What exactly does a search and rescue dog handler do?
There are many answers to this question. During a search, the dog handler must perform all the tasks necessary to ensure that the search for the subject is carried out efficiently and thoroughly. But the handler has many responsibilities away from the search as well. The information below is designed to give you an overview of exactly what’s involved.
During a actual search operation, the dog team will be assigned one or more tasks to complete. Tasks are areas of land to which a team is assigned to search and clear. During the completion of a task, the dog handler must be able to perform many jobs. These include:
• Wilderness navigation
• Radio operation
• Supervision of other team members, including dog
• Analysis of missing person situation and formulation of best strategy for searching the area
• Evacuation of the subject (in case of find)
• Wilderness survival
Responsibilities away from the field
Outside of actual search situations, the handler still has a number of responsibilities to meet in order to remain effective when a search does occur. These include:
• Training your search and rescue dog, (training should include daily sessions at home, as well as bimonthly Blue and Gray practices) see training program for more info.
• Keeping yourself and your dog physically fit
• Equipping yourself and your dog for the field
• Assisting with Blue and Gray functions, including fund raisers, public relation events, etc.
The primary of these responsibilities, of course, is to train your dog! Indeed as a dog handler, you are responsible for directing two programs of learning, your own and your dog’s. Training a dog to the level of performance required of search and rescue dogs is not trivial, and you can expect to spend a great deal of time learning how to train effectively.
Time, Money, Travel
Before you begin working with your dog to become a search and rescue team, you should carefully assess your ability to meet the significant commitment necessary to be successful in this training program. Blue and Gray dog handlers are volunteers, and Blue and Gray itself is a nonprofit organization. Dog handlers receive no compensation for the time they spend at searches or training. In additions, dog handlers must provide their own equipment, transportation and dog. Your dog will live with you in your home and you will be solely responsible for his care.
Blue and Gray members spend an average of $2,000 per year on search related expenses. In addition, you can expect to spend between $1,000 and $1,500 in initial expenses (covering such items as equipment, etc.) Blue and Gray members also log an average of 12,000 miles on their vehicles in a year. Finally members have spent as many as 250 man hours a year in official Blue and Gray practices (including travel time). This does not include the time spent training at home, which represents a much larger time commitment.
Blue and Gray members invest themselves in each other as well. More experienced members of the group spend a significant amount of time and effort training newer members how to be effective dog handlers. For this reason, we appreciate the serious beginner. Making an honest assessment of your ability to meet the type of commitments outlined above will enable you to decide now whether of not you are able to complete this program of training.
The Nature of Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue is an enjoyable, incredibly rewarding endeavor. Indeed, this is the real reason that volunteers stay involved. However it’s important to note for the newcomer that search and rescue also involves a lot of hard work and stressful situations. An operational dog handler is expected to respond to a search in any weather, at any time of the day or night. A person’s life is at stake in search and rescue situations, you must not shy away from uncomfortable conditions. You must be fit enough to handle rough terrain and adverse conditions. Remember you will be carrying a pack for a long period of time.
You should be aware of and ready to face any fears that you may have concerning the wilderness. You should be prepared to act without panicking in a crisis situation. You must be ready to accept a degree of risk to yourself and your dog when entering into a search and rescue situation. Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that not all subjects are found in good health or even alive. The potential for finding a badly injured or deceased subject is and unfortunate reality. The emotional stress involved is quit severe, you should be ready to accept this.
The Professional Ethic
Blue and Gray handlers, despite their status as volunteers, conduct themselves as professionals at a search. Our paramount interests is the well being of the subject. As such, our training standards are high and rigid in order that we can efficiently and effectively search for the lost. This level of competence is very much within your reach, though. Methodical, persistent training is your best chance for success. This makes for hard work, but you will find the work tremendously rewarding.