10 Dynamite Tips for your New Search Puppy

You have done the research, found the right puppy for Search and Rescue, and brought her home.

Now what? Follow these ten tips to ensure your search dog fulfills his whole potential.

1. Do a Health Check

It happens, search dogs can get hurt.  Hop in your car with you new partner and head to the vet. Familiarize your puppy and yourself on vet examination procedures.  Find out how to take your puppy’s pulse, test his capillary reflex, learn the normal color of his gums, and take his temperature. Learn how to field check your dog by inspecting his entire body starting with the paws, working along his body to his head, eyes, ears, and mouth. Be sure to ask your vet about possible breed specific issues you need to watch for.  Consider buying pet health insurance and getting your pup miro-chipped. Finally, ask your vet to demonstrate how to properly brush your dog’s teeth, clip his nails, and clean his ears.

How to brush a dog’s teeth


Now, take what you have learned and practice with your dog at home.  Make it a fun game.  Be sure to start with very small training sessions with fun treats and work your way up.  Never force your puppy.  Stop while he is having fun. Go slow and be patient. Nail trimming video
Finally, practice with strangers.  Take several trips to the vet and see if you can recruit a vet tech or vet to help you practice.  You feed the treats, they perform the mini-exams.  Can you imagine a dog that LOVES going to the vet?

2. Socialize socialize socialize

Take your puppy places to meet as many new people as possible.  Some great locations are pet stores, outdoor malls, cafes, or even in front of the WallMart.

Protect your puppy! Your dog’s mental health and safety is your responsibility.  Teach others to approach and pet your dog the right way.  No one may touch your dog unless they ask first. Give the person a treat then have the person crouch down facing sideways.  If your dog approaches them, they may give him a treat and scratch his chin or chest. If your dog does not approach someone, that’s ok, it is his choice, don’t force him to say hi. Do not let anyone pet your dog without asking first.  Do not hesitate to put yourself between your dog and another person and sternly say, “STOP!” Never let anyone lean over the top of your dog or pat him on the head. If someone is not following your instructions, get them to stop by telling them your dog will pee on them.  It works every time!

I have found a “service dog in training” vest causes people to ask first before petting and generally be more respectful of my instructions. Be VERY wary of children, they can go from petting to smacking a dog in the face in an instant!  Keep socializing your dog as he grows.

3. Crate Train

Crates are used as a safe refuge for your dog,  great for potty training, a safe way to secure your dog in the car, and important for keeping your high drive working dog’s energy ready for a real search. For me, it is the only barrier between my dog’s teeth and my brand new running shoes!

dog in crate

Training your new puppy to adore his crate is easier than you might think.  Feed him exclusively in his crate, put treats, chew toys, or a peanut butter filled kong in his crate. Start slow. Leave the door open to begin with.  Next close door for only seconds moments at a time.  Then increase the amount of time the door is closed. If he starts to whine or cry keep the door closed and ignore him. Even if she cries for an hour straight. I know, it’s hard!  The moment she is silent open the door.  I now have a dog that immediately goes into his crate on command and makes not a peep.

4. Positive Puppy Obedience Classes

This is my secret to a well behaved dog around the ultimate distraction, other dogs!  The purpose of this class is not obedience, however.  You are simply using this class to teach your dog to pay attention to you when other dogs are around. Chose an APDT (positive or clicker training) certified training facility only for this.  Corrective training and equipment should be avoided.  Do not let your dog play with other puppies in this class, it will only teach your puppy that it is rewarding to ignore you and fun to play with other puppies.  YOU need to be the most fun in your working dog’s life, you cannot compete with a dog’s own kind.  Dog parks are no, no’s for a working dog.
I was lucky with my dogs. To teach my puppy proper doggie language and manners, I let him play with my geriatric German Shepherd.  She taught him how to have a soft mouth and how to act politely around other dogs.  Because of her age, she would tire out after only a few minutes of play helping me to trick him into thinking people are far more fun than dogs.  What a great excuse to adopt a well adjusted dog friendly dog from the animal shelter.
Find a good dog trainer here

5. You Are What You Eat

Your Search and Rescue dog is an athlete. Good nutrition is even more important for him than the average pet.  Big pet stores, grocery stores, and big box stores are a great place to buy pet gear, but rarely sells quality food. Learn to read and understand pet food labels, and chose a high quality fuel for your canine’s body.
Information about dog food

6. Unusual Spaces Unusual Places

Rescue dogs are able to climb open stairs, cross ravines along a fallen tree, scramble up shifting piles of rubble, and crawl through brambles and tunnels.  Teach your dog to be brave early.  Use treats to encourage him to experience as many different surfaces including slippery floors, fencing laid on the ground, tires, a big wobbly board, gravel, mud, ice, and metal sheeting. Let him explore open stairs, catwalks, swinging bridges, tunnels, ramps, places with loud noises, confined spaces, near farm animals,  and strange equipment.

Always let your dog to go at his own pace, never put him on something or force him near, into or across anything.  If your pup looks like he is ready to jump off of a piece of equipment, lift him off and put him on the ground yourself.  Do not let him make the decision to bail on his own.  Always have a spotter with you if your puppy is up on something off of the ground.  Treat, treat, treat your dog and he will thing strange things = treat = happy.

7. Start a Routine and stick to it

Schedule feeding time, potty time, exercise, training, and socialization for your puppy.  This will train his body, his mind, and your mindto the schedule and saving you lots of frustration in the future.  Once grown, your dog will eat and go potty like clockwork.  Predictability,  It’s a life saver!

8. Network with other SAR people with your dog breed

The world is full of a wealth of knowledge.  Use it to your advantage. Not everyone has the same answer to a problem. Dog breeds are all very different from one another. A border collie handler will have a different solution for the same problem than a lab person.  Other SAR groups will have different ideas as well.  Find a mentor with more experience than you to help guide your success, ideally one who has trained with the same breed of dog as yours and can meet with you and watch you train on a regular basis.  Have them help you sift through solutions others have given you.

9. Give Me That Toy!

My dog Grom loves to search.  It is his favorite thing the whole world.  He loves running through the woods, jumping in the mud, and sailing over fallen trees, but he works for his toy. Dogs work for a reward THIS is what SAR dogs are bred for, use it or lose it.  A high drive dog can become a floor mat and useless to SAR without it.  Can increase drive with aggitation up to 18 months.  Earlier the better. Favorite toy ONLY for sar. Never ever ever ever gets to even SEE it unless for SAR.  Use in drive work.  Learn to increase drive with someone who does Schutzhund or SAR with your particular dog breed.

10. Hide and Seek

Search and Rescue is simply a really long game of hide and seek.  Teach puppies to use their nose early. Hide their food so they have to use nose to find it.  Tease your puppy with a fun toy then hide it somewhere. Sneak away when your dog is not looking and find a nice hiding spot for yourself.  Then call your puppy’s name and throw a party when he finds you.

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