Diagnose and fix the most common training errors in your SAR dog with positive, effective methods.
Susan Bulanda, bestselling author of Ready! Training the Search and Rescue Dog, is back with a new book that every SAR dog handler needs. Susan has spent decades working with SAR dog handlers around the world to improve the performance of their K9 teams with her positive, professional approach to training. Now, she shares the tips and tricks she's learned over the decades to help handlers not only properly raise and train SAR dogs from puppies, but also to fix problems in dogs that have been improperly trained.
Susan explores how the stages of a dog's early development affect its behavior as an adult. She also presents the latest research in scent: what it is, how dogs detect it, and what they detectcrucial information for all SAR dog handlers, and a fascinating look at how dogs perceive the world.
Learn how to:
- Find the right dog for SAR work.
- Pick the right training method for you and your dog.
- Avoid common handler mistakes during SAR operations.
About the Author
Susan Bulanda is recognized worldwide as an expert in animal behavior and K9 search and rescue who has formed and run two K9 SAR units. She is a founding member of the National Search Dog Alliance and a former vice president and dog chairperson of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. An award-winning author, Susan has written hundreds of articles and eight books.
Read an Excerpt
CHAPTER 1: FINDING A GOOD SAR DOG
The selection of a dog to use for SAR is the first step toward developing a successful SAR dog team. By the same token, the wrong dog (or handler) is a recipe for failure. There are three categories of SAR dogs that handlers attempt to train.
Type One: The Pet
When you decide to join a canine SAR team, you typically want to train your pet dog. Often, you entertain notions about you and your dog saving people and being heroes.
If this is you and you are sincere, and your dog is capable and willing, this combination can succeed. However, the first lesson you must learn is that to be a good SAR dog handler, you must first be trained as a rescue person. Then you can specialize in the K9 aspect of SAR. A SAR dog handler is a rescue person who specializes in the use of the K9. The K9 is only one tool a rescue person uses to find missing people, and not all missions require the use of a dog.
Understanding and accepting this key aspect of the SAR dog handler's job is important because it influences your handler mindset, giving the dog a better chance to succeed. If you view SAR as just another activity for your dog, or a fun thing to do, you will inadvertently communicate that to your dog, which can affect the dog's attitude toward the work. If you do not take SAR work seriously, your dog may not, either. Of course, the dog must enjoy the work and think it is fun. But your attitude toward SAR work should not be the same as when you are playing a game of fetch with your pet. When people have the “It's all a game” attitude, the dog can interpret it to mean, “It is okay if I don't feel like doing it today,” or the dog may feel it is acceptable to only do the parts he wants to do. The dog may even feel that if something better comes along, he will do that instead.
As any working dog handler with experience knows, dogs are in tune with the moods and attitudes of the handler, even to the point where they can feel the handler's attitude through the leash. A dog can smell your mood, since our moods change our body chemistry just enough to give a scent signal to a dog. Think of the dog that knows when his owner is afraid and the change in the dog's behavior as a result, or the reaction of the dog when the owner is happy and excited. It is not only the tone of your voice, your body language, and your facial expressions that communicate to the dog, but your scent as well.
Recent studies have shown that dogs have a special area in their brain to process human faces, which gives us another clue as to why dogs are sensitive to human social cues. Dogs are much more aware of what their handlers think, feel, and do than most people give them credit for. Ignorance of or ignoring this aspect of canine/human communication is often at the root of training problems.
From the beginning, therefore, you, the SAR dog handler, must take SAR seriously and leave all ego and romantic notions at home.
Type Two: The Adopted Dog
The second type of dog that handlers use is one they have adopted. While this is a noble idea and can work, it is risky because the adopted dog seldom comes to a new owner with a reliable history. People often lie when they surrender dogs because they believe someone else can fix the dogs' problems, and they want to give the dogs every chance to have a normal life.
Some people believe that by giving up a dog for adoption, the problem will magically go away. Very few dogs are surrendered due to the illness, retirement, divorce, or death of their owners. Most are surrendered because they have behavior problems. Often the original owners of surrendered dogs have created the problems by the way they raised them or did or did not train them, or because they selected the wrong type of dog for their lifestyle and ability to cope with a dog, or simply because they got tired of the dogs. In all cases, the dogs have been short changed and did not get what they needed to succeed.
