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Melanie Hilliard

Melanie Hilliard

Wilderness Search and Rescue - The Airscent Canine

Before You Begin: No one will become a skilled handler by reading this article or even books. It is HIGHLY recommended that you find a local team to become a part of and train with. At some point when troubleshooting, you will need the help of a skilled and experienced handler.

PLEASE keep in mind this is a VERY brief explanation of search and rescue training methods and it is not a comprehensive training guide - it is only an overview
There are very few "local courses" available for search and rescue dog training.  There are some conferences that aid with the training of a sar dog but they are usually volunteers and only help once a year.  That is why getting with a local team that trains multiple times a month is key.  Obedience training can be accomplished by local trainers, training classes, and kennel clubs.

Some of the expectations of a team should be monthly canine training in all sorts of weather, basic first aid training (human and dogs), map and compass, and wilderness survival.

Wilderness SAR Training

You can start a puppy on the basics of search and rescue work as early as 8 weeks old.  The dog in this phase should be socialized with other dogs and acclimated to various terrain and also working on manners. Socialization is introducing the dog to various sights, sounds, and smalls in our society in such a way that a dog does not feel uncomfortable. These can include introducing puppies to slick floors, the outdoors, swimming, stairs, and play. At this stage, the handler is wanting to build confidence and drive in the puppy.  It learns that noises are just that ... noises and they can not hurt you.  The dog also learns that people have different smells and behaviors.

Eventually the dog will be able to do the following search and rescue chain:

searching for a missing person while staying in touch with the handler
communicating to the handler when the target scent has been located
finding the source of the scent (the missing person)
making contact with the missing person
returning to the handler (in wilderness searches)
telling the handler the missing person has been found
taking the handler back to the missing person (re-find)

Beginning Wilderness Search and Rescue Training

Step 1:  The Runaway

To make the training most effective choose a time of day that is not too hot or too cold and that a slight breeze is blowing.  To understand why this is encouraged please read up on canine scent theory for wilderness search and rescue.

Allow the young dog or puppy to get used to the grass, smells (especially if there are other dogs and noises).
Get the puppy's attention by walking it on lead or using the look command.
Once you have the dogs attention then quickly run a few feet ahead, turn around, and yell "here boy" in the most excited voice you can.
When you have about 50-100 feet further than the puppy then drop down out of sight behind a tree or small clump of grass. If the puppy does not come straight to you, wait a minute and see if he/she will use its nose.  If the puppy seems confused then make a little noise.
Only after the puppy discovers you should you praise it.  I mean lots of praise and reward it with a toy or treat if you choose to reward them with such.  Avoid startling the puppy when it does find you.  We want to keep this as positive as possible.
Repeat the runaway game 2-3 more times immediately.  Then 2-3 times each outing with each session lastng no more than 10 minutes.
As the puppy gets more experienced then choose ground that has more cover and work him out of site more.
Step 2:  The Runaway Problem

Have another trainer or participant hold your puppy.  Try not to use a lead here.  We do not want the dog to feel any corrections during this training phase.
The owner, just outside of reach of the puppy, uses a toy or other reward to excite the dog.  The person holding the dog also excites the puppy.
The handler moves a short distance away (depending on age and drive of puppy) and the person holding the dog releases it with a verbal command to find (continually praising it).
When the dog comes to the owner, the owner rewards the dog with play and lots of praise.
Step 3: Increasing Time and Distance
At this phase is where you will start introducing other people to the game.  At first, use someone the dog knows well like another family member.  When you find yourself teaching something new or difficult to your dog then you can use yourself as a victim.  Times to use yourself is when you change to a thicker brush or vegetation area and the dog has to traverse a steep embankment.

Use friends or family when you start with a short and easy field problem.  After the dog responds to the short and quick problem then increase distance and time.

Notes:  Use the same "victim" until the dog while the dog is learning and until he/she has progressed noticably.  If the dog is unable to close in on the person hiding, then work the dog from a downwind position and in a semi-circle around the victim.  This is where you want the dog to always succeed and end on a positive note.

You will want to do these excercises 2-3 times a session, about 3-5 times a week and practice them for 8 - 10 weeks until the dog responds positively everytime.

Step 4: Victim is Out of Sight

The dog and assistant move to a location outside where they can both watch the handler move from point A to point C and then disappear.  The assistant alerts the dog with "wacth him or where is he going?".  The assistant then releases the dog and gives the "find" command.  If the dog has no clue at this point, then have the mastercall out or clap to get the dog's attention and point him in the right direction.

If the dog performs well, then repeat this and do not let the dog see the master hide.  Repeat this 2-3 times or more if necessary.

Swap up roles and use the assistant as the victim.  At first you may need to cue the dog that there is a victim out there.

Next, place the victim in the usual search area and do not let the dog see or know that you have placed someone there.  Wait about 15-20 minutes then go to that area and work the problem.  Work the dog downwindfro the victim and through the scent cone towards the victim.  Keep these runs relatively short at about 20-30 minutes.

Next is optional.  (In Kentucky our air scent dogs do not scent discriminate and are trainng to go after any human scent within a given search area.  However, there are teams throughout the United States that use a scent article with wilderness air-scenting dogs.)  Introduce the dog to a scent article such as a tennis shoe, shirt, hat or sock of the victim.  As you give the fund command offer the scent article to the canine.  If the dog accepts the article then let him sniff it about 5 seconds.  If he does not seem interested you do not want to force the article on him.  This is to be a positive introduction.

Step 5: Improving Search Skills

To improve search skills add variations to the search problems.

Increase and vary the canine's working time from thirty minutes to 2 hours.  If your dog loses motivation then fall back to short 10 minutes searches every now and then to keep his drive up.
Increase the working area and the difficulty of the terain.
Work the dog in "contaminated areas" where people and other animals have been.
Introduce into the problem a total stranger to the dog.
Do search problems where the victim's location is unknown to you.
Start using 2 victims occassionally.
Start using a victim who has no interation with the dog and appears unconscious.
Put the victim in a tree and see how the dog's nose works.  This could be similating a hanging or suicide.


