Join us!

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The Team is made up entirely of volunteers who (together with their dogs) undergo constant training and must meet rigorous standards in order to obtain operational status. Most of our dog handlers and support staff fit this in around full time jobs.

We train across the whole of Sussex generally from Midhurst to Haywards Heath on 3 Sundays and 1 Friday evening a month. Dog handlers are expected to attend at least 50% of training sessions as well as undertake training independently. Typically the team is called out once or twice a month. Call-outs may happen at any time, we accept that there will be times when other commitments will prevent you from being available. You will be expected to travel across the whole of Sussex to attend searches.

Our team members can be operational, or non-operational. Operational team members can be called upon for live callouts 365-days a year and are regularly assessed to ensure standards are maintained. Non-operational roles cover everything from event and fundraising to callout liaison and being a misper (missing person) at our weekly training.

Team members are also expected to support some of the various fund-raising and promotional events held throughout the year.

Things you should bear in mind if you are considering joining us in any capacity:

  • You must be 18 or over and have your own transport available at all times.
  • You are required to have a reasonable level of general fitness and be comfortable in all rural terrains, at any time of the day or night, in all weather conditions. You should be able to walk 5 miles in under two hours.
  • You will be required to pass a basic Police security check.
  • Members need to be 100% self-funding. Equipment such as outdoor clothing, walking boots, uniforms and all travel costs.
Being involved in Search and Rescue can be demanding, but it can also be very rewarding knowing that you are part of a team that helps return the lost or vulnerable to their loved ones.

For a more detailed description of the roles available in our team, click on each one below.

Dog handler

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A handler works with, and controls the dog. Together as a team they must work to successfully find a missing person.

Its not just a case of releasing the dog and crossing your fingers!

The role of Dog handler is demanding and requires considerable commitment. It takes most people approximately 18 months and a lot of training to qualify a dog to the first operational level. However it is an extremely rewarding role, the special bond and mutual trust that exists between the search dog and his handler is well documented. This, along with the pride of knowing that your dog could save someone’s life, makes training a search dog a life-changing experience.

Most people think you train the dog, then simply let them go. This could not be further than the truth. The handler has to be constantly aware of the weather conditions, and what effect that will have on scent, directing the dog to where is most likely for the dog to pick up on it. The handler must be watching the dog all the time and picking up on the little tell-tale signs that the dogs give, perhaps indicating that there is someone nearby.

The dog and handler train, are assessed and work as a pair. One cannot work without the other

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.

Becoming a Dog Handler

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All the dogs are owned and live with their handlers. Therefore you will need to own a suitable dog to become a dog handler. For information on what is a suitable dog, take a look at our current dogs in the team on our dogs page.

All breeds and ages of dogs are welcome but please be aware that the dogs that are most successful and go on to become search dogs usually come from the working breeds. We only take dogs onto the team that are under 5 years old. Not all dogs that commence training are able to proceed to the more advanced stages. This may be due to any number of reasons, including the dog’s temperament, its ability to learn new skills, its health and its age.

Most search and rescue dog teams ask that any potential dog handlers come with several years of experience in search and rescue prior to becoming a dog handler. We know from experience that for most people who are interested in becoming a dog handler their first concern is whether their dog will be capable of doing this sort of work and they do not want to wait for a long period to begin training their dog. With this in mind we have teamed up with Sussex County Dog Training and developed 2 six week courses - Beginner and Intermediate.
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These 2 courses are designed to give you a taste of what would be involved in training a search dog and provides both you and us with a way of getting some idea about your dogs abilities for this sort of work. Both courses are taught by experienced dog trainers from Sussex County Dog Training and experienced dog handlers from Search Dogs Sussex. This ensures we are able to provide you with a great deal of help and support at the beginning to ensure you and your dog have the best chance of succeeding and developing some strong foundations should you continue search training.

Anyone is welcome to come along to the course whether for fun or because you would like to become an operational member of Search Dogs Sussex. There is no obligation to join the team having undertaken either of the courses.

Acceptance into the team is by invitation only and is subject to the availability of dog handler positions and at the discretion of the executive committee.
Here is a short video of one of our trainee search dogs finding, getting rewarded at the missing person and then returning to handler.
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There is a lot of information to take in here. Please don't let it put you off. Becoming a Dog handler is a long journey requiring commitment and perseverance. It is also one of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine. If you have read this far, well done, and thank you for taking so much interest - please contact us and come to one of our training sessions to speak to us in person and see what we are all about.
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We provide nationally qualified volunteer search dog teams to help find missing and vulnerable people.
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