How does NDSD select new members and dogs?

NDSD accepts new members based on our ability to adequately support new dog handler teams as they begin the training process, while still maintaining high-quality training for our existing members. We will periodically notify interested persons (those who have contacted us) that we are seeking new members. This process generally occurs about every six months. For more details, please review our application process.

What factors could disqualify me for membership in NDSD?

Factors for disqualification of a candidate include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Inability to attend training and/or meetings
  • Inability to meet physical agility & fitness requirements
  • Inability to pass a Washington State Patrol background check
  • Claustrophobia condition that would prevent participation in training activities (all members take turns acting as “hiders”, which means extended periods of confinement in small spaces)
  • Failure of dog to pass its initial evaluation.

What is the time commitment necessary to become a Disaster Search Dog handler?

Training for disaster search requires a large dedication of time and energy in order to be successful. NDSD personnel are not paid for time spent at any NDSD event or deployment, and members often use personal or vacation time away from work to attend such events.

In addition to formal training sessions with the NDSD team, a handler must be willing to spend regular training time with their dog to achieve and maintain basic skills for canine obedience and agility.

Members of NDSD also participate in school and organization demos, help in setup and organization of local and national certification tests, and attend search and rescue seminars. New members are required to attend two full weekends of SAR courses within one year of joining, and all members take refresher courses in these requirements as needed.

Canine Handlers can become part of the Washington Task Force One (FEMA) after passing their Foundational Skills Assessment. Handlers participate in a 40-hour courses to further develop search and rescue skills, and take several advanced level courses in Rescue Skills and Awareness, Incident Management, Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction.

For more details on the process of training the disaster search dog team, please browse through our Training pages and visit www.disasterdog.org.

Is my dog capable of becoming a disaster search dog?

Several aptitude tests exist for search and rescue dogs. We list below several web links to sites that may help you in selecting a puppy or determining if your current dog is suitable for search work. Some very basic criteria for canine compatibility to perform search and rescue work include:

  • Dