Training a Search Dog

Training a search dog is hard. Be under no illusions. It takes commitment, patience and practice, practice, practice. Typically, a successful dog and handler will need to train at least once a week, often more, for a concentrated period of time that could be up to two years or more.

There are 3 levels of qualification for the dog and handler:

Level 1 - Training Dog; training to assessment level to become operational.

Level 2 - Hasty Dog; the first operational level where a dog and handler will search a 2km path, and up to 25m either side of it, within 60 minutes.

Level 3 - Area Dog; the dog and handler will search an area of 50 acres within 90 minutes.

All basic training is carried out during the beginner search classes, where the dog is taught the basics of how to search and how to tell the handler that he has found the missing person by performing an alert. Once a dog and handler have successfully completed the basic course and are accepted onto the team, the dog and handler are then started on our six-stage search training program.

The objectives, assessment and description of our six-stage training program are detailed below.

Click on each stage to view the details.

Stage 1 - Strengthening the alert and increasing search distance to 500m
Objective
To increase the search distance to 500m and ensure a reliable alert.
Test
The dog will search a 500m track for 1-3 mispers hidden up to 10m from the track. On locating the misper the dog should return immediately to the handler without becoming distracted and clearly alert.

Having completed the intermediate course the dog should be able to search for 2-3 mispers 10 meters from the path over a 200m route. On locating the misper the dog should return immediately to you and alert. For most dogs the alert is the most difficult bit to teach. Therefore the first two months should be spent getting a strong unprompted alert in a variety of situations. At the same time the distance over which the search takes place should slowly be increased to 500m.

  • Undertake searches of different lengths (up to 500m) in a variety of terrains. Mispers should be hidden up to 10m from the path.
  • On locating the misper the dog should return immediately to the handler without becoming distracted.
  • On reaching the handler the dog should provide a clear alert. It is important the dog alerts as soon as he reaches the handler and does not become distracted. The alert should be prompted if it does not occur immediately.
  • As the alert becomes reliable and no longer requires a prompt, the handler should ensure that the dog will alert in all situations. e.g if they are talking to someone, standing still, walking.
  • If the dog is still being rewarded at the misper every time, reduce this to an intermittent reward.
  • Gradually increase the length of the search to 500m.
Stage 2 - Search up to 25m either side of a 500m path. Respond to directional control.
Objective
To increase the distance searched either side of the path up to 25m and ensure the dog will find and alert on a variety of mispers and respond to directional control.
Test
The dog will search a path 500m in length for a variety of mispers (up to 3) hidden up to 25m from the path. The dog will respond to directional control from the handler. On locating a misper, the dog will return immediately to the handler and give a clear alert.

  • Develop directional control of the dog so the handler can direct the dog into areas of interest.
  • Introduce multiple mispers in a variety of positions including walking, standing, partially and fully hidden.
  • Gradually increase the distance mispers are placed from the path up to 25m. Start by increasing the distance on the windward side to encourage the dog to go deeper into the undergrowth and progress to 25m on the downwind side.
Stage 3 - Refind (stage 2 & 3 interchangeable depending on strength of alert)
Objective
After alerting, the dog will take the handler immediately back to the misper.
Test
The dog will search a path 500m in length with 1-3 mispers hidden up to 25m from the path. On locating a misper the dog will return to the handler and provide a clear alert and return to the misper. The dog should either remain with the misper or shuttle between the handler and the misper. The dog must take the handler right to the misper.

  • Teaching the ‘show me!’ command.
  • The misper now has the dogs reward.
  • When the dog alerts the handler gives the ‘show me!’ command and the misper calls the dog and rewards the dog.
  • The handler follows the dog to the misper.
  • Once the dog knows the ‘show me!’ command the reward remains with the handler who rewards the dog when they have taken them back to the misper.

If the dog has NOT had a strong, consistent alert over several months this stage should not be taught.

Stage 4 - Search a path 1km in length day and night
Objective
To increase the distance the dog will search to 1km, day and night.
Test
The dog will search a 1km path locating up to 3 mispers within 25m from the path day and night. The dog does not become distracted and is beginning to work independently. The dog responds to directional control from the handler. The dog gives a strong consistent alert and takes the handler back to the misper.

  • Gradually increase the distance searched up to 1km.
  • Ensure that the dog does not become distracted and the alert remains consistent and strong.
Stage 5 - Increase search distance to 2km
Objective
To be able to undertake a full hasty search, 2km in length, 1-3 mispers, 25m either side of a path within 1 hour.
Test
The dog will search a path 2km in length with 1-3 mispers hidden up to 25m from the path, day or night. The dog must locate all mispers providing strong alerts and take the handler immediately back to the misper.

  • Gradually increase the distance to 2km and ensure the alert remains consistent and strong and that the dog takes the handler right back to the misper.
  • The dog should not become distracted while searching and should not need continuous commands from the handler.
Stage 6 - Pre-assessments
Successfully undertake 2km day and night pre-assessments in preparation for national assessments.
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