Specially designed coursework and testing for Handlers of Working Canines


Teresa MacPherson and Deborah Burnett have an immeasurable passion for canine training and for sharing their knowledge and experience with you and your teammates.

Whether you are building a foundation for your disaster dog, preparing for certification, or focusing on advancing your skills for deployment, these workshops are for you! All skill levels can be accommodated.

The 125-acre site provides multiple real-world opportunities as well as unique exercises in a variety of disaster settings. At the end of the day, a supportive, relaxed environment at the on-site Handlers’ Lodge gives participants an opportunity for informal conversation to exchange ideas and network.

The property boasts two 10,000+ square foot rubble piles of differing challenge levels, in addition to a collapsed freeway, train wreck, buildings, vehicles and other props! The opportunities for interesting search scenarios, and basic to advanced scent work, are endless.

Come join us at SDF’s National Training Center for quality training, immediate feedback for you and your canine partner, as well as networking with your peers!


The description and objectives of each training weekend will vary.

Space is limited to allow for one-on-one instruction.

Each workshop is able to accommodate up to sixteen (16) canines search teams on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, up to ten (10) Observers may register for the full workshop in a hands-off capacity (no dogs), at a discounted rate. These training weekends are customized for and available to Live-Find and Human Remains Detection canine teams only. Various levels of experience will be accommodated.


  1. All dogs must be:
  • Under control and well-behaved;
  • Healthy;
  • Dog may not be in heat;
  • Non-aggressive;
  • Trained indication on LF.
  1. Handlers must be affiliated with a recognized agency.

NOT required – Completion of Type II/FSA or Type I/CE certification(s).

Currently accepting applications for:

Date: November 13-14, 2020

Location: Santa Paula, CA

Maximum Participants Allowed: 16

Registration Deadline: November 2, 2020

Handler Participant Registration Fee: $500 per student

Optional Room & Boarding Fee: $155 for 2 night’s lodging & 2 days of meals

SDF’s human remains workshops are geared to all skill levels and will focus on disaster HRD scenarios, using large fresh source material.

Date: November 15, 2020

Location: Santa Paula, CA

Maximum Participants Allowed: 6

Registration Deadline: November 2, 2020

Handler Participant Registration Fee: $100

Description: Search teams will be given the opportunity to practice taking the CE to the new FEMA standard and receive feedback from FEMA Evaluators. Applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information and to apply for any 2020 Weekend Training Sessions at SDF, please download this form and email completed application to

On January 4 and 5, 2020, eight canine disaster search teams from Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee joined veteran handlers and instructors Teresa MacPherson (Virginia Task Force 1) & Deborah Burnett (Tennessee Task Force 1) at the National Training Center (NTC) for the final in a series of four disaster search workshops. Attendees worked together to hone their search skills and challenge their canines and themselves in preparation for deployment with their respective task forces.

SDF is proud to offer not only training workshops but the opportunity for teams from all over to prepare for certifications, helping to get our nation’s search teams ready to respond when they are called to help in the wake of disasters.


See pictures from the workshop here!

June 29-30, 2019 This weekend focused on strengthening training skills that are the bedrock of Search Dog work! Training elements from the FEMA Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) / SUS&R Type II test were folded in to help both green teams preparing to test and seasoned teams who could use a refresher, as well as those who may need help in specific areas. Handlers learned how to develop and channel drive, as well as how to better motivate a variety of breeds, so as to get the most out of each Search Dog on their task force–the stronger the foundation, the better the team!

February 16-17, 2019 — We kicked off 2019 with a variety of “Fun Hunts” that tested each Handler’s ability to safely navigate themselves and their canine partners through a variety of disaster scenarios designed by Teresa MacPherson and Deborah Burnett. As Instructors, Teresa and Deborah observed and critiqued the teams’ ability to locate live victims for rescue, and apply problem solving techniques. In addition, a portion of the weekend was focused on Advanced Reward Systems, once referred to as “Drive & Decoy” training. Handlers learned how to develop and channel drive, as well as better motivate a variety of breeds, so as to get the most out of each Search Dog on their task force. Read more details about the course.

Saturday, December 8, 2018 – Sunday, December 9, 2018 — Santa Paula, California held at SDF’s National Training Center

2 day Live Find/HRD disaster K9 workshop at the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation’s (SDF) National Training Center in Santa Paula, CA. This non-instructional workshop allowed handlers to expose their dogs to a variety of search problems in a supportive environment.

August 4-5, 2018 — This course provided participants an opportunity to work their HRD canines in a variety of real-world scenarios with various scent sources on 125 acres. Participants received quality one-on-one instruction delivered by instructor Teresa MacPherson, to include problem-solving and feedback. This two-day workshop was largely field-work, concentrating on disaster search to include wide area search scenarios (hurricanes/tornadoes), building and rubble search areas. This course was designed for HR teams who wish to train for disaster search. Canines who participated must have had a trained indication on HR and the handler must be affiliated with a recognized agency. Read more details about the course.

May 5-6, 2018 — The target audience for this workshop was trainers, handlers, and program managers responsible for the maintenance and physical conditioning of working canines. Three primary aspects of canine wellness were the focus:
  • K9 Fitness: Built a repertoire of exercises that will enhancing the working canine’s performance and endurance as well as minimize their risk of injury. It covered core strength, flexibility, proprioception (limb awareness), agility, strength building,and pre and post work stretching.
  • K9 Nutrition: Participants learned about ingredients, diet selection, and supplements. They also left with an understanding of dietary impact on olfaction and GI Upset in the field.
  • Decontamination: Participants gained a thorough understanding of the types of contaminants, improved practices, required supplies, timing of decontamination and the impacts of failed decontamination.

May 1-3, 2015 — SDF opened its doors at the National Training Center (NTC) in Santa Paula, CA to host its second Drive & Decoy Workshop. The course was taught by SDF Master Trainer, Sonja Heritage, and then-SDF Canine Recruitment Manager, Darrell Wilkerson. The two instructed handlers on how to increase their canines’ prey drive by becoming a better handler and a better decoy, or victim. In 2015, handlers were fortunate to meet Erin Venable, instructor in Animal Science, Food & Nutrition at Southern Illinois University, who gave a bonus lesson in canine nutrition and healthcare.