So You Want to Train a Dog?

If you’re interested in joining the SAR K9 team, you need to complete an application to become a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (DCSOSAR) volunteer, and go through our Academy training process. Every volunteer must qualify as a ground searcher and pass both physical and written tests for the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association to qualify for the DCSOSAR Team. 

Once you have applied and been accepted as a SAR volunteer, you can join any number of specialty teams, including K9. I recommend reading up on SAR dogs first. Susan Bulanda’s book, Ready! Training the Search and Rescue Dog is a good starting point. This outlines dog temperament, age and breed suitability selection for SAR, as well as a training progression for various disciplines. You can get this book through Amazon.

From Puppy to Mission-Ready | A Long Term Commitment

Training a SAR K9 is not just a hobby. Not every interested dog owner is able to make the commitment for training time and self-education to become a K9 handler. Similarly, every dog has a “good nose,” but not every dog has the drive and work ethic to be trained to use that nose for the targeted purpose. Selecting and training your own dog is expected, as well as participation in group training.

You will spend an average of 5 hours a week for about 2 years to get a mission ready certification in a discipline. This training time does not include important hours put toward obedience and socialization. We train multiple times weekly as individuals, in small groups, and as an entire team.

Many interested people ask if they can train a dog that is 3-4 years old. This is always possible, however, since it often takes about 2 years to reach certification for mission readiness, that dog will have a shortened working career depending on its lifespan. It is best to begin with a puppy or young dog less than 2, which has been properly temperament tested and is of physically sound bloodlines. We welcome people who do not yet have an appropriate dog but have a serious interest. We have field support members called flankers that help the K9 handlers navigate and search on K9 missions, so that is an excellent way to start. You can join the team, watch the training process, learn how different dogs work, and get input on an appropriate breed and puppy to begin working with. 

Personal commitment is a requisite, but is also rewarding. Training with and engaging with your dog in this way truly creates a human / dog K9 team. Your dog becomes your partner. Even more than dog training, it is handler training – learning how to train and how to read a dog, and learning how weather and wind affects scent. It’s chemistry, lost person behavior, and working with law enforcement. Loved ones of the missing and lost depend on our competency, so we are dedicated, yet unpaid professionals. And as volunteer SAR professionals, we are available 24/7, 360 days a year.

Please feel free to contact us with further questions. We welcome members of the public to come observe and hide for our dogs at a training to see if this might be the right fit. 

Erica Hranicka

K9 team coordinator