Where Do I Get Training To Be A SAR Volunteer?

EMA (Emergency Management Agency) teaches the courses at local emergency management agencies and federally with FEMA. Contact your county's EMA director or check you state's EMA schedule of courses for dates and times near you.

Wilderness search skills/survival skills (general) - NASAR courses represent some of the best combinations of wilderness  SAR- and personal survival/safety skills. Once you've been introduced to SAR and personal safety skills, local teams conduct their own training to improve upon that training base.  Also, state agencies (emergency management, sherrif's office, and local fire and rescue) conduct training in basic or introductory search and rescue.

Land navigation/GPS - An excellent starting point is your local REI store. REI stores offer some excellent and free training in the use of maps and compasses as well as Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers. That's especially important for the ins-and-outs of using your GPS. Get involved in local orienteering clubs or Geo-Caching for fun times but also to learn your equipment better.

NIMS Incident Command System - FEMA's Independent Study Program (ISP) website is your first stop in satisfying your ICS (Incident Command System) training requirements. FEMA IS offers free, simple, and quick online courses that you'll need to function at an incident.In some states, these courses are becoming required:

IS 100.a Introduction to the Incident Command System
IS 200.a ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
IS 700.a National Incident Management System (NIMS) An Introduction
IS 800.b National Response Framework An Introduction
IS 809 Emergency Support Function (ESF) #9 - Search and Rescue
Emergency Medicine - At an absolute minimum you should seek a course that is at least an equivalent to the 6.5-hour "Standard First Aid with CPR for Adults" course from the American Red Cross (ARC). A team standard ought to be a course that meets the 1995 U.S. Department of Transportation First Responder training requirements. These classes are often described as "First Responder" course or the ARC "Emergency Response" course.

Communications/Amateur "ham" radio use - The best "one-stop shopping" for this is the Amateur Radio Relay League      (ARRL)  website. There's complete information on rules, classes, and testing throughout Georgia. Ham radios are a big part of the volunteer SAR communications network. And the modern, hand-held, two-meter units make their operation very easy by permitting pre-programming of frequently used frequencies. That being said, very few volunteers become truly proficient at manual programming of frequencies on-the-fly. That happens a lot when going outside your usual response area.

What breed for canine search and rescue?

What breed do I choose?

There is a lot of debate in this field but there are some common factors that one should look for. Some breeds have a stronger drive and work ethic so I tend to stick with the working (herding) and sporting breeds. I also look for a breed that has a double coat (remember I am in Kentucky), good strength and good stamina. Each dog is different and looking at individual traits (which we will discuss later) is much wiser than just picking a dog because of the breed..

What traits make a good search and rescue dog? When choosing a puppy or adult dog for search and rescue, the primary concerns during candidate screening are the presence of appropriate drives (particularly prey, play and food drives), tractability, temperament, and work ethic. Choosing a Breeder Once you have done your research and you have decided which breed is most suited to your lifestyle and expectations, it is time to choose a breeder. You can meet breeders at dog shows, through the local newspaper, or popular dog Magazines, such as The American Kennel Club Gazette, Dog World or Dog Fancy. Here are some of the criteria you want to follow in selecting a breeder: • Choose an experienced breeder, one who has had several litters and who knows his breed. • Choose a breeder who has shown his dogs and has done some winning, which is a fairly good indication that his or her dogs conform to the standard of the breed and will grow up looking like the dogs you saw that attracted you to the breed in the first place. • Choose a breeder who is using our Puppy Aptitude Test. If he or she hasn’t heard of it, show it to them; avoid one that says “I don’t believe in that.” • Choose a breeder whose dogs are certified by the applicable registries against breed-related genetic disorders, such as eyes, hips, etc. • Choose a breeder where you can interact with adult dogs, and get some idea how long they live. • Choose a breeder where the dogs are well housed and everything is clean. The majority of breeders today show a great willingness to have their puppies tested, and are interested in the results. It shows them the inherited behaviors of their breeding stock, valuable information for future breeding. The results make it easier for them to place the right puppy into the right home where people will be happy with them. After all, no breeder wants a puppy returned when it's 8 months old and may have been ruined by being improperly brought up. Whatever you do, don’t try to pick a puppy by having the entire litter together - you will not be able to pick the right one for you. Always interact with a puppy individually, away from its litter mates. Getting a Dog from a Shelter Don’t overlook an Animal Shelter as a source for a good dog. Not all dogs wind up in a shelter because they are bad. After that cute puppy stage, when the dog grows up, it may become too much for its owner. Or, there has been a change in the owner’s circumstances forcing him or her into having to give up the dog. Most of the time these dogs are house-trained and already have some training. If the dog has been properly socialized to people, it will be able to adapt to a new environment. Bonding may take a little longer, but once accomplished, result in a devoted companion. While you can’t use the entire puppy test, there are some tests that will give you a good indication of what to look for.

  1. Restraint - try putting the dog into a down position with some food, and then gently rolling him over and see what happens. If the dog jumps up and runs away or tries to bite you, this is not the dog for you. Rather look for a dog that turns over readily, but squirms around a bit. Apply just enough pressure to keep the dog on its back; ease up if it struggles too much. Intermittent squirming is OK, constant squirming is not OK.
  2. Social Dominance - directly after the Restraint Test, if the dog didn’t struggle too much and if you think it’s safe, try sitting the dog and just stroking him, getting your face relatively close to him talking to him softly, to see if he licks you and forgives you for the upside down experience. A dog that wants to get away from you is not a good candidate.
  3. Retrieving - crumple up a small piece of paper and show it to the dog. Have him on your left side with your arm around him and throw the paper with your right hand about six feet, encouraging the dog to get it and bring it back. You are looking for a dog that brings the paper back to you. Guide dog trainers have the greatest faith in this test. A dog that retrieves nearly always works out to be a Guide Dog because it indicates a willingness to work for the owner. Other organizations that use dogs from a shelter, such as those who use dogs to sniff out contraband or drugs, and police departments, place almost sole reliance on this test. They know that if a dog brings back the object, they can train him to do almost anything. Wherever you get your dog, use the tests that you can do and act accordingly. By the way, it’s not too late to use some of the tests with the dog you already have. It just might explain some of your dog’s behaviors.

