In the aftermath of a disaster, the best resource we have for locating survivors buried beneath the rubble or debris is a highly trained search dog. With training, patience and love, these former shelter dogs help save the lives of others— and they’re often found right in your community shelter or local rescue.
It takes a very special dog to meet the demands of the SDF Training Program, and to eventually join the ranks of the nation’s top search dogs. These behavioral traits are essential:
Our screening program is geared toward dogs between one and two years of age. We usually find the traits we’re looking for in the hunting and herding breeds— top breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Border Collies, and Australian Shepherds. A mix of these breeds is just fine too!
Extreme toy drive
We need dogs with an obsessive, visceral response to a toy—and an insatiable desire to chase, hunt and possess their coveted prize!
Bold, energetic & athletic
We are looking for dogs with intensity, focus and perseverance. A dog that not only wants to work, but needs to work. These dogs are usually very challenging in a family home.
A search dog must be athletic and show no hesitation hunting on unstable surfaces. Disaster sites contain challenging footing and the dog must be agile. We find the best way to test a dog’s comfort level is to have them hunt for their toy on concrete rubble or wood piles.
Loves to search!
We are looking for canines that will continue to hunt for the toy that has been hidden from them —regardless of whether they find it! During SDF’s evaluation process, we test the potential canine candidate by tossing a toy several times into debris, and wait to see if they maintain focus and the desire to find it. This will help us determine the intensity of the dog’s drive and give us an idea as to whether they would be successful in this line of work.
Focused, confident and well-socialized
Our dogs need to approach strangers (human or canine) with a neutral or curious, yet agreeable attitude. They cannot be aggressive or fearful. On the job, they encounter many distractions while they search for survivors: other people, animals, food, trash, and loud noises. Through it all, they must remain intensely focused on the job at hand.
A wellness exam as well as hip and elbow x-rays, which SDF pays for, are required to verify each dog is strong, sound, and able to work confidently and without injury on rubble and other uneven surfaces.
From shelter dog to search dog…
Upon passing our evaluation, dogs complete approximately nine months of training at SDF’s National Training Center.
Then it’s time to be paired with their new handlers during our two-week Handler Course. Together, they return home and after months of bonding and training with their handler, search dogs are ready for certification.
Once a team is certified, they still must continue training to maintain the focus, fitness and skills necessary to be a Canine Disaster Search Team.
Help us find these special dogs their new “leash on life” today!