Search and Rescue Dogs of Tasmania
"Information on Training a Dog for Search & Rescue and Joining Our Group"
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Membership

Search and Rescue Dogs of Tasmania is actively searching for new members, and are happy to provide advice on selecting a suitable dog and training it for search and rescue work.

Requirements for New Members

Our requirements for membership are competency-based. To be considered for membership, the following capabilities will be looked for:

Searching

  • SAR dogs must be able to find one or more people within a prescribed bush area and return and show the handler the location of the person(s). Tracking is permitted, but in general air scenting is our preferred search method. In demonstrating this competency, the handler must be able to explain how the dog works, how and why they will structure their search patterns, and give an estimate of how long the search will take. Handlers must also understand "probability of detection" principles and be able to estimate POD for the specified search area.

General Handler Requirements

  • Dog handlers must have significant experience in bushwalking and wilderness navigation. They must be comfortable working in remote areas under primitive conditions, be team players, and be in good physical condition. Prior experience in emergency services is desirable. Handlers must have suitable equipment to allow themselves and their dogs to be self-sufficient for up to 48 hours in the Tasmanian wilderness. Handlers must also have First Aid qualifications and satisfy a character check (including a criminal conviction check for crimes against persons).

General Dog Requirements

  • A SAR dog must work willingly, and not show aggression towards people in the field. It must be demonstrably under the control of the handler and follow basic obedience. Dogs must be fit and healthy (including having current vaccinations) and demonstrate sufficient agility to ensure that the dog and handler can work as a team safely and efficiently in difficult terrain. When working, the behavior of the dog and what it is trying to convey to the handler should be obvious to an observer once they have been told what to expect. Dogs must have successful completed at least basic (and preferably intermediate) obedience training from a recognised dog trainer.
It is essential that potential handlers have experience in bushwalking and wilderness navigation. Often searches are conducted in very thick bush making navigation very difficult as you may only be able to see 2-3m. We do use hadheld GPS units but these do not always work in dense tree cover or deep valleys. We also search at night, in atrocious weather conditions and in thick scrub. If you don’t have significant hiking experience and good quality gear, you will be fairly limited in what searches, if any, you can undertake.

We also need support people. The team is also open to individuals who have significant experience in the wilderness navigation (e.g. orienteering). In large search operations, each dog handler is assigned a support person who looks after navigation so the handler can concentrate on the dog. The handlers are all required to know how to navigate but this frees them up to concentrate on their primary role. It is also beneficial as the handler is then teamed with someone who understands how the dogs work and they know the capabilities of the navigator.

If you would like to discuss becoming a member, please contact the Liaison Officer ... see the Contact Us page for contact details.

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Training a Dog for Search and Rescue

Requirements for the SAR dog include trainability, agility, endurance, and the ability to get along with other dogs and people. A search dog is a valued member of their handler's family, and regards people as friends. SAR dogs are usually the larger working and sporting breeds. The main requirement is that the breed does not have a shortened or "pushed in" nose as this reduces the scenting abilities. German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Giant Schnauzers, and Labradors are among the breeds found in SAR Dog teams around the world.

When it comes down to an individual dog they must be of a friendly, stable temperament. They must not be aggressive to people, and should cope with unfamiliar situations. There are techniques for assessing these and other important attributes in a puppy, so work with a reputable breeder and ask for their advice. Even after you have chosen a potentially good dog, it is your training of the dog that will play a large part in whether it ends up being suitable for search and rescue work.

Most handlers prefer to begin training a young puppy. However, an older dog may be suitable if the dog has already developed a good working relationship with his owner. Remember an older dog could take one to two years to train and will probably start slowing down and being restricted in its capabilities by the time it is 7 or 8 years old. Unfortunately, dogs trained for police service, protection, security, Schutzhund, and the like, cannot be accepted for membership in our group.

While training a puppy you will need to do 2-3 sessions per week for a few months and then 1 session every week for a year. After that, regular training sessions must continue every few weeks for the remainder of the dog's working life. Search and Rescue Dogs of Tasmania organises several team training sessions each year, but due to the geography of the state the majority of regular training must be done locally by individual team members using family and friends as 'victims'.

Most dogs will not be mature enough and have the stamina for extended search work until they are two years old, but may be able to participate earlier in a limited way.. A formal evaluation is required before a new dog and handler will be accepted for full membership and used in searches.

If you would like to discuss choosing a dog for search and rescue work, or want general advice on training techniques, please contact the Liaison Officer ... see the Contact Us page for contact details.

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