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Search And Rescue Dog Training

a search and rescue dog standing in the snow
amber larock author of search and rescue dog training

Search and rescue dogs are one of the most well-respected pups in the working dog industry. With their impressive work ethic and dedication to seeing the job through, their expertise is unlike any other!

In this article, we’ll discuss what exactly a search and rescue dog is, and how to train a dog to fit the part!

What is a search and rescue dog?

A search and rescue dog is a working dog similar to that of a police K9 and service dog. They are specifically trained to accomplish a certain task in the search and rescue realm and provide services to multiple areas of human welfare and rescue. 

Search and rescue dogs complete intense training that teaches them how to lock in on a human scent and alert the handler to their location. With an important task like this, search and rescue dogs can be the key to someone’s survival. 

Search and rescue dogs can be used to locate those in low-population areas, but can also help those injured in large scale accidents. These pups can specialize in certain areas, making them true experts in their craft! Training takes up to 600 hours with a skilled handler, and they usually live with their handlers to further strengthen their bond. 

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How are search and rescue dogs trained?

Search and rescue dogs are usually trained with either one of two main methods. The first method is recall training, which involves finding the missing human and leading their handler to them.

The second training method is called victim loyalty, which involves waiting with the individual and barking for their handler to come to them. Training methods will vary in each situation, but both are effective.

Search and rescue dog associations often pick dogs with potential from local shelters and show them how to be hard workers! Though some organizations breed dogs specifically for training, many find exactly what they're looking for in rescue pups.

By having them complete at least 600 hours of specialty training, they are able to complete the course and graduate with their search and rescue certification.

Search and rescue dogs in training will often stay with their handlers while they are working toward the certification, and often continue to live with their handlers as “pets” or roommates. The bond between handler and rescue dog is often strong, giving them added success when it’s time to complete a mission.

Search and Rescue Training Methods

Once you have found a bold and confident pup that fits the search and rescue dog mold, it’s time to get to work! Positive reinforcement style training is the only way to successfully train these canines, as they will truly love the job if they are offered rewards and positive feedback. Reward-based training not only helps the dog enjoy their time, but will also strengthen the bond between dog and handler.

Once a dog enters search and rescue training, they will be trained in multiple areas involving scent trailing. Avalanche training is one of the most important skills for a pup to master, and will help them in many future missions to come! Avalanche training involves:

  • The handler will first dig a large hole in the snow, big enough for a person to fit.
  • The handler will then jump into the hole while the dog is restrained by another person.
  • When the dog is released they will encourage him to run to the handler’s side, teaching them the process of running to those who are buried in the snow.
  • Once your dog has mastered this step, you can begin to increase the time that the assistant is holding the dog. This will create a sense of urgency to get to their handler, helping them learn that it’s important to quickly rescue those who are trapped.
  • After the dog has mastered this step, the handler will now bury themselves in the hole with snow, leading the dog to dig for them.
  • Eventually, the assistant and handler will switch, leaving the dog to use its learned skill to find the handler and earn the reward no matter who is trapped.

Each search and rescue dog will complete their own version of training based on the part of the world that they will work. Dogs can specialize in avalanche missions, water rescues, mountain searching, disaster relief, and more!

No matter the specialty, each search, and rescue dog is a skilled worker with an important task. This job requires the focus of a service dog, behavior like an emotional support animal, and the patience of a seasoned handler to train at their side.

The Search and Rescue Dog

Search and rescue dogs are incredible pups with a life-saving mission. Be sure to review the tips we’ve listed above if you plan to get into the search and rescue field, and your pup will surely soar in their training!

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Meet The Author 

Amber LaRock

Amber is a Licensed Vet Tech with a degree in Veterinary Technology. Recently she has specialized in veterinary and animal-related content creation and social media management. When she is not working she loves spending time with her furry friends exploring the outdoors.

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