy task load you must also work
your dog. You must understand wind currents and how scent behaves. You must also communicate effectively
with your dog and understand those hints the dog gives you. And you do all of this in an urgent situation
where a life is at risk.
Training takes a lot of time. You have to train yourself, and you have to train the dog.
This commitment to training last forever. Just becoming mission ready is only a start.
Search dog groups offer training support and help with problem-solving. You train the dog. There is no
"class" to take; there is no "place" to get a search dog. If you are serious you need to
read two books. Read them cover to cover THEN contact a search dog team to discuss your
training needs. To get the books go to the NASAR website's bookstore to order:
-Fundamentals of Search and Rescue, by Cooper; and
-Building a Basic Foundation for Search and Rescue Dog Training, by Judah.
As search dog folks we do these things "so that others might live"
Allen Padgett, chairman SARDOG
Copyright 2009 Allen Padgett.
Reproduction is prohibited without the express written consent of Allen Padgett.