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Tracking dog training. The Five Stages of Search Dog Training.


German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are two working dog breeds that make excellent candidates for field search and rescue operations. But how are canines used for search and rescue trained? Tracking dogs are normally guided and instructed through five phases during search dog training.

In order to understand why K9 search and rescue training is a long process, you must first understand how each dog responds to training methods differently.

Dogs develop at varying rates, so you must have patience. Second, not every search and rescue dog conducts the same kind of investigation. Then there are the air-scent (or area-search) dogs, and then there are the tracking (or trailing) dogs. The training procedure for the former breed of dog will be reviewed in this article, while the latter will be covered in a subsequent article.

Although the kinds (track and search) may overlap, the training method and the dog’s actual mission participation distinguish the two.

A tracking dog locates a human smell trail by placing its nose to the ground. They can locate anything, from a missing child to a person trapped in a collapsed structure. A “last saw” location and an object bearing the scent of the search subject are necessary for tracking dogs. Time is of the essence when tracking dogs since scent trails can easily get polluted.

Tracking-focused search and rescue dogs must have the appropriate training in order to perform at their best. They will also require specialist search and rescue dog equipment. The phases that follow are meant to serve as a high-level overview for tracking (or trailing) dogs and in no way should be construed as exhaustive training procedures.

Stage 1: Short Searches Are Introduced


During this initial phase of search and rescue dog training, the tracking dog is typically restrained in a rescue dog harness with a 20- to 30-foot lead. This will assist in teaching the dog that it is time to work when the gear is put on.

A training bag will be dropped as the first training exercise, along with the making of a smell pad. A scent article is something that the search subject has only touched and can be used for tracking and training.

It aids the dog in picking up a complete scent of the target. A scent pad is created when a search subject wipes their foot on the ground several times to lay down a strong aroma. The dog should then be shown this location and the scent item before being given a taught command to pursue the smell. The dog’s handler can now instruct it to begin looking for the search object.

To provide the tracking dog with a scenario, the search subject should conceal themselves in plain sight (the difficulty of the hiding location will amp up as training goes on). After being shown the scent pad and the scent article and being given the instruction to search, the dog should begin following the scent and pre-placed treats leading to the search subject. Give the dog treats or their favoured toy as a reward for finding the object of the search in addition to enthusiastic praise.

Regular practise of this activity with decreasing amounts of goodies is advised. By practising in parks, fields, yards, or moderately wooded areas, you may vary the terrain. Avoid areas with plenty of plants and concrete during this phase.

Phase 2: Longer, More Complicated Searches


Using smell items, scent pads, and a few rewards every 5 to 10 steps, phase 2 of this kind of search dog training continues short-search activities. However, the search is now taking longer. Keep the search in a straight line during this phase as you start to vary the locales and terrain.


Phase 3: Adding Lengthier, Difficult Searches


You should now begin to incorporate bends into the search path in order to finally stop using track treats. Start extending the distance as your tracking dog improves, exposing your dog to new terrain every time. If you’ll be travelling through terrain that is especially difficult, use leather dog booties.


Phase 4: Using an ambiguous search term


At this point, your tracking dog should be able to locate a search subject using scent pads and articles on a variety of terrains. This is the stage where a new search subject is usually introduced to sharpen their skills. Your dog shouldn’t need goodies to properly track at this point.

Phase 5: Using a Distracting Search Subject


Your tracking dog ought to be prepared for their tracking certification test by the time you get to phase 5.

You should now use a search subject in addition to a person to function as a diversion during the last stage of search and rescue training. Both the search subject and the “distraction” subject should leave the area together while still utilising the scent object, splitting apart at a predetermined spot.

The tracking dog must be able to follow the search subject’s trail and find them in spite of the disturbance for the operation to be effective.

It’s essential to perform these drills frequently to maintain your tracking dog’s proficiency. Keep in mind that the methods for training a tracking dog for search and rescue have just been briefly reviewed here.

This shouldn’t be viewed as an all-inclusive search dog training manual. Visit fema.gov to see the national requirements for search and rescue teams.

When it comes to saving human lives or assisting with an investigation, search and rescue dogs are of the utmost importance. Breed-specific scent detection skills may naturally vary, but with the right training and cooperation from you, your tracking dog will have the best opportunity to find just about everything.


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We at Active Dogs provide the top tracking tools to get your search and rescue dog off to a great start! Our selection has everything you need for K9 search and rescue training, including harnesses, training packs, and leather dog booties. Do you have a query or need more information about the tracking devices we offer? Call right away.