The people who own dogs with training and/or behavior issues who do not give up on their dogs will seek professional help for their dogs. If that does not work out, they will usually be honest about why they are surrendering them.
Most often a purebred dog that is available for adoption was not purchased from an ethical breeder but came from a commercial breeder or a puppy mill supplier via a pet shop, or from a backyard breeder. This is a reasonable assumption because an ethical breeder will have the puppy buyer sign a contract stating that if the dog does not work out, the dog will be returned to the breeder.
Shelters, of course, also offer mixed breed dogs for adoption. As for what mix a mixed breed is, shelter workers take a wild guess and are often wrong. In some cases, they will see a picture of a rare breed of dog and label the mixed breed as the rare breed or a mix of the rare breed. Most often this is wrong because the rare breeds seldom wind up in a shelter or are bred to a dog that is not the same breed.
DNA tests are a good way to determine what breeds a mix is made of but often are not 100 per cent accurate because there is no record of all the breeds available. However, behaviorists have found that doing DNA tests on mixed-breed or adopted dogs helps them to understand the genetics that influence the way the dogs perceive their world and react to their environment. This can help immensely with the training process.
A dog that has been rescued can work out. Some people have an instinctive ability to pick the dogs that will work. In some cases, the dog surrendered for adoption only needs a job to do, and SAR is a lifesaving experience for the dog.
Type Three: The Dog from a Breeder
The third type of dog is the one that you, the handler, purposely seek out from a breeder for SAR dog work. Perhaps you are a seasoned handler and have retired or are about to retire your first SAR dog. Often, if your first dog was good, you will look for the same breed or type of dog as the original. Some handlers in this situation go to a breeder to get a puppy to train while the first or current dog eases into retirement.
The typical SAR dog works for about five years in the field before retirement looms on the horizon. By the time the dog is seven or older, it is time to retire the dog or limit the size and duration of missions. Some breeds can work longer than others.
The smaller the dog, the longer he can work because his lifespan is longer. For example, the giant breeds, such as Newfoundland, Great Dane, and some large breeds such as the Doberman, live between eight and 10 years, while some medium-sized dogs live from 15 to 18 years and can work up to the age of 10 or 13. The short-lived dogs reach their prime of life shortly after maturity, while the longer-lived breeds have a longer prime of life.
Finding the right dog from the best breeder can be a challenge even if you go back to the breeder who produced your last or current SAR dog. After all, several generations will have passed since your last dog was purchased. The line the breeder currently has will not be the same as before. You may only hope the breeder has not changed breeding goals.
As well, it is possible that the trusted breeder is no longer producing puppies. In that case, you must find a new breeder. One way to start is to ask other handlers who have good dogs where they purchased their dogs. When you have found a good breeder, it is important to conduct an interview with the breeder to further ensure you will end up with a dog that will work.
First and foremost, when you find yourself in this situation, you should only consider a breeder who breeds dogs for work. If the breeder does not specialize in SAR dogs, you should at least ensure that the breeder breeds dogs for field work and not for show. Working dogs are often radically differentin size, coat texture, and temperament, for examplethan their conformation show counterparts. If you take a close look at a field-bred English setter, for example, and compare it to a show English setter, you will notice structural differences. The show dog is bigger with a longer top line (back) and the coat is long and fluffy. The field setter has a squarer build, more in proportion, is smaller in size, and has a coarser, shorter coat that is designed to shed dirt and not pick up seeds such as burrs. The show dog is not required to use his brains or instinct for anything but prancing around the ring, while the field dog must prove his hunting ability, stamina, intelligence, and willingness to work to be considered for a breeding program. Many breeders who breed for the show ring believe that function follows form. This is not true as proven by true working dogs. It has only taken a few short years for some breeds to develop a split between those that still retain their working instincts and those that do not.
