Are You Ready for K9 Search and Rescue?
The Fun and Games isn’t just for the dogs.
There is a lot that goes into doing search and rescue with your canine partner.
Search and Rescue can and will take over your life. I really had no idea how much my life would change after becoming involved in SAR. Before you dive in to SAR head first, you should first take a hard look at your priorities and schedule. There will likely be sacrifices and difficult decisions needed to be made if you are serious about pursuing SAR. If your family already notes you spend far too much time away from home, SAR will get you into some big trouble with them.
Training typically takes up a full weekend day every week. My group requires all members to participate in a minimum of 50% of all training sessions. The fewer sessions you attend, the longer it will take for you to become certified. Several training sessions during the week will also be needed with members of your team after work. Additional time each week will be needed to properly socialize your dog. Dogs must also be trained in obedience and rescue agility outside of team training.
Human training will also include First Aid and CPR, navigation, scent theory, lost person behavior, survival skills, certification in first responder skills, and more. Several of these courses are only offered once or twice a year spanning entire weekends.
A Typical Training Week for me the first year. (Including drive time)
Sunday: 6am-5pm Official training day with Group
Monday: 6pm-9pm Dog obedience class
Tuesday: 6pm-7pm Dog training and socialization at a new place (usually having to drive to a place with people like an outdoor mall or pet store)
Wednesday: 5pm-9:30pm unofficial training with team members
Thursday: Same as Wednesday or stay home and socialize dog or other training
Friday: Perhaps a day off from training dog. Perhaps study other skills needed for SAR
Saturday: Dog gets a short obedience training session. Dog spends a relatively boring day to be prepared for Sunday. Get gear together.
Don’t you have a full time job?
Yes, I have a full time job, I am married as well. I simply don’t have a life outside of SAR 🙂
Flexibility at work
Calls will come in at any time, even in the middle of the night. Will you be able to leave a message on your boss’s voicemail and leave immediately?
Our team is called out on an average of 30 times a year, often several in one month. Each member on our team is required to be available to go on at minimum of 50% of searches they are called for.
Many companies are wonderful at supporting your volunteer rescue involvement. Be sure to talk with your management and human resources about your involvement in Search and Rescue.
You are going to get dirty
Wilderness SAR is spending a lot of time out in the woods. You will get dirty, wet, scratched, bruised, and bitten or stung by ticks and other nasties. I honestly do not remember the last time I came back from training without being filthy. There will be no facilities if you know what I mean.
If you have never camped without amenities, I highly suggest experiencing a backpacking trip led by a few friends who frequently enjoy it. You might just love it and it will prepare you for some aspects of SAR.
Yeah, I know we could all use some more time at the gym or in our running shoes. Safety first! Make sure your fitness level or a medical condition does not make you a liability.
Search team members must be able to carry a pack over rugged terrain at a decent pace eight hours at a time or more. It does not stop there. Searches may last several days. Will you be able to go again after some rest? If any team finds the lost person, you must be able to then help carry the person out on a litter over rugged terrain while potentially still carrying your pack. Evacuation of a patient may take several hours or even days (think cave, canyon, or cliffside rescue.)
I try to keep myself in shape by hiking, cycling, backpacking, running, walking, and lifting weights. I recently sprained my ankle and am considering taking Pilates at my gym to help with balance and stability.
A note on exceptions. You can still be involved in search and rescue even if you are unable to hike around in the woods. The whole search operation also includes base management, communications, and other support staff.
You find yourself on a search at 4am following a long drive to the scene and an even longer day at work. It is dark, raining, adrenaline is rushing through your body as you think about the lost 3 year old in the woods, your dog disappeared over the next rise, base is squawking something over the radio you cannot quite make out, you just dropped your pencil, and your map of the search area isn’t quite matching up to the changed landscape in front of you. Will you lose your cool; your concentration. Will you just give up?
Know how you react under pressure.
How will you react at seeing a bad injury or even possibly discovering a body? Luckily, most of us have not had to experience such a thing. A search is called because something has gone wrong. It could be due to an injury, or even a crime scene. Consider your ability to possibly cope with seeing such scenes before signing up.
Search and Rescue is primarily volunteer. No, we do not get paid. You have to pay for all of your own gas, gear, training, and do not forget your time away from work. The first year is the most expensive as you need to gear up.
As I heard from a Search and Rescue Veteran…
If I could make money doing search and rescue, it’s all I would do. Even though I have to pay to do it, it’s still all I want to do.