Every year we have numerous people
approach us about joining our organization. What does it take to be a dog handler? Our
handlers come from all walks in life, but there are several qualities which make them
The first qualification is someone
who demonstrates a learning attitude. They must seek after knowledge and be a self
starter. Initially, training a dog requires around 20 hours a week. We look for people who
are willing to seek others for help; not the ones who sit back and want us to do the work.
Handlers must train their own dog so when the stakes are high, they can read their dog and
be able to tell the sheriff what is happening.
The second qualification is
someone who is in search and rescue for the right reasons. Who wants an ambulance chaser
on their team? In canine search work, handlers are often in the background, quietly doing
their job. (Well, sometimes the dogs arent so quiet!) A potential handler must be
motivated to help the victim, not appear in front of the camera! Youll even find
that our handlers are camera shy, so keep that microphone away.
The last qualification we look for
is a combination of service and perseverance. Long days and nights searching, lack of
sleep, being on 24 hour call out, pressures from finding the victim all combine to bring
out the best in a person or the worst. If a handler is not motivated by service and driven
by perseverance, they cannot maintain the rigorous work most searches require.
The certified handlers at ASD all
meet the above requirements. We work together as a team to provide to the search and
rescue the best possible resource.
Have you been bombarded with
information about "only" using dogs who are state certified? Last year we were
approached and informed we needed to certify our dogs with the state. The
reason--liability and insurance.
ASD is a nationally recognized
search and rescue organization. (If they werent, why would the United States Air
Force call us out to look for the downed plane in Columbia, South American?) We test our
dog teams yearly and require top performance. Our testing procedures are difficult and
have weeded out several dog teams who were not able to pass. (Below you will find a
listing of what our teams are required to pass off for a level 2 test.) We also keep
records of our training and our searches. These records have been tested in a court of law
when our handlers had to testify about searches they participated in.
Now the liability issue. When we
are requested by a sheriff or police department, we become part of the requesting county
for the time period we are used by that county. However, we have taken this issue a step
further just to appease those nail--biting city and county managers. We are in the process
of setting up a commercial liability insurance plan. Unfortunately, the handlers will have
to pay for this out of their pocket, but it should insure the counties who use our
resources that we are covered in case of an accident.
Please dont let an issue
like this--which is only an issue to those pushing their programs--stop you from using a
Level 2 Dogs will demonstrate:
readable alerts, article detection (evidence), endurance, working away from the handler,
refinds, scent discrimination, detection of a track direction, lack of aggression,
transportation abilities, team work with other dogs, obedience skills.
Level 2 Handlers will demonstrate:
a strong reward system, ability to work in any condition, ability to read the dogs
alerts, planning a good strategy for searching, the proper gear for searching, adequate
physical condition, map and compass skills.
Dog teams are tested in
wilderness, water, collapsed structure, and avalanche. For more specific details,
see the Training section of this site.
"You cant go out there, youll disturb the
scent for the dogs."
"Its okay, I called the cadaver dogs."
What is this crazy canine world
coming to? Dogs have an incredible ability to search out human scent. The victim puts off
thousands of dead skin cells a minute. At American Search Dogs we believe dogs properly
trained, can incorporate all of their skills to successfully complete any of the above
We start our training with simple
run-away problems which utilizes the dogs ability to air scent. While dogs are air
scenting, they are also learning the properties of tracking. Now of course, special
instruction is used to teach dogs the fine art of tracking, but the initial work begins
early in their training. When the dog masters the air scent concept, he is introduced to
scent discrimination. This is our most important tool. We will never ask you to hold up
your search until we arrive because our dogs are trained and tested in scent
Scent discrimination can be
explained this way. If you were cooking a pan of cookies, you as a human, would smell the
wonderful aroma of cookies. The dogs however, would smell the shortening, the eggs, the
chocolate chips, the baking soda, etc. They have the uncanny ability to break up the scent
and decipher it into individual compounds. Each human has his/her own unique scent. The
dogs are able to identify the victims "special scent" and locate that
person in a group of people.
Evidence, or sometimes called
article searching, has become increasingly important in search work. We have had several
calls to look for pieces of evidence. This specialized training is conducted throughout
the training sessions and requires intricacy by the dogs.
So whats about avalanche and
a water searching? In both search scenarios, the victim is underneath a surface. The
victims scent will still rise to the surface at an exit point. The difficulty in
these searches comes from determining the location of the victim in reference to the area
where the scent has surfaced. This will depend largely on the snow pack or water depth,
and the surface winds and temperatures. When the dog is in the scent cone, he will alert
and when he leaves the scent cone he will indicate he is out of the scent area. A
knowledgeable handler will recognize these alerts and be able to give the commander a
Wilderness searching incorporates
all the search skills. Often pieces of evidence are left along the trail side--if a dog is
not trained on evidence he may miss the article. If a track is found, the dog can follow
the track; however, a strong track can become weak with hot temperatures and trail use.
Our dogs are trackers, yet when an air scent is more powerful, they use their unique
ability to find the quickest path to the victim.
Lastly, a word about cadaver
searching. There are some dogs trained specifically for cadaver search work. Our
philosophy is based on training scenarios and real search experiences, where our dogs have
worked the cadaver scent and been highly successful. They demonstrate an ability to
differentiate between human remains and animal remains. In fact, one search in particular
led the handler to discover human bones which had been buried for fifteen years. The
animal remains in the area were ignored, and the human remains were uncovered. We agree
that human remains undergo a chemical change of decomposition, but as long as there is
marrow in the bones the dogs will be able to work the search. There should be no need for
specialty cadaver dogs if the dogs you are using are true search dogs. We also feel, the
level of experience is important on these searches because experienced dogs can work a
cadaver search without even a scent article.
At American Search Dogs we have
tried to be current on practices in canine search and rescue. Partly due to humans
lack of understanding, we are not able to fully comprehend the dogs extraordinary
potential and conduct our training to take advantage of this gift. We are highly concerned
when someone says their dog is a specialist in air scenting; or a specialist in water but
not wilderness; or a specialist in wilderness but not cadaver. Training procedures prove
again and again, that dogs possess the ability and the intelligence to be specialists in
all areas of search work.