Choosing a Breed
If you are not sure what breed or type of dog to get, consider the various breeds that have the potential to be good SAR dogs. Often the breeds that are not the most popular are bred truer to the breed characteristics and have fewer health issues since they are not mass produced to meet market demands. I recommend two books to those selecting a breed for SAR work: Simon & Schuster's Guide to Dogs (1980) and The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds: A Field Guide to 231 Dog Breeds and Varieties (2011). Both books can be found from used book retailers such as Abebooks.com, half.com, or Amazon.
Of course, breed books may not tell you everything you need to know about a breed, and breeders are partial to their chosen breed and should be. Veterinarians do not get involved with the temperament and characteristics of breeds in the same way a trainer does. After reading through a breed guide, consider talking to a dog trainer or behavior consultant. They know the characteristics of the breeds the best.
The factors to consider in selecting a breed include:
1. What is the working life span of the dog?
2. What is the breed's coat type and grooming needs? Different climates will dictate what coat type is best, as will the vegetation and terrain features of the areas to be searched.
3. What is the breed's intelligence level?
4. What health issues are associated with the breed?
5. How big is an adult dog? Can you carry your dog out of the field if he is injured? How transportable is the dog?
6. How biddable (willing to obey) is the breed? This is important for a good working dog and ease of training.
7. Is the breed physically able to do the type of work that you want to do?
The individual dog must have good health, a love for people, a safe demeanor with children, the ability to remain calm in stressful situations, and the control required to work off leash, if needed. The dog must not critter/game chase or be nervous, dog aggressive, fearful of strange situations, or aggressive to humans.
When considering which type of dog to get for SAR work, keep in mind that different breeds are interested in different things, which gives each breed its own special set of characteristics. For example, if there is a sheep and a rabbit in a field, a sheep-herding dog will know the rabbit is there but will focus on the sheep. In our parlance, this dog is thinking, “Sheep, sheep, I need to get the sheep. Yes, there is a rabbit, but who cares?” On the other hand, a beagle or other small-game dog will know the sheep is there, but his thought process will run something along the lines of, “Rabbit, rabbit, I must get the rabbit. Who cares about the sheep?”
The Steps to Choosing a Dog from a Quality Breeder
Once you have selected the breed(s) you want to consider, you must find a good breeder and will do well to consider the following guidelines.
Contact the United Kennel Club (UKC) or the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the kennel club for your country, such as the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), and find out if your area has a federation of dog clubs (most states do). Contact the federation for a list of breeders. If the breed you have selected is not registered with your country's national recognized registry (such as the UKC, CKC, or AKC), you can contact the national club for the breed. Some breeds' national clubs have their own registries, such as the Australian Shepherd Club of America or the North American Sheepdog Society. Working-dog registries and clubs, such as the ones listed above, will have breeders dedicated to the working aspect of the breed and are a good place to start.
However, be aware of several unrecognized registries that are designed for puppy mills or are merely clubs that will register anything with fur and feet. I have found that if the breed is a common one and the breeder is not registered with the AKC, UKC, CKC, or a working-dog registry, it is best to avoid it. If you are in doubt, contact the AKC, UKC, CKC, or parent breed club, and ask if the registry in question is recognized by them. If not, it is a hobby registry with no credibility. With a little bit of investigation, you can determine if the registry is a good one or not.
If you decide to import a dog, the breeder should be registered with the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), which is the largest worldwide registry in the world. It includes Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Pacific.
After you find breed clubs in your area or breeders through a list from the AKC, UKC, CKC, or the Federation of Dog Clubs, you are ready to make phone calls.
Keep in mind that just because a breeder is listed with one of the organizations does not mean that it is an ethical or “good” breeder. Most state federations require that the breeder sign a code of ethics to be listed in their directories. This is a good start and the first way to filter out the backyard, commercial, and puppy-mill breeders who typically are not involved with any dog-related organization.
Keep in mind that breeders, good or bad, cannot completely control the genetic makeup of the litters they produce. If genetics were an exact science, all dogs would be stellar workers and champions in conformation. A breeder can only try to stack the odds in the dogs' favor.
Although most breeders are not familiar with the Early Neurological Stimulation or Bio-Sensor program for dogs, later known as the Superdog program (originally developed by the US military), it would be ideal to select a dog from a breeder who does employ this program or a similar program. It has been proven to reliably produce mentally and physically healthy dogs.
