Finding the right dogs for search and rescue dog training requires plenty of knowledge and skill. Every dog is not cut out to be a rescue canine. A professional who works with rescue trained dogs knows what to look for in a dog, even as a young puppy.
What to look for in a potential rescue dog
Search and rescue training requires dedication and hard work. The dog selected for training must also be willing to give his or her best, throughout the training period. When looking for particular dogs, a trainer will usually look for puppies. Having the parents on the premises makes it easier to spot any hereditary conditions, such as hip deformity, that might limit the dog’s usefulness during a rescue.
Temperament is also important. A rescue dog will often be exposed to extreme conditions, plenty of distractions, loud noises, and a variety of other potentially frightening situations. A puppy should have a pleasant temperament and should not be extremely shy. A shy dog will not have the confidence to make a real rescue animal. But, at the same time, it should not be overly aggressive, which would hinder the rescue mission. The potential rescue puppy should show signs of being alert and willing to learn.
A puppy that shows willingness to play, such as by fetching a ball or following an adult, has what is known as ‘play drive.’ This is a good trait for training and real rescue missions. A dog without this drive may lack stamina or the willingness to continue with training.
The dog selected for rescue should be suitable to the climate. A long haired dog working in a hot climate will tire and overheat sooner than a dog with shorter hair. Likewise, a dog’s body type and height should be estimated, to determine if it has the agility and stamina for the job.
Common dog breeds used for SAR training
Typical dog breeds used for search and rescue include the Border Collie, Golden Retriever, Belgian Mallinois, Retriever, German Shepherd, and Blood Hound. These breeds are known for their intelligence and eagerness to please. However, that doesn’t eliminate many additional breeds. Other breeds used for search and rescue include Australian Cattle dogs, Springer Spaniels, Poodles, and mixed breeds. Any dog can be utilized for search and rescue, if it shows the willingness and ability to follow and track a scent. Usually, dogs from the sporting and herding groups make the best search and rescue prospects.
What is involved in SAR training?
Rescue dog training often starts before a puppy leaves its mother and siblings. A trainer will take the puppy away from the others and begin teaching basic commands. If an older dog is selected, it should be no more than 5 or 6 years. It can take a few years to train a rescue dog, and they usually retire at age 10. Rescue dogs have physically demanding jobs and should be in their prime, to serve as rescue animals.
As training progresses, SAR dogs are taught to work in harnesses. Their handlers, either volunteers in search and rescue groups or law enforcement officers, work with long lines and a variety of tools, to teach tracking methods. A volunteer handler must become certified in CPR and first aid, as well as learning to read the signs of the rescue dog. They may also need survival skills when working in large wilderness areas.
Search and rescue dogs are taught to track a specific scent, typically through skin cells. The dog is usually handled on a lead and becomes able to distinguish the desired scent from many others. Dogs are often rewarded when they find the subject or the right scent. Scent work serves as the basis for training.