Becoming a Search Dog Handler with K-9 SAR TX:
Being a search dog handler is not a typical volunteer activity. Beyond a desire to help in cases of lost and missing persons, a search dog handler must have a passion for the job. It is a huge commitment of personal time and resources. It is a commitment to a unique relationship with your canine partner. There are thousands of articles on canine drive for search work, but very little about “handler” drive. To field a successful handler/canine team takes drive in both. The following points should be carefully considered in your decision to become a search dog handler.
First, do your homework. Research and read articles about the training to see if it sounds like something you want to pursue. Find a team to visit to see the training in action. If there are several teams in your area, visit them all even if you have found one you like. You will spend a lot of time with your teammates so you want to make the right decision. Dog teams and handlers are notorious for dust ups, break ups and generally unprofessional behavior so do your homework.
Does your family support your desire to become a dog handler? This is very important. You will probably not be successful without their support. SAR Dog training requires a significant time commitment; the ability to attend training sessions and to respond to search missions. Our team meets twice per week so we tell our new handlers to plan on approximately fifteen (15) hours of training each week; with us and on their own. You will be giving up all of your free time.
Will your employer support this endeavor? Will you be able to respond to calls during the work day? You can be the best handler in the world, but if you cannot respond you are not an asset to your team or the search mission. No one can attend every training session or respond to every search, but you should have flexibility in your schedule to allow you to train and respond.
Do you have the financial resources to support and train a dog for SAR? Most handlers fund all of their costs, including the care and training of the dog, out of their personal pocket. Funding from other sources is rare.
Do you enjoy working outdoors? Do you have reliable transportation? Can you pass a criminal background check? Are you a team player? Are you physically fit? Are you mentally fit? How will you respond if a search ends badly? Are you willing to learn? Training may include Canine First Aid, First Aid, CPR, GPS, map and compass, radio communications and knowledge of the Incident Command System.
If you do not have a dog that you are considering for search work, please do not get one before you talk to us. Let us help you find the right dog. It you have a dog; we will evaluate it for search work. However, if the dog does not have the characteristics we look for in a search dog, you will need to get another dog to be a part of our program. This is not easy for the dog owner, but remember why you are here – for the missing person.
Are you ready to commit to living with a working dog? These dogs are not pets. There is nothing worse than a working dog in a non-working home or with a handler that does not have the discipline or commitment to managing their health, training and environment. It is equally disastrous to try to work a dog that does not have the right stuff. It is cruel to the dog. Remember being in school and being called on when you did not know the answer? I think this is similar to the stress a dog feels when they are asked to do something they just are not wired to do. A big part of search training is your relationship with your dog. It has to click to be successful. You owe the dog the care and training of a world class athlete. If you cannot make this commitment to your dog please do something else. If you start your training you need to finish it – see comment about a working dog in a non-working home.
Training is continuous and ongoing. We require that you and your dog certify to a national standard. Certification may take from twelve (12) to twenty-four months (24) depending on your commitment and the age of your dog when you start your training. Training may start when the dog is as young as eight (8) weeks. Some people prefer an older dog so they are able to better assess the dog’s probability of success. Generally, a dog over three (3) years old is too old to start training. Once a dog is certified you do not get to stop training. Dogs must recertify on a regular basis.
Currently, we have dogs training is area search (air scent), trailing, human remains detection and first responder disaster. We recommend that a handler learn one discipline before adding others.
Being a successful dog handler is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever encounter. Not only will have the opportunity to help others, you will get to roll around in the dirt with your dog!
If you think you have what it takes to be a dog handler, please contact us to arrange a visit to one of our training sessions. We look forward to meeting you.
K-9 Search and Rescue of Texas