The Least You Need to Know

  • There are many breeds to choose from and if there is a secret in getting that “perfect puppy”, it is doing your homework.
  • A good place to start is “The Complete Dog Book” by the American Kennel Club, which describes in detail the different breeds recognized by that registry.
  • Carefully consider the time you have available for the necessary up-keep and exercise the dog requires.
  • Don’t get a dog on impulse!
  • Use the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test in selecting your dog, whether a puppy or an older dog.


The Use of Horses in Search and Rescue

The use of Horses in Search and Rescue seems a fairly recent but growing interest in especially ground, wilderness and mountain Search and Rescue. It is being explored a lot right now especially with various US teams and NASAR (National Association for Search and Rescue) teams in the USA.

However, the use of working horses is almost as old as civilization and if you picture the skills of say, Native Americans in the old movies when the ‘Apache’ or ‘Sioux’ could track on miles on horseback it seems to make sense. Traditionally, animals with eyes to the front – like lions, and wolves and humans – were considered more predatory.  Conversely animals with side facing eyes – like cows, deer and horses – were considered Prey.  Whilst this is not a 100% rule it does work in this case.  Important to remember because the horse behaves different when spooked and interested than many might expect.
A few years ago we did so equine SAR training and the horse trainer, Amanda Dolby told us about this prey versus predator relationship.  Once she explained it many people could see why horses behaved a certain way.  Although horses may have historically been prey many breeds have a strong play drive and are used on active hunts and as working horses so like to ‘work.’

Scent-Detecting Mounted SAR
“An additional capability that some riders are already pursuing may well be the most exciting “next generation” option as a specialty for Mounted SAR: equine scent detection. The horse (or mule) as a prey animal routinely performs air scenting, complete with scent discrimination ability, and riders should be able to “read” basic input from the mount. But the equine can also be trained to intentionally use that nose and provide an alert, creating a “SAR Dog” you can ride. Equine olfactory capabilities are similar to a SAR Dog, but with a nose that can be raised notably higher off the ground to detect the airborne scent. This has obvious advantages.”  “…Veteran MSAR rider and experienced horse trainer Terry Nowacki has successfully demonstrated riding an air scenting horse during SAR, using the mount for cadaver detection…”

Quote Source: Jorene Downs, Chair the NASAR Mounted SAR SIG,
and is noted authority on Mounted SAR.

So, not only are horses a great form of transport in these environments, provide good visibility to and from the rider but they also have the ability to follow a scent.  As mentioned, Equine Detection Trainer - Terry Nowacki, has done several studies on Equine SAR including its ability to air scent.  With training, the equine will actually follow a scent searching for a missing person; human remains, etc.

Jorene Downs, one of the horse trainers for NASAR (National Association for Search and Rescue) in the USA says the equine has binocular vision, and while there is a small blind area below the nose and directly to the rear, a minor adjustment of the head provides almost a complete circle of view.  The horse’s vision is 20/30, but with acute ability to detect movement within the vast field of view. The horse’s eye is also better designed for low light than the human eye, providing better night vision.  Vision is the primary equine danger detector, and the horse has greatly increased potential to see something that the rider does not.
Horses have a well-developed sense of hearing that is notably better than the human’s, and their range includes higher frequencies. Ears turn on the horse’s head up to 180 degrees to focus directionally for better hearing, and can swivel independently. As a prey animal, the equine ears are constantly monitoring for possible threats from all directions. The mount has good potential to hear something the rider doesn’t, such as a voice calling in the distance or movement rustling the bushes.
Equine routinely use scent discrimination to help identify friend and threat, food sources, etc. Olfactory sensor capabilities greatly exceed the human’s, and are comparable to a dog’s. In the herd environment it isn’t unusual to see a horse sniff to pick up a scent and follow it to rejoin the herd, locate a wandering foal, seek out a herd buddy, etc.   There has been a lot of work in recent years to bring Equine SAR (ESAR) or Mounted Search and Rescue into the Search and Rescue community and by all reports, it is working well.

Equine Body Language
It is useful to understand the body language of the animals you work with.  Some lay rescuers may see a working SAR or Police horse and notice certain things about its behaviour but not know what it means.  Here are some things I have heard.

Ear Signals
Pinned Ears:
An angry horse may pin both of his ears back. Be careful, a horse usually pins his ears back as a warning that he is about to lash out (bucking, rearing, biting, etc.)

Tilted Ears:
Interest or attention is shown by a horse who ‘tilts’ one ear back.  Usually paying attention or noticing something on that side that it is tilting its ears to.

Forward Ears:
This is a cautious one as I have heard it means ‘Danger’ when both ears are pointed forward. Apparently, it can also be a “friendly” gesture!  I would err on caution and read the rest of its body language too.

Cocked Leg:
Horses sometimes cocks its back leg and shifts its weight when relaxed being groomed. This is a good sign showing the horse is relaxed and calm.

The Meaning of a Horse's Pawing Action
Mounted SAR trainer and horse behaviourist Terry Nowacki, gives this advice for reading a horse’s pawing actions.

1. Please or beg are sometimes referred to as a point - The front leg is held up off the ground with the head in a medium to low position. This is usually seen when the horse is really begging for water or food.

2. Nervous/Upset. The pawing is a quicker more sporadic action. The horse head is usually in a medium position. Many horses will use this sign while tied short or in a trailer.

3. I want. The pawing is slower and more evenly spaced with the head in a medium to low position. Many times this sign is used when you are late with their feedings.

4. Check it out. The paw is softer with head in a low position. This sign is usually seen when a horse wants to roll in unfamiliar ground, it is checking the ground condition. During scent locating, some horses will also communicate with their riders using this sign.