Interview the Breeders
Before you call any of the breeders, prepare a pad of lined paper with a page for each of the breeders you are contacting. On the top of each page, write down the name, phone number, breed of dog, and any other information about the breeder that you want to include. You will use these templates to write down the breeders' answers to the questions that follow. This will help you remember what each breeder says since you may be referred by the breeder to someone else. It is difficult during this process to keep track of who you called and what they had to say if you do not write it all down.
Before you start asking questions of the breeders, identify yourself and tell the breeders how you came to contact them. Explain that you would like to consider their breed of dog as your next SAR dog and that you would like to ask them some questions about their dogs. Keep in mind that good breeders often get many phone calls from prospective puppy buyers, and many people fail to realize that breeders are not stores with unlimited hours of operation and will call at all hours of the day and evening. Be sure to call at a decent time of day or evening and ask if the breeder has time to talk. If it is not a good time, ask when you can call back.
Using your prepared template, write down the answers to the following questions (I provide cues about ideal answers below):
1. How long have you been breeding this breed of dog?
The longer the better. If they just started, ask if they are being mentored by an experienced person. Breeding is complicated and should not be done by someone who is inexperienced.
2. Do you breed more than one breed of dog? If so what breeds?
Good, dedicated breeders will only concentrate on one or two breeds. It takes too much time to manage one or two breeds properly to dabble in more. A good working-dog breeder should be competing with dogs in that breed's working competitions. This is the main reason for breeding.
3. Do you belong to a breed club? Which club?
If not, be suspicious. A breeder with goals needs the support and help of a breed club. Someone who really loves their breed typically wants to interact with like-minded people. The breed club is also a way for the breeder to see how different dogs and lines perform, as well as to discover health issues prevalent in the breed. Breeders who breed for profit do not care as much and are more likely to avoid clubs.
4. Why do you breed dogs?
The answer should be some variation of “To better the breed.”
5. What is your goal when you breed a litter? (This applies to their current litter, planned litter, or past litters.)
Every breeder should have a goal that improves the breed in a specific way. No vague terms here. The breeder should be able to tell you the traits they are trying to improve or preserve. They should talk more about their adult dogs than the puppies. The breeder should be able to give you a history of their lines and the strong and weak points.
6. How many litters have you bred?
Someone who has bred multiple litters at once and who produces many litters through “arrangements” is one to be avoided. An example of an arrangement is when a breeder gives a bitch to anyone with the condition that she be bred at least two times and that the breeder gets all or most of the puppies. This means the bitch will be bred whether or not she is worthy of breeding. This also allows the breeder to claim that all their puppies are home-raised, which does not qualify as proper socialization. Often the owner of the bitch in this type of arrangement pays most or all the expenses and does not get a puppy. When the owner has met the contractual requirements, they will breed the bitch again so they can make some money from the dog. With this type of arrangement, it is rare that the bitch or stud have had the tests for genetic health issues common for the breed. An example would be a certification from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) to show that the parents of the litter are free of hip dysplasia, or a certification from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) to show that the parents are free of canine eye problems.
7. How many litters do you have at one time?
You want to pinpoint this information. A breeder who puts their all into a litter cannot do so with many litters at once. You want a breeder who works to support the dogs and does not breed dogs to support themselves.
8. What genetic/physical tests do you conduct on the parents?
The tests vary from breed to breed. Check with your veterinarian or the breed club to see what tests are necessary for that breed and how likely the breed is to have the defect tested for. For example, certain breeds are likely to have hip dysplasia or elbow problems; these breeds should have both parents rated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals with a passable rating before they are bred. If the breed suffers from eye problems, dogs should be examined by a canine ophthalmologist and registered with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, or if the breed is prone to Von Willebrand's disease, dogs should be tested clear of that. These are just a few of the tests and health issues of which you should be aware. An example of how genetics can affect a dog is demonstrated by a 2017 report showing how German shepherd dogs suffer many health issues due to genetics.
9. How do you prove or justify that a bitch or dog should be bred?
Every dog that is bred should be worthy to breed. That means the dog should demonstrate mental, temperament, and physical qualities. High intelligence and good temperament are the qualities that make a good SAR dog. Physical soundness indicates a dog will be healthy and have less chance of incurring vet bills for inherited illnesses. These things are demonstrated by temperament tests, working competitions, and testing for physical issues such as hip dysplasia.
