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"
Stay Safe,
Allen Padgett, chairman SARDOG

Copyright 2009 Allen Padgett. Reproduction is prohibited without the express written consent of Allen Padgett.

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Recommended Reading
Building a Basic Foundation for Search and Rescue Dog Training
Buzzards and Butterflies - Human Remains Detection Dogs
The Handbook for Managing Land Search Operations
High Angle Rescue Techniques Text and Pocket Guide Package
Lost Person Behavior: A search and rescue guide on where to look - for land, air and water
Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills
On Rope: North American Vertical Rope Techniques for Caving ... Rappellers
Search and Rescue Canine - Training Log and Journal
Search and Rescue Dogs: Training the K-9 Hero, Second Edition
Scent and the Scenting Dog, by William Syrotuck
Training the Disaster Search Dog
Urban Search: Managing Missing Person Searches in the Urban Environment
SAR Links
Alabama Association of Rescue Squads
Alpha Team K9 Search and Rescue
Central Alabama Search Dog Association
Central Georgia K-9 Search and Rescue
dbS Productions
Dogs South K9 Search & Rescue
Emergency Response International (ERI)
Georgia Department of Natural Resources Search and Rescue Team
Georgia Piedmont Region K9 Search and Rescue
Georgia Trackers Alliance
National Association for Search and Rescue
National Cave Rescue Commission
National Search Dog Alliance
North Carolina Search And Rescue Advisory Council
Search and Rescue Dogs of Georgia (SARDOG)
South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association
South Georgia Search Dogs
Tennessee Association of Rescue Squads
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Updated Saturday, January 16, 2010 Copyright 2000-2010 Jim Greenway