The Search Dog Team

Julie, Teresa Voris, Gloria and Abby
Abby on trail with spotter Teresa Voris, handler Julie Potter and spotter Gloria Napier reflected in window.

Obviously, there's no point in having a search dog team without search dogs, but they can't do it by themselves.

In training or in the field, each search dog team is made up of a minimum of three partners: the search dog, the handler, and the spotter. Each partner has a specific job to perform.

The Dog

The search dog's job is to take the scent (if tracking or discriminating a specific individual) or interpret the command (if receiving a generic "find" command) and act upon it. Using their superior scenting capacity, they are to locate the missing subject and lead the handler and spotter to the subject. If there are multiple people in the vicinity of the subject, the dog must clearly alert on the specific individual he was scenting.

The Handler

The handler's job is to prepare and start the search dog on his subject, control and observe the search dog during the duration of the search, interpret the dog's body language and carriage for information that can be passed back to base operations, and watch for unsafe conditions along the way. When the search is concluded, the handler must interpret the dog's alert behavior to correctly identify the search subject.

The Spotter

The spotter is responsible for keeping track of the team's location, communicating status updates and locations to base operations, and watching for unsafe conditions along the way. The spotter may also watch or call for the subject as fits the situation.


Other personnel accompanying the search team in the field may include law enforcement or Fire/EMS service personnel, additional spotters, ground searchers, or other persons authorized by the Base Operations Manager and/or the Incident Commander.

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