Conformation show wins do not prove anything except that the dog looks good per the breed standard. Always remember that the titles that come after the dog's name (working titles) are more important than the titles before the dog's name (conformation). An example: Am, Can, CH Stardust Parsons Riley, TDX, UD, CGC. The titles in front of the name are breed championships, the titles after the name are working titles. TDX means Tracking Dog Excellent; UD means Utility Dog; and CGC means Canine Good Citizen. In the case of SAR dogs, you want to try to get dogs that have real working titles instead of sport working titles.
10. How do you choose the mate for your dog?
The mate for a litter should be based on the points in question 9. What you do not want to hear is “My neighbor had one so we thought we would breed”; or, “My dog is so good that we wanted one like her”; or, “We wanted to provide quality pets for people.”
11. How often do you stud your dog (if you have a stud dog)?
The dog should not be indiscriminately bred to any bitch that will pay for the service. This shows the owner may not care about the quality they produce. And the owner of the bitch may not care either.
12. What guarantees do you give with a puppy or dog that you sell?
All breeders should give you some form of a guarantee. At the least, you should be allowed to take the dog to your veterinarian and return the puppy if he is not healthy. The guarantee should explain the terms of a replacement or compensation. Be sure to have any contract reviewed by your lawyer. One of the loopholes that breeders use is to say that they guarantee the puppy for life, but to do this, they require that you return the dog to them knowing that you are not likely to do that. This is how they get out of their guarantee. Also, if you have a dog that develops a serious problem, would you want a dog from the same breeder? (Note: Being required to return a dog because your situation will not allow you to keep it is not the same as a breeder guaranteeing the puppy against health or genetic defects.)
13. Do you have a puppy buyers' contract?
If they do, they should be willing to mail you one so you can review it. Have your lawyer review it, too. Many problems arise and money is lost over the guarantees noted in puppy buyers' contracts. It is also best to avoid any form of co-ownership. The main purpose for co-ownerships is to allow the breeder to retain breeding and showing rights to the dog.
14. What age do you let the puppies go to the new home?
All breeds are different. Most puppies should not be released before 12 weeks if the breeder is going to give the puppy the proper socialization. Many let the puppies go at eight weeks. Never take a puppy home earlier than that. A puppy taken from the litter younger than eight weeks is at a high risk of developing behavioral problems. Typically, the breeder who is trying to cut corners will release a puppy at eight weeks of age to save on feeding, care, time, and shots. A truly dedicated breeder will keep the puppy until 12 weeks of age to ensure the puppy gets a good head start. They will also start early training and housebreaking. All puppies need that extra four weeks with the litter and the mother to learn canine social rules. The most important lesson puppies learn from their mother and littermates during this period is bite inhibition.
15. How do you raise the puppy until he goes to his new home?
You want details about the socialization methods the breeder uses. Be wary of generalizations and statements such as, “We have a lot of kids around to handle the puppies,” or, “We have lots of people in and out,” or, “This is a busy household.” Comments like these imply that the dogs sit and watch the world go by. You want to hear about specific handling and activities the breeder does at each week of age. The ideal breeder will use the Bio-Sensor program with the puppies, especially puppies that are destined for real work such as SAR.
16. How many puppies were in your last litter?
Be wary if they refuse to tell you. This question is important to act on the next question.
17. Can you give me the names and phone numbers of the people who bought puppies from your last litter?
Call the owners of the last litter. Ask them what life is like with their new dogs. Listen for statements such as, “He's a great dog except that he barks a lot,” or, “This is a great dog but he eats paper.” While these idiosyncrasies are not something that the breeder will breed for, they can be inherited tendencies. If five out of seven people say the same thing, there is a chance that this line of dog has these types of idiosyncrasies. Also, ask owners if they would get another dog from this breeder.
Although going through these questions seems like a bit of a chore, you will be amazed at what you can learn about a breeder. After all, you are going to invest a sizable amount of money, time, and heart in your new puppy. While it is impossible to completely predict how a puppy will turn out, by starting with the best you can get, you increase your chances of having your next SAR partner be a stellar search dog.
