Requirements For SAR Dog Handlers

Search and Rescue Dogs Play Special Role

Dog teams have a very special role in the world of search and rescue. Their hearing, night vision, endurance and keen sense of smell have repeatedly proven to be invaluable in the effort to locate missing persons. Because of their extraordinary abilities, dogs are often able to reduce the search time, thereby increasing the chances that the person be found alive. We can never emphasize it enough: For the victim’s sake….. call our search dog unit as soon as possible! Air-scenting dogs do not need scent articles or trails to follow, so can be deployed immediately in hasty searches upon arrival at the search site.

Dedication to Duty is the Key

Search and rescue is serious business, and should not be considered as a hobby or just a fun thing to do with your dog. The work is grueling at times and often unrewarding. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and training to develop the skills necessary to do our job effectively. All members are trained in search dog handling, first aid and CPR, search theory, lost person behavior, map and compass navigation, terrain evaluation, radio communication and wilderness survival. Members are on call 24 hours a day and can respond to an emergency in a matter of hours.


YES! I don’t think this can be emphasized enough. Many people get involved for a while, then leave as a result of the impact on their family life, work schedule and existing recreational pursuits. You should not take your involvement lightly, as other unit members will come to depend on you as you depend on them. Expect to train with the unit 2 full Saturdays or Sundays a month, and an additional 3 times a week informally by yourself, with other unit members or friends and relatives. Once the team becomes mission ready, training does not stop. Expect to train at least twice a week just to maintain you and your dog’s stamina and readiness. Call-outs for actual searches tend to occur at the most inconvenient times. You must be prepared to respond anywhere in the region, with the possibility of being “in the field” for several days. Although you are not required to go on all searches, we are on call all day and every day of the year.


Since this is a volunteer organization, you will have to purchase all of the equipment that is required. This includes uniforms, boots, rain gear, radios, outdoor equipment, dog gear, dog food, vet bills, wear and tear on your vehicle, gas, medical supplies, training courses and seminars. You must be fully equipped prior to becoming mission ready.


One thing you must realize is that we are all here to help each other in our training. We will help you and your dog get the training, instruction and advice you need to become “Mission Ready”. You can help your fellow members by being a “decoy” for our dogs during training sessions. If you have some expertise to share with the group, please let us know.

There will be training sessions in all kinds of weather . Training sessions are as realistic as possible, and the time to try out any new equipment – not during a real search. Searches are common in rainy and stormy weather – so be prepared to stay warm and as dry as possible. Temperatures can be very different at night. When participating as a decoy in longer search training sessions – i.e. several hours, bring proper gear and clothing for sitting out and not being active to stay warm. Extra clothing, a ground cloth, food and a book will make playing decoy much more pleasant.

It is very valuable to walk with different teams (handler and dog) in their training sessions to watch them work. You can learn a lot by observing and asking questions. We are always willing to share what we know with you, and often your observations and questions can help us learn too.

A word on physical fitness : If you have any disease or physical handicap or problem, it would be best to consult with your physician to make sure he/she approves of this activity. Both you and your dog definitely need to be physically fit and healthy. Searches can last up to 8 hours a day for several days, and be conducted in areas of difficult terrain with inclement weather. One must be prepared for night searching also. Many searches end with a deceased victim, and this can be quite difficult for some people, so mental fitness is a consideration also. Remember, on a search, our own safety comes first – we do not want to complicate matters by becoming a victim ourselves.

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