5. Tool/Weapon. The pawing type action is used as a tool to move, break or hurt. This sign can usually be seen when the horse is moving something in order to get your attention, moving feed around or breaking ice in order to get water.

6. Demand/Show of Dominance.  In this sign the horse's head is held in a higher, many times in an arched position. The paw type action in this case is a hard stomp with the leg moved in stiffer position. Usually seen when horses meet for the first time. Sometimes seen when horses are early in training and are trying to determine their herd positions with the trainer.
As you can see, a paw is not just a paw with a couple of simple meanings as the majority of people thought. The paw sign provides a full spectrum of meaning, some completely different than others.

How does it work?
The SAR horse rider, and the SAR Team around it, need to work similar to a K-9 unit.  Let them get on and do not hinder it.  Stay down wind and let the horse and rider do their thing.  You may find it useful to learn some of the natural ‘body language’ signs – like what the Ears Signals mean when they do this (pinned = angry) or that (pricked = listening) or if the tail is still or Swishing (and not batting flies) or its Pawing Action.  It all means something.

Horses are versatile able to work in cold snow and heat, traverse distance quickly, walk through water or over small obstacles and through woods or in towns.  With the necessary kit the Equine SAR team can track, access and treat and even carry (injured or tired) victims out.  And similar to a K-9 unit, the handler or rider, in this case, should be a good and useful SAR Operator before or without being in a horse.


New Canine Handlers: Where to Begin?

No one should choose search and rescue without realizing that they face months of hard training.  This training will include but is not limited to first aid, wilderness survival training, map and compass training, possible Ham radio operator and event scent mechanics.  A half-trained handler and dog is not doing the community any help and is detrimental to the search.  Handlers need to have a keen sense of the outdoors, the ability to work long hours with minimum help, have physical and mental competence to do the job, and have a positive mental attitude.

Chances are if you are a new handler and visiting this site for the first time then you have many questions. What type dog should I use for search and rescue? Should I start with a puppy or an adult dog? How do I train my canine?

All these questions we will try and answer. Let's start with the basics. What are the type of search and rescue dogs? There are primarily 2 types of search and rescue dogs ... air-scenting and tracking or trailing dogs. There are many classifications under these 2 types such as scent discriminating verses non-scent discriminating. Air-scenting dogs use airborne human scent to home in on subjects, whereas trailing dogs rely on scent of the specific subject to locate a victim or clues.

Selecting a search and rescue dog: This task can be very troublesome for a new handler. How do I know I am selecting a reliable dog to use for search and rescue work. There are some guidelines you can use. While no screening method is 100% accurate, you can prevent a lot of frustration by following a few basic guidelines. Most search and rescue dogs are driven to succeed by either a prey, food or praise drive. For search and rescue, I typically look for a high prey drive then work on supporting training with food and praise. Screening should be carried out at puppy selection between the ages of 8 - 12 weeks. Prey drive is easily tested for by tying a toy or small towel onto the end of a string and dragging it across the ground in quick jerky movements.

Questions when choosing a dog: What breed dog should I use? This is a tricky question because many handlers have many different opinions on what can and cannot be used. I tend to think of what tool is right for the job when choosing a breed. Is the breed the right size or have the right coat for the climate in my area. For example, on size, you want a dog small enough to be agile but large enough to have stamina and endurance. For coat, I tend to choose a dog that has a double coat because of both the climate and terrain in Kentucky. I want the dog to be able to function in both hot and cold weather conditions.

ARDA (American Rescue Dog Association) recommends choosing a puppy with the following traits. When choosing a dog breed suitable for search and rescue work, it is recommended to choose from a breed that possesses such traits as:
•Excellent scenting capability
•Strong drives (prey, pack, play, etc.)
•Physical endurance/stamina
•High degree of intelligence
•High degree of trainability

Handler Training: Besides training a dog, the handler must also learn many subjects before ultimately deploying on real searches. Individual teams have different requirements for handlers, such as Crime Scene Preservation, First Aid, CPR, Canine First Aid, Lost Person Behavior, Map Reading, Compass Use, Basic Search and Rescue, Radio Communication, courses in the Incident Command System and Managing the Lost Person Incident.

Interested in Canine Search and Rescue?

Search and rescue is a challenging and exciting activity; it is doubly rewarding to work with a talented dog and develop the intense bond that characterizes a successful dog and handler team. However, few people are prepared to make the commitment of time, energy, and money that is necessary for success. Search and rescue work is not a sport or a hobby — it is a lifestyle. Ask yourself —


Am I cut out for search work?

Am I willing to spend one or two years training twice a week before my dog and I are ready to participate in a search together?

• Am I willing to continue group training once a week indefinitely, generally losing my weekends?

• Am I physically and mentally prepared to spend long hours out in Pennsylvania’s worst weather, often at night, searching through difficult terrain, (noxious swamps and foul strip-mines) perhaps carrying a patient out several miles on a stretcher? Do I have a high level of tolerance for physical discomfort?

• Do I enjoy the outdoors and choose to spend my leisure time in the woods, on foot?

• Is my job flexible enough to allow me to leave for a search occasionally? Will I get up at 3 a.m. for a search? Will I drive three to four hours to a search?

• Can I afford several thousand dollars for search equipment, gas, outside training courses and symposia, etc.?

• Am I mentally prepared to discover a deceased victim? Am I prepared to reward my dog happily when she leads me to a deceased person?

• Am I willing to undergo medical training and other specialized training for search work? Am I willing to learn skills that are unrelated to dog handling, but necessary for a professional rescuer?

• Will I accept the judgment of a senior handler concerning my own abilities and my dog’s, and take direction concerning training methods? Am I willing to travel out of state in order to be certified?

• If I do not already have a dog, am I (and my family) willing to welcome one into our home as a family member, and commit to her care for her lifetime — whether or not she succeeds as a search dog?

• Can I gracefully take orders from incident commanders and senior handlers? Can I hold my ground calmly when my judgment dictates that I must make myself heard?

