Selection of Search Dog Teams

Not all dogs have what it takes to be a search dog: drive to work all day, the fitness and agility to scramble across rubble and the right balance of independence and responsiveness to commands. Dogs must exhibit no aggression to either people or other dogs, under any circumstances.

Not all handlers have what it takes, either the considerable time and commitment or the patience and persistence to master the complexities of search work, both theoretical and practical. And being expert in another discipline, e.g. obedience or agility, does not necessarily mean a handler will succeed at search work.

Training Search Dog Teams

Establishing and maintaining search capabilities involves daily training and bonding with the dog, weekly group training with SARDA, twice yearly, three or four day workshops and combined training with Emergency Services.

In addition, SARDA members attend training in:

  • emergency procedures
  • the use of emergency equipment
  • survival and navigational skills
  • advanced search and dog handling methods (i.e. scent movement)
  • personal fitness
  • first aid (human & canine)

SARDA also provides educational training opportunities for handlers through external courses or through transfer of skills from experienced dog handlers.

Training Survivors

Members who act as “survivors” and hide so that dogs can practise finding people receive training in many of the same aspects as handlers. Dog behaviour and how to reward the dogs to increase their keenness to find are particularly important.

Our International Standard Workshops

We are a lean and well managed, volunteer not-for-profit and have successfully managed international standard training events. These have been attended by non SARDA dog handlers and Emergency Service representatives from across Australia, as well as our own members. We have brought a number of highly qualified and recognised trainers from overseas.

In 2017, Steve Buckley, an officer with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, a member of the UK International Search and Rescue Team and an international USAR assessor with INSARAG will conduct  the four day workshop 2017 Disaster Canine Workshop: Deployment & Interoperability.

In 2016, Eric Darling and Tracy Darling, highly regarded Disaster Search Dog team trainers from Superfit Canine, Philadelphia, USA, conducted the 4 day Disaster Canine Workshop.

In 2015, Scottish scent detection specialist Tom Middlemas, from our affiliate National SARDA UK, worked with SARDA members over three weeks.

In 2014, we conducted a highly successful Canine Search Specialist Course, in collaboration with MFB (Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade). This was facilitated by two USAR search dog specialists and assessors from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), USA.

Dog Teams Accreditation

Our accredited dog teams are assessed by qualified, external assessors against international and Australian standards: INSURAG (International Search and Rescue Advisory Group), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency, USA) and the Australian Best Practice Guidelines.

In accordance with these standards, search dog teams are assessed at two levels. The following information is based on The Australian Urban Search & Rescue Canine Capability Best Practice Guideline Version 1.1.

(FSA) Fundamental Skills Assessment

FSA covers the skills required to ensure the control, direction and effectiveness of the dog, and the well-being of both the dog and handler, while they are searching the disaster area. Assessment includes six elements:

  1. Obedience
  2. Bark Indication
  3. Direction and Control
  4. Agility
  5. Search Area (locate to survivors in one search area)
  6. Canine Welfare and Maintenance

Basic Operational Requirement

Canine search teams that pass the Basic Operational assessment will become certified for use in deployment requiring a USAR search dog team. The focus is on search capability. Elements to be assessed are:

  1. Search Area (locate 7 survivors in 3-4 search areas)
  2. Canine Welfare and Maintenance

To be eligible to undertake the basic operational assessment, the search dog specialist must be at least 18 years of age.  The canine search specialist must hold the following qualifications and endorsements:

  • USAR CAT1 Responder
  • USAR Taskforce Specialist Course
  • Current Senior First Aid Certificate
  • Select and Maintain a Canine Team for USAR Incidents
  • Develop Training Techniques for a USAR canine search specialist
  • Train a Canine Team for Searching USAR Environments
  • Develop a Canine Team to Foundation Level for USAR Incidents

To maintain their Operational status, search dog teams are assessed against these two levels every alternate year.