From assistance and therapy dogs to K-9 officers, canines seem to take joy in helping people. Search and rescue (SAR) dogs also display this drive to assist by locating lost children, the elderly, and anyone who has gone missing. Many SAR crews are volunteers, meaning, with serious training, you and your pup could be part of a SAR team.
The Right Dog
Although a high number of SAR dogs are German shepherds, Labradors, Belgian Malinois and other working breeds, individual temperament, drive and focus are the most important traits. A successful SAR dog enjoys being outdoors, working with other dogs and people, and is very trainable. He must be able to navigate various terrains and obstacles.
Many handlers prefer to begin training with a puppy, but an older dog with the right attributes can be molded into a valuable working dog. The most important trait for a potential SAR dog is a high drive for prey, food, or praise. A dog that loves chasing a ball or toy is likely to take to SAR training.
Exploiting a dog’s high prey/play drive is the first step in training. Teach your dog to “search” for you using his favorite toy or ball. By enlisting another person to hold your dog on a leash, play with him using this toy. Once he’s excited, run away but remain in his sight. When you’ve reached an easy place for him to get to you, have the other person say “find it” and release the dog. When he comes to you, give him the toy and lavish him with praise.
Continue this game until your dog can find you behind an obstacle like a wall, bush or chair. Expand the game to various locations and have different people use the toy and then hide. Your dog will use his nose to follow the unique scent each person leaves in her wake. This heightened game of “hide and seek” teaches your dog that finding the “missing” person results in a happy reward. More rigorous training will follow if you join a SAR team, but your initial work sets the stage for success. Search and rescue can take a toll on your dog’s bones and joints. Natural supplements like NuVet Plus and NuJoint Plus may help.