• Do I work well in a collegial atmosphere, and enjoy learning with people from different backgrounds and with different levels and kinds of expertise?

• Do I cope well with frustration?

• Am I prepared to take responsibility for my own progress, and show initiative in developing my own skills through study and practice?

• Am I willing to acquire a new puppy specifically for search work and train for several years?

• Am I the kind of dog trainer who is willing to give up control, and trust my dog when she tells me something that I think is incorrect, or does something that appears nonsensical?

• Is my dog my best buddy, or one of many in my household or kennel?

• Am I interested in search and rescue work even if I must do it without a canine partner?

People from many backgrounds and occupations engage in canine search work. If you are a “dog person,” you may have much to learn about survival and navigation in the outdoors, and you will be bowled over by the cost of proper equipment and clothing. You may have to unlearn many habits and attitudes that are fostered by the “sport” of dogs. If you are an outdoorsperson or public safety professional, you must be willing to invest a great deal of time in learning about dog behavior, and developing a rapport with your animal. A search dog is not just another “search tool” — she is your partner, and will only work with you, never “for” you. 


Is my dog cut out for search work?


• Is she of an appropriate breed (or mix) and age?

• Does she have a rock solid temperament — outgoing, confident, calm and non-aggressive? (What about children? Other animals?)

• Does she show intelligence in solving problems? Does she tend to use her nose to locate things?

• Is she in excellent health and a good athlete?

• Is she closely bonded to me — does she prefer my company to any other activity? Is she completely reliable off leash?

• Is she a well-mannered, obedient dog?

• Am I willing to expose her to a certain level of shared risk?


• • •

Sometimes an older dog takes to searching, but the training is much more difficult and time-consuming, and the working life of the dog is much shorter. Often the handler must spend considerable time correcting behaviors that, while not always undesirable in themselves, are not compatible with the requirements of searching.

Handlers usually obtain the best results when they select a pup with searching in mind, and train her from the time she is seven or eight weeks old. Many breeds and mixes can be appropriate for SAR, but not all have the physical or psychological makeup the work requires. The individual dog must have the determination and drive to search coupled with a completely stable and gentle temperament with both people and animals. This can be a rare combination, and you must be realistic about your own dog. All dogs must pass our subject safety test before they can search, and all dogs must be evaluated by one of us before they can join us for training. We have no place on our team for dogfighters and biters!

Some of the most successful dog handlers begin training in search and rescue before they have a dog, or choose not to work their present dog, and train for months before selecting a puppy.

How much does volunteering for search and rescue cost?

Depending upon your financial means and your goals in SAR this could be a lot of money. If your interests lie in lost-person search exclusively in urban or suburban areas, then your training may be at no cost and/or your expenses may be minimal. Expenses for anyone interested in being fully prepared for wilderness search may invest over $1,000 in the process easily. For wilderness searchers the expenses break out into at least three cost categories:

Equipment - It may cost a lot to fully fit yourself with an appropriate pack, clothing, boots, GPS receiver, amateur ("ham") radio, and other gear if you don't already have suitable backcountry gear and clothing.  Other costs such as a trailer for search and rescue continue to come out of the volunteers pockets because there is just not enough funding in most states.

Training/certifications - Quality instruction may run additional if you pay tuition + travel costs to a basic wilderness SAR course or a wilderness first aid course. Certification fees for the NASAR's SARTECH skill/knowledge evaluations will be at least $70. The FCC amateur ("ham") license test costs money.

Recurrent expenses - Recurrent costs include transportation and other expenses at searches and training, and replacement of "consumables" such as batteries and snacks in your "ready pack.  Many members keep MRE's on hand for searches which can be costly.

How Do I Find A Search and Rescue Team?

Start with your own community. Inquire with your county's emergency manager. Many county emergency management agencies (EMAs) maintain a volunteer SAR team. Many EMAs also have Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), or county or neighborhood organizations that prepare for local emergencies. Some of these do SAR. County fire departments and sheriff's departments often have volunteer firefighters or "sheriff's posses" that do SAR as part of their community work. Even if none of these have teams dedicated to SAR, they may still be able to direct you to reputable and local private teams.

There are also some state-wide volunteer organizations that participate in SAR. The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. CAP performs about 70 percent of the searches for missing U.S. aircraft. They search from airplanes and on the ground. CAP also participates in lost-person searches in the United States at the request of local, state, or federal officials. Members are civilian volunteers who wear US Air Force uniforms in the execution of their duties. CAP has squadrons throughout the Unites States.

Other sources for team references include the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR). You might also use Internet search engines such as Google to find teams.  Be specific with your search terms such as Kentucky + wilderness + search and rescue to narrow down you Google search

Dogs, Technology and the Future of Search and Rescue

Imagine a team of humans, dogs, robots and drones swooping onto the scene in the aftermath of a disaster and working together to find and rescue anyone trapped in collapsed buildings. That’s the goal of a team of researchers from around the United States working on what they call the Smart Emergency Response System (SERS).

The team is part of the Smart America Challenge, which kicked off in late 2013 to highlight state-of-the-art, practical innovations stemming from U.S. research. The SERS team is one of more than 20 research groups presenting projects as part of the challenge.

The SERS project’s goal is to use cyber-physical systems to share information and coordinate emergency and disaster response and recovery. These systems are designed to work in real-time via a variety of wireless network technologies.  In addition to NC State, the SERS team includes researchers from MathWorks, the University of Washington, MIT, BluHaptics, National Instruments, the University of North Texas, Boeing and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The NC State researchers, Alper Bozkurt and David Roberts, are focused on a very specific aspect of the SERS equation: dogs.

Roberts and Bozkurt have developed a high-tech harness equipped with sensors and other devices that will both make the dogs more effective at collecting information and incorporate the dogs into the larger network of a coordinated disaster response.

“We’re using a range of technologies to modify off-the-shelf harnesses,” Bozkurt says. “And of course, all of the tech is supplemented by training for the dogs and their handlers.”

