Search and Rescue


This post was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Noah Rue

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Tips for Training Your Dog for Search and Rescue

When disaster strikes, many rescue operations call on the advanced skills of dogs. Canines are life-saving partners for first responders and law enforcement agencies. They can smell odors and hear sounds that most humans can’t, and they can sense danger and locate people in trouble.

However, not every dog is a good fit for this critical job. When it comes to search and rescue dogs, training is of the utmost importance, along with the demeanor, strength, and size of dogs involved in rescue operations. If you’re wondering if your dog might be the right candidate, there are several things to consider before you sign up for certification classes.

What Are Search and Rescue Dogs?

Search and rescue (SAR) dogs assist human rescuers in locating people after disasters. SAR dogs work in a variety of conditions and during times of extreme stress. They are diligent and loyal to those they assist. The dog may track people who are missing after natural disasters or search for people who have wandered away, such as those living with Alzheimer’s disease or
young children. During earthquakes or avalanches, SAR dogs work to find and rescue survivors.

Finding the Right Dog for SAR

When you think of dogs working in the rescue industry, you may immediately imagine dogs such as German shepherds or Labrador retrievers. However, these aren’t the only dogs that are right for search and rescue — in fact, most of the breeds common in SAR missions come from sporting or herding groups. A good breed must be able to run in heat and cold for long periods, as well as climb under, up, and over various obstacles without fear. A good SAR dog will also have excellent problem-solving skills, have high intelligence, and respond to commands.

A few of the most common breeds seen in rescue roles include:

  • Golden retrievers
  • Border collies
  • Belgian Malinois
  • German shepherds
  • Labrador retrievers

It’s common to see purebred dogs as SAR partners. However, mixed-breed dogs may also be valuable workers. A few common include canines that are part cattle dogs, springer spaniels, Australian shepherds, and huskies.

In general, the personality of the dog is just as critical as the breed. SAR dogs should be curious, confident, and independent. They love people, especially strangers. They want to greet people when approached and are playful and intelligent.

What’s more, it’s essential to remember that age matters for SAR dogs. It takes up to three years to train and certify a dog, and most SAR canines retire by the time they are 10 years old.  If you are looking for a dog who may be a good fit for SAR, it’s best to consider a puppy or younger dog.

Training Your Dog

If you feel that you’ve found a dog that will be an asset for search and rescue, here are a few tips you can use to get them ready for the job.

Build Endurance

SAR dogs must have strength and endurance. You can get your dog ready for these operations by traveling to places like mountains or deserts to practice their skills. As you travel through mountains in your car, consider how you can prepare your dog for the job ahead. Try to plan trips that allow them to work in varying climates and terrain. Increase the length of your hikes
and be sure to bring along water, toys, and treats so that you can reward good behavior.

If you’re looking for ways to train in on trails, consider using a few tips for training a trail dog . Be sure to work with your dog both on and off-leash. Play a game of hide and seek to get your dog to understand that they can wander away but need to come right back. You should also try to vary your dog’s pace while you’re building their endurance. If you’re not able to run, consider bringing along a mountain or trail bike so that you can challenge your dog’s ability to keep up with you.

Consider a Partner for Yourself or Your Dog

Having two careers or two dogs can make training easier. Choose a friend or family member who enjoys traveling and learning new skills. You should also consider a second dog who challenges your dog and gets along well with them.

Schedule Lots of Practice

An excellent way to practice for rescue missions is to hide a toy and have your dog find it. This simulates the job they will be required to perform when searching for people. Be sure to reward your pup with treats and lots of praise anytime they find the object you’ve hidden to reinforce the

You can also try clicker training for dogs to teach them a few much-needed commands. Clicker training offers rewards and encouragement for wanted behaviors and helps to build your relationship with your dog.

Support Their Well-Being

Working animals must be in excellent condition. You need to engage in activities that support your dog’s well-being. A few activities include choosing a nutritious diet of whole or organic foods, maintaining a clean environment at home, and giving them plenty of daily exercise.

You must also provide mental stimulation so that your dog is eager to discover new scents and meet new people. You can offer regular mental stimulation through interactive toys, signing them up for doggie daycare, or hiring a caretaker to engage in daily face-to-face playtime during the day when you’re gone.

Research Certifications

You and your dog will need to earn national certification to get started as a search and rescue professional. There are several different classifications of certifications you can choose. To become certified, your dog will need to be able to train an individual’s scent in wilderness terrain, suburban, and urban settings. They will also need to be able to walk for a set amount of time or distance, depending on the certification you want.

Once certified, you and your pet may be eligible to work for organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency or local rescue organizations. You’ll also need to be recertified every few years to ensure the level of skill needed to be effective in this role is maintained.

Because there are various levels of search and rescue training, you’ll need to research each one and determine which one fits your dog’s demeanor and abilities best. Many organizations offer this type of accreditation for both you and your pet. A few to consider include:

Your Dogs Time to Shine

Committing to a life of search and rescue is serious business for both you and your pet. Your dog will be working in dangerous situations while saving lives. Use these tips to get your pet in tip-top shape both physically and mentally before taking on this role. Search and rescue is a noble occupation that can keep your dog happy and healthy for years to come.

Noah Yarnol Rue is always looking where his next trip will take him . When he’s not traveling the world, he’s writing articles on the new things he learns. Noah also enjoys a good meme from time to time. You can find Noah on LinkedIn.