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How To Train A Dog For Search And Rescue Work
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How to Train a Dog for Search and Rescue Work

A wonderful group of people that volunteer for some difficult work are the Search and Rescue teams throughout the US. These volunteers spend countless hours drilling and training for the eventuality that they may be called to help someone that is missing. The most recent example of this was the devastation that has occurred in Joplin MO. State Police and Search teams were deployed to find the missing and give comfort to the victims of this latest disaster.

There are different disciplines in Search and Rescue. The specialty of K9 Search and Rescue is one of these. Learning how to train a dog for Search and Rescue is a demanding occupation. There is a significant time commitment required to bring a dog up to the level where it can be certified in Search and Rescue. The work is rewarding but it does take a focused dedication to the task.

Air scent SAR dogs are trained to find living people out in the woods. To start a dog on this path the preferred method is the run away drill. First, your dog needs to be in good shape, have a reliable recall and enjoy playing with a toy or tug. When you have the basics in place you can start the run away drills. Have a helper take the reward toy and run about 20 feet from the dog. The dog should watch the helper(subject) run and excitedly want to chase him. Have the subject duck out of sight. Release the dog with the "Find" command and watch to see what it does. If it runs to the subject, he should reward the dog with the toy or tug and play excitedly with the dog.

When you have a dog that actively pursues the subject it is time to work on an indication and return to the handler. This is most easily done with the puppy ping-pong drill. Your subject stands about 50 feet from the handler and calls the dog, the dog is rewarded when it gets to the subject ( usually with a tidbit of food). The handler calls the dog and rewards it when it returns to him. The subject repeats the call and the dog is rewarded at him again. This is continued until the dog is immediately turning and returning to the other person. The final leg( to the subject) is rewarded with the toy and a huge party. The dog should be beside itself with joy!

Away from the subject, the indication is taught. This can be a jump, a bark and sit, hitting the handlers hand, anything that is identifiable as an indication that the dog has found the subject. To start with this is encouraged when the dog has found the subject while the handler is in visual range of the subject. If radios are used the subject can move out of sight. It is important to make sure the indication is only given and rewarded when a find is made.

If you have experience with how to train a dog you have probably heard of behavior chains. This is what we are developing for the k9 Search and Rescue dog. The behavior chain is: find the person, return to the handler, indicate and return to the subject. When this has been completed you have a good start with your K9 Search and Rescue dog. Keep practicing and eventually you will be ready to work toward certifications.


Street Talk

Hello C. Hughs, I enjoyed your "Rescue Dogs" article I worked for a short time at ATF Headquarters and met some of the dogs that were trained there. Some were still as statues but you could pet them. I asked the Agent first of course. There was this yellow Lab who came bounding over to me and jumped on me and licked my face. She took my arm in her mouth but didn't hurt me and the trainer was suprised I didn't jump away. I just had an instinct that she was just playing. Everybody in the building loved the dogs, They were really cool.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

It's amazing how valuable dogs can be if they're trained right. I know military dogs are trained to do this type of stuff all the time for wars, police force, and rescue missions.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Great training for dogs!

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thanks for a great article. I always wondered how they did that.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

There's certainly a lot of truth to the 'Dog is mans best friend' quote. It's heartwarming to hear that many of the Search and Rescue teams are doing it on a voluntary basis..

Reply
  about 6 years ago

It's awesome that dogs can be trained to perform these duties. The folks doing the training are to be commended.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
  

Thank you.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

this is pretty cool. I know these ppl are stupid paid tho.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
  

In the US most Search and Rescue people are volunteers. We accept no financial gain for this work. A few states do have paid search and rescue personnel. Florida and California are the two that I know of. New York, Colorado and Washington State are all volunteers.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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