“We’re not trying to replace dog handlers – we’re trying to open the door to new possibilities,” says Roberts, who is also an experienced amateur dog trainer.

The SERS dog harnesses include three kinds of technologies: environmental monitoring, dog monitoring and active communication.

The dogs will be equipped with passive environmental monitoring devices – such as microphones, cameras and gas sensors – that allow the dogs to retrieve and transmit data from the field in real time.

“We’re developing a platform for sensors that is designed to be plug-and-play, allowing emergency responders to further customize the harness,” Bozkurt says. “For example, if there’s the possibility of a natural gas leak, you could attach a natural gas sensor. Or if there’s the possibility of radiation, you could attach a Geiger counter.” Using wireless communications, the sensors can be monitored remotely at a command center or by dog handlers on a handheld device nearby.

The harness also includes new sensors developed by Bozkurt and Roberts that monitor a dog’s behavior and physiology, such as heart rate. These sensors will allow both dog handlers and the emergency response command center to remotely track a dog’s well-being and to determine if  the animal has picked up a scent or found a specific object or area of interest.

The active communication technologies on the harness will allow handlers to relay commands to a dog remotely. Bozkurt and Roberts have incorporated audio communication, via speakers, into the vest. However, they think the more reliable remote communication will come via “tactile inputs” – they’re training dogs to respond to gentle “nudges” that come from within the electronic harness itself.

“I want to be clear that these are not aversive punishments, but slight, tactile nudges from motors in the vest – like a vibrating cell phone. We’re using exclusively reward-based training techniques,” Roberts says.

Bozkurt, Roberts and the rest of the SERS team will be participating in the Smart America Challenge event in Washington, D.C., this summer.

“After that, we plan to continue to engage emergency response personnel to identify and overcome any obstacles to putting these smart-recovery techniques to work in the field,” Roberts says.

Roberts and Bozkurt’s work with their collaborator, Dr. Barbara Sherman, is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Article taken from

Choosing the Right Puppy - Volyards Test

This article is taken from Please visit their website for more information.


Getting a dog or puppy on impulse is rarely a good idea. Remember that dogs, like cars, were designed for a particular function. You need to decide what you want, a Corvette or a Suburban, a Fox Terrier or a Newfoundland.

When the various breeds were originally developed, there was a greater emphasis on the ability to do a job, such as herding, guarding, hunting, drafting, etc., than appearance. If a particular breed interests you, find out first what the dog was bred to do. There are so many different breeds to choose from and if there is a secret to getting that “perfect puppy”, it lies in doing your homework.


The well-trained dog begins with some idea of what role the dog is expected to play in your life and then selecting a dog that is suitable for the job. Following are some of the reasons for selecting a dog:

• Companionship;
• Playmate for the kids;
• Protection;
• A special activity, such as hunting, herding, breeding, showing in conformation, or competing in performance events;
• Status symbol (not wise); or
• A combination of the above.

Some dogs are able to fill all of these expectations, while others have more limited talents.

Getting a dog for a status symbol usually means one of the guarding or rarer breeds, and often these represent some special challenges. If you want a rare breed, first find out why it is such a rare breed and if there are any potential drawbacks.

Conversely, one of the most popular dogs and number 1 in American Kennel Club registrations is the Labrador Retriever. The reason is simple - it is a good multipurpose dog that can serve as a companion and playmate for the kids, is naturally protective, generally enjoys good health, makes a good guide dog, and with little time and effort can be transformed into a well trained dog.

You also need to take into account your own life style and circumstances. For most of us this means a dog that can satisfy our need for companionship, is easily trained and doesn’t require a lot of upkeep.


Everyone has his or her own preference and there is an enormous choice, from the four-pound Yorkshire Terrier to the 200-pound Mastiff. Many dogs come in different sizes, such as Poodles, or Schnauzers. Other have a smaller version that is similar in appearance, such as Collies and Shelties, or Dobermans and Miniature Pinschers, or German Shepherds and Corgis, or Greyhounds and Whippets, the “poor man’s race horse”.

Tidbits: Poodles and Terriers don’t shed but have to be groomed regularly. Unless you are willing to spend the time and effort learning how to do it yourself, this means periodic visits to a professional groomer, an expensive proposition.

Breeds with long hair require more upkeep than those with short hair. Pretty obvious when you think about it, but often completely overlooked when selecting a puppy or dog. Some breeds, like Briards, Poodles, Wirehaired Dachshunds and Terriers don’t shed, a most desirable feature. On the other hand, unless you are willing to learn how to groom your dog, it means regular visits to the grooming parlor, visits that are not cheap.

Some breeds, such as terriers and some of the herding dogs, bark a lot more than others. If you live in an apartment such a dog would not be a good choice.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Why do the breed standard for many dogs sound so similar when describing the dog’s temperament? Because so many of them were written by the same man. In 1874, J.H. Walsh, under the pen name of Stonehenge, published          “The Dog: Its Varieties and Management in Health”, the first major effort to describe the more than 60 breeds recognized at that time.


In selecting a dog or puppy be aware of the time factor. How much exercise does this particular breed require and are you in a position to give it to your dog? Some breeds require less exercise than others, but many require 2 daily 20-minute walks, at a minimum, and some, such as the Sporting breeds, much more. Just letting the dog out in a backyard is not sufficient.

In the selection process you need to remind yourself continuously that your dog is going to be with you anywhere from 8 to 16 years. And, the older he or she gets, the more important regular exercise becomes.

How much time do you have available to devote to training that cute little bundle of fur? If you have little or no more that 10 to 15 minutes a day, then you need to select a breed that is easily trained and doesn’t require much exercise.


A good place to start is The Complete Dog Book by the American Kennel Club, which describes the breed standards for the different breeds recognized by that organization. Two other excellent resources are Roger Caras Dog Book: A Complete Guide to Every AKC Breed (Dorset Press, 1992)and Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson (Grand Central Publishing, 1999).

Another wealth of information can be found at dog shows, where you can see a large variety of breeds and talk to their owners and breeders. But remember, they are obviously and naturally biased.

To help you get the dog you want we have devised a simple test which is amazingly accurate in predicting inherited behavioral tendencies and how the puppy will turn out as an adult.


Some of the tests we use were developed as long ago as the l930’s for dogs bred to become Guide Dogs. Then in the 1950’s, studies on puppies were done to determine how quickly they learned. These studies were actually done to identify children’s learning stages.

Top Dog Tips: The ideal age to test the puppy is at 49 days of age when the puppy is neurologically complete and it has the brain of an adult dog. With each passing day after the 49th day the responses will be tainted by prior learning.

Later on in the early 60’s more tests were developed to determine if pups could be tested for dominance and submission. These tests determined that it was indeed possible to predict future behavioral traits of adult dogs by testing puppies at 49 days of age. Testing before or after that age, effected the accuracy of the test, depending on the time before or after the 49th day.

We took these tests, added some of our own, and put together what is now known as the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test, or PAT. PAT uses a scoring system from 1-6 and consists of ten tests. The tests are done consecutively and in the order listed. Each test is scored separately, and interpreted on its own merits. The scores are not averaged, and there are no winners or losers. The entire purpose is to select the right puppy for the right home.

The tests are as follows:

1. Social Attraction - degree of social attraction to people, confidence or dependence.
2. Following - willingness to follow a person.
3. Restraint - degree of dominant or submissive tendency, and ease of handling in difficult situations.
4. Social Dominance - degree of acceptance of social dominance by a person.
5. Elevation - degree of accepting dominance while in a position of no control, such as at the veterinarian or groomer.
6. Retrieving - degree of willingness to do something for you. Together with Social Attraction and Following a key indicator for ease or difficulty in training.
7. Touch Sensitivity - degree of sensitivity to touch and a key indicator to the type of training equipment required.
8. Sound Sensitivity - degree of sensitivity to sound, such as loud noises or thunderstorms.
9. Sight Sensitivity - degree of response to a moving object, such as chasing bicycles, children or squirrels.
10. Stability - degree of startle response to a strange object.

During the testing make a note of the heart rate of the pup, which is an indication of how it deals with stress, as well as its energy level. Puppies come with high, medium or low energy levels. You have to decide for yourself, which suits your life style. Dogs with high energy levels need a great deal of exercise, and will get into mischief if this energy is not channeled into the right direction.

Finally, look at the overall structure of the puppy. You see what you get at 49 days age. If the pup has strong and straight front and back legs, with all four feet pointing in the same direction, it will grow up that way, provided you give it the proper diet and environment in which to grow. If you notice something out of the ordinary at this age, it will stay with puppy for the rest of its life. He will not grow out of it.


Here are the ground rules for performing the test:

• The testing is done in a location unfamiliar to the puppies. This does not mean they have to taken away from home. A 10-foot square area is perfectly adequate, such as a room in the house where the puppies have not been.
• The puppies are tested one at a time.
• There are no other dogs or people, except the scorer and the tester, in the testing area
• The puppies do not know the tester.
• The scorer is a disinterested third party and not the person interested in selling you a puppy.
• The scorer is unobtrusive and positions him or herself so he or she can observe the puppies’ responses without having to move.
• The puppies are tested before they are fed.
• The puppies are tested when they are at their liveliest.
• Do not try to test a puppy that is not feeling well.
• Puppies should not be tested the day of or the day after being vaccinated.
• Only the first response counts!

Top Dog Tips: During the test, watch the puppy’s tail. It will make a difference in the scoring whether the tail is up or down.

The tests are simple to perform and anyone with some common sense can do them. You can, however, elicit the help of someone who has tested puppies before and knows what they are doing.

1. Social attraction - the owner or caretaker of the puppies places it in the test area about four feet from the tester and then leaves the test area. The tester kneels down and coaxes the puppy to come to him or her by encouragingly and gently clapping hands and calling. The tester must coax the puppy in the opposite direction from where it entered the test area. Hint: Lean backward, sitting on your heels instead of leaning forward toward the puppy. Keep your hands close to your body encouraging the puppy to come to you instead of trying to reach for the puppy.

2. Following - the tester stands up and slowly walks away encouraging the puppy to follow. Hint: Make sure the puppy sees you walk away and get the puppy to focus on you by lightly clapping your hands and using verbal encouragement to get the puppy to follow you. Do not lean over the puppy.

3. Restraint - the tester crouches down and gently rolls the puppy on its back and holds it on its back for 30 seconds. Hint: Hold the puppy down without applying too much pressure. The object is not to keep it on its back but to test its response to being placed in that position.

4. Social Dominance - let the puppy stand up or sit and gently stroke it from the head to the back while you crouch beside it. See if it will lick your face, an indication of a forgiving nature. Continue stroking until you see a behavior you can score. Hint: When you crouch next to the puppy avoid leaning or hovering over the puppy. Have the puppy at your side with both of you facing in the same direction.

Top Dog Tips: During testing maintain a positive, upbeat and friendly attitude toward the puppies. Try to get each puppy to interact with you to bring out the best in him or her. Make the test a pleasant experience for the puppy.

5. Elevation Dominance - the tester cradles the puppy with both hands, supporting the puppy under its chest and gently lifts it two feet off the ground and holds it there for 30 seconds.

6. Retrieving - the tester crouches beside the puppy and attracts its attention with a crumpled up piece of paper. When the puppy shows some interest, the tester throws the paper no more than four feet in front of the puppy encouraging it to retrieve the paper.

7. Touch Sensitivity - the tester locates the webbing of one the puppy’s front paws and presses it lightly between his index finger and thumb. The tester gradually increases pressure while counting to ten and stops when the puppy pulls away or shows signs of discomfort.

8. Sound Sensitivity - the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area and an assistant stationed at the perimeter makes a sharp noise, such as banging a metal spoon on the bottom of a metal pan.

9. Sight Sensitivity - the puppy is placed in the center of the testing area. The tester ties a string around a bath towel and jerks it across the floor, two feet away from the puppy.

