Frequently Asked Questions
Listed here are some of the more frequently asked questions we receive. If you have questions not listed here, please contact us and we’ll gladly answer it for you!
Q: Besides the obvious benefit of the canine’s incredible nose, are there other advantages of using dogs in Search and Rescue?
Dogs are invaluable in saving precious time and manpower. One K9 team (dog and handler) can search 40 to 60 acres in 1 ½ hours, compared to needing 30 field‐searchers to do the same. SAR dog teams reduce search time and costs (if paid law‐enforcement or fire personnel are used) and increase the chance a person will be found alive or at all.
Q: What does it cost to be a certified SAR dog handler and what is the pay?
CSARA members are volunteers and therefore do not receive any compensation or reimbursement for their expenses. All costs are the handler’s responsibility. Some of the expenses involved in being a SAR dog handler are: vehicle maintenance, gas, dog food, dog equipment, dog training and certification, handler training and equipment, veterinary expenses and lodging.
Q: How much time is involved in training and maintaining a SAR dog?
Training is a lengthy process requiring separate certification(s) for the handler as well as the dog, which is then followed by on-going training to maintain field-readiness as a certified team. Handlers typically spend several hours per week working independently with their dogs, as well as several hours per month training with the team. When speaking about certification by a nationally-recognized organization, a SAR person will put in 200 hours or more in training. By comparison, a dog handler and dog put in 800 hours to get certified.
Q: How long does it take to become a certified team?
Becoming certified as a SAR dog and handler team depends on the handler’s experience, the dog’s drive, and the disciplines in which they are certified‐trailing, air scent, cadaver, etc. On average, it takes about two years to achieve certification.
Q: What characteristics are sought in a SAR dog?
Drive and temperament are key factors. Drive refers to the dog’s motivation‐is he play or food‐driven? What will motivate him to work long periods of time in potentially tough conditions? Temperament refers to being non‐aggressive and not being fearful of people, along with a huge desire to work with his handler in accomplishing a task.
Q: Are there preferred breeds for Search & Rescue work?
Handlers sometimes have personal preferences for breeds when certifying a SAR canine. Many select from herding and retrieving breeds, however; having a food or play drive is crucial. A candidate of a “working breed” might not possess the required personality and energy level. Alternately, a “mutt” can have the drive to be an enthusiastic partner and successful SAR dog. It is the individual drive and temperament that counts, not the breed. The dog also needs to be a reasonable size‐not too big, not too small‐and must be in shape.
Q: Are there different types of SAR dogs?
There are several types of SAR dogs. Each type is trained and certified for a specific purpose.
– Trailing Dogs. These dogs follow the scent trail left on the ground by a missing person. While they cannot always trail to the missing person, they can often establish a direction of travel, sometimes days later, substantially reducing the search area. At least three trailing teams should be deployed sequentially.
– Cadaver Dogs. There are several types: large‐area dogs for deceased subjects above ground, small‐area grave dogs for buried subjects, and forensic dogs for crime scenes. Law‐enforcement uses small‐area dogs primarily to find clandestine graves or to recover disarticulated remained (bones and teeth). Many teams are needed to cover large search areas while at least two teams should be deployed for small‐area grave, forensic and disarticulated remains searches.
– Water-Search Dogs. Water‐Search Dogs are trained to detect the scent of a body underwater while being worked from a boat. They are efficient at narrowing the search area for divers trying to recover the subject. Large search areas on lakes or rivers require multiple teams”.
– Air-Scenting Area-Search Dogs. These dogs detect the airborne scent of any living persons in the search area. They cover large areas quickly and are most effective when they can be worked off‐leash, although this is usually not possible in urban settings. Multiple teams are needed to provide double coverage of areas. Depending on the terrain and density of vegetation, each team can cover 40 to 100 acres in a few hours.
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Q: What are the handler’s responsibilities?
Search and Rescue demands a lot of responsibility to your SAR canine and your team. The handler needs to be certified in multiple areas, such as basic wilderness, navigation skills, first aid, CPR, search safety and tactics, clue awareness, crime‐scene investigation and radio communications. SAR work requires physical conditioning, developing dog‐handling skills, and practicing good judgment. The handler must function well within a team and working independently while always being mindful of the handler’, canine’s and team’s safety. The handler must be willing to bear the financial cost of all equipment, training, food, veterinary care, lodging and transportation. Teams should have national‐level certifications by such agencies as the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA), International Police Work Dog Association (IPWADA), North American Search Dog Network (NASDN), National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), National Search Dog Alliance (NSDA), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).