Training the Search Dog

Training a search dog to mission-ready status can and often does take a year or more. This page gives a "30,000 foot overview" of the process. One can't tell you how to train your dog for SAR in a single web page. Likewise our method may not mesh with you and/or your dog. Instead, for details see some of the training techniques outlined in some of the books from our suggested reading list.


Dalton closes in on a scent source under a camper trailer.

Although it's true you can teach an "old dog new tricks," it is also true the earlier you can begin training your dog for search and rescue, the better. This is primarily for two reasons:

Nonetheless, older dogs still can become top-notch search dogs. Buckeye Search and Rescue Dogs alumnus Linda Perry has had great success training older dogs, strays, and rescues for SAR work. She'll be the first to admit, it takes a lot of patience and energy.

Early Training

Whether you're training a puppy or an older dog, the early process is essentially the same:

There are many good beginner techniques outlined in some of the books from our suggested reading list. The most important thing is to keep it fun for the dog. If it becomes too much like work, it will become much more difficult to train both your dog and yourself! Also remember, if you're working with a puppy, their attention span is only a very few minutes before they bore with the "game." Start with many very easy but very short (five minutes or so) training sessions. Start very simple. Think of it as "hide-and-seek" with a toddler. As he gets the hang of it you'll be able to increase the complexity.

Whatever methodology you use, here are some pointers that in our experience make basic training go a little quicker and smoother:

Advanced Training

Once you and your dog have mastered the basics, it becomes a matter of repetition and practice, along with exposure to new scenarios and increasing complexity. Make sure your scenarios are challenging enough to be interesting for both dog and handler, but also only slightly exceeds the experience of both. If you jump too far ahead and either frustrate your dog or make yourself angry, it can be difficult to regain your momentum.

Another excellent resource are classes and seminars put on by local, regional, and national SAR organizations, such as NASAR, CSAR and IPWDA.

See Also