10. Stability - an umbrella is opened about five feet from the puppy and gently placed on the ground.



Following are the responses you will see and the score assigned to each particular response. You will see some variations and will have to make a judgment on what score to give them.

Test    Response    Score
SOCIAL ATTRACTION    Came readily, tail up, jumped, bit at hands    1
     Came readily, tail up, pawed, licked at hands    2
     Came readily, tail up    3
     Came readily, tail down    4
     Came hesitantly, tail down    5
     Didn’t come at all    6
FOLLOWING    Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot, bit at feet    1
     Followed readily, tail up, got underfoot    2
     Followed readily, tail up    3
     Followed readily, tail down    4
     Followed hesitantly, tail down    5
     Did not follow or went away    6
RESTRAINT    Struggled fiercely, flailed, bit    1
     Struggled fiercely, flailed    2
     Settled, struggled, settled with some eye contact    3
     Struggled, then settled    4
     No struggle    5
     No struggle, strained to avoid eye contact    6
SOCIAL DOMINANCE    Jumped, pawed, bit, growled    1
     Jumped, pawed    2
     Cuddled up to tester and tried to lick face    3
     Squirmed, licked at hands    4
     Rolled over, licked at hands    5
     Went away and stayed away    6
ELEVATION DOMINANCE    Struggled fiercely, tried to bite    1
     Struggled fiercely    2
     Struggled, settled, struggled, settled    3
     No struggle, relaxed    4
     No struggle, body stiff    5
     No struggle, froze    6
RETRIEVING    Chased object, picked it up and ran away    1
     Chased object, stood over it and did not return    2
     Chased object, picked it up and returned with it to tester    3
     Chased object and returned without it to tester    4
     Started to chase object, lost interest    5
     Does not chase object    6
TOUCH SENSITIVITY    8-10 count before response    1
     6-8 count before response    2
     5-6 count before response    3
     3-5 count before response    4
     2-3 count before response    5
     1-2 count before response    6
SOUND SENSITIVITY    Listened, located sound and ran toward it barking    1
     Listened, located sound and walked slowly toward it    2
     Listened, located sound and showed curiosity    3
     Listened and located sound    4
     Cringed, backed off and hid behind tester 5    5
     Ignored sound and showed no curiosity    6
SIGHT SENSITIVITY    Looked, attacked and bit object    1
     Looked and put feet on object and put mouth on it    2
     Looked with curiosity and attempted to investigate, tail up    3
     Looked with curiosity, tail down    4
     Ran away or hid behind tester    5
     Hid behind tester    6
STABILITY    Looked and ran to the umbrella, mouthing or biting it    1
     Looked and walked to the umbrella, smelling it cautiously    2
     Looked and went to investigate    3
     Sat and looked, but did not move toward the umbrella    4
     Showed little or no interest    5
     Ran away from the umbrella    6


The scores are interpreted as follows:

Mostly 1’s -

Strong desire to be pack leader and is not shy about bucking for a promotion
Has a predisposition to be aggressive to people and other dogs and will bite
Should only be placed into a very experienced home where the dog will be trained and worked on a regular basis

Top Dog Tips: Stay away from the puppy with a lot of 1’s or 2’s. It has lots of leadership aspirations and may be difficult to manage. This puppy needs an experienced home. Not good with children.

Mostly 2’s -

Also has leadership aspirations
May be hard to manage and has the capacity to bite
Has lots of self-confidence
Should not be placed into an inexperienced home
Too unruly to be good with children and elderly people, or other animals
Needs strict schedule, loads of exercise and lots of training
Has the potential to be a great show dog with someone who understands dog behavior

Mostly 3’s -

Can be a high-energy dog and may need lots of exercise
Good with people and other animals
Can be a bit of a handful to live with
Needs training, does very well at it and learns quickly
Great dog for second time owner.

Mostly 4’s -

The kind of dog that makes the perfect pet
Best choice for the first time owner.
Rarely will buck for a promotion in the family
Easy to train, and rather quiet.
Good with elderly people, children, although may need protection from the children
Choose this pup, take it to obedience classes, and you’ll be the star, without having to do too much work!

Tidbits: The puppy with mostly 3’s and 4’s can be quite a handful, but should be good with children and does well with training. Energy needs to be dispersed with plenty of exercise.

Mostly 5’s -

Fearful, shy and needs special handling
Will run away at the slightest stress in its life
Strange people, strange places, different floor or ground surfaces may upset it
Often afraid of loud noises and terrified of thunder storms. When you greet it upon your return, may submissively urinate. Needs a very special home where the environment doesn’t change too much and where there are no children
Best for a quiet, elderly couple
If cornered and cannot get away, has a tendency to bite

Top Dog Tips: Avoid the puppy with several 6’s. It is so independent it doesn’t need you or anyone. He is his own person and unlikely to bond to you.

Mostly 6’s -

So independent that he doesn’t need you or other people
Doesn’t care if he is trained or not - he is his own person Unlikely to bond to you, since he doesn’t need you.
A great guard dog for gas stations!
Do not take this puppy and think you can change him into a lovable bundle - you can’t, so leave well enough alone


Few puppies will test with all 2’s or all 3’s - there will be a mixture of scores.

For that first time, wonderfully easy to train, potential star, look for a puppy that scores with mostly 4’s and 3’s. Don’t worry about the score on Touch Sensitivity - you can compensate for that with the right training equipment.

Tidbits: It’s hard not to become emotional when picking a puppy - they are all so cute, soft and cuddly. Remind yourself that this dog is going to be with you for 8 to 16 years. Don’t hesitate to step back a little to contemplate your decision. Sleep on it and review it in the light of day.

Avoid the puppy with a score of 1 on the Restraint and Elevation tests. This puppy will be too much for the first time owner.

It’s a lot more fun to have a good dog, one that is easy to train, one you can live with and one you can be proud of, than one that is a constant struggle.

PLEASE VISIT FOR MORE INFORMATION on the puppy aptitude test.


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