Meet the Breeder
The next step is to meet your chosen breeder and the dogs. You may think you like a breed of dog until you meet one of them. There can be wide variations in one breed of dog. Therefore, you want to be sure the breeder you have chosen has what you like. Visiting the breeder and seeing the breeder's dogs will tell you a lot about the way the breeder takes care of the dogs and the amount of time the breeder spends with them. You do not want a breeder who never works with the dogs or sees them for more than a few minutes a day. You do not want dogs that are raised in kennels, locked in outbuildings, or tied outside houses.
After your visit, contact the breed club and ask about the breeder you like. If necessary, go to a few meetings. A good breeder should be respected by most of the people in the club. If not, find out why. Always get a consensus instead of one person's opinion. If people are hesitant to talk about the breeder, be wary. You will also learn a lot about the different lines of dogs in that breed by talking to the members of the club. If the club's meetings are too far away to attend, at least call and talk to several the members. Most breeds have local clubs that are part of the national club.
Picking Your Puppy
Once you have found the breeder and line of dogs you like, let the breeder know you would like to purchase a puppy and then wait for him to be born. Picking out the pup should be easy. If you have a good breeder who produces a good line and consistent litter, the actual puppy selection is not as critical. It is a good idea to let the breeder help match you with a puppy. The breeder should have asked you as many questions as you asked in your breeder interview process. The breeder will have watched the puppies grow and will know which puppies have the best potential for SAR work.
By this time, if you have done your homework and the litter has been born, it is time to pick your puppy. Any young children (even teens) in your family should not have been part of the selection process up until now because they may not understand that the dog is going to be a working dog, not just a pet. Even if they understand this, they may not realize the requirements necessary for a working dog. Therefore, if you have children, they should not yet be present during the selection process.
When the puppies are old enough, eight weeks or older, ask to be in a room alone with them. Stand quietly and let the puppies come to you. Note which one comes first and how that puppy acts toward the other puppies. You do not want the puppy that rushes to you first and leaves you first. This puppy is the bully in the litter. You also do not want the puppy that hangs back.
After the puppies greet you, quietly walk around the room and note which puppy follows you the longest. This is the puppy that will make the best working dog because he is the one most interested in humans. There may be more than one like this in a well-bred, socialized litter. If children are going to be part of the selection process, at this stage choose two or more puppies that are candidates for you.
In your next visit to the breeder, have the breeder only bring out those preselected puppies. Now is the time for your children to be involved in the process; allow them to choose which puppy you bring home. If you only chose one puppy on your last visit, that is okay, and now is the time for the children to meet the new puppy. It is important not to bring your children to your first meeting with the puppies because they may not understand your selection process. Perhaps you decide not to take a puppy at all, and it is difficult enough to walk away from cute puppies that are not right for your situation without having a child crying and begging you to get a puppy. It is also difficult for the child to be disappointed by having to leave the puppies behind.
The Steps to Choosing an Adopted Dog
The selection process with adopted dogs is the same in terms of selecting the type/breed of dog you want. If you adopt through a rescue group or a shelter, they should have had a qualified canine behavior consultant evaluate the dog. Be sure to ask about the consultant's credentials. Often people call themselves behavior consultants and they are not.
If the shelter does not have access to a certified behavior consultant, you should find one who will evaluate the dog for you. Remember that the dogs in the shelter have all been given up for a reason. Often the people who surrender dogs are not honest about why they gave the dogs up. They typically love
Table of Contents
1. Finding a Good SAR Dog
2. Why Dogs Have Training Problems
3. What Is Scent?
4. The Uncontaminated Scent Article
5. Cross Training a Dog
6. SAR Dog Training Methods
7. SAR Dog Training Problems
Conclusion: Preventing Problems Before They Start
What People are Saying About This
I found Susan's book to be comprehensive and well written, with clear descriptions. Her book is useful and educational for both novice and seasoned K9 handlers.
Susan Bulanda provides an easy read, particularly for those new to the world of K9 SAR. This is an excellent starter book that also has tips for the more experienced handler. I could relate to many of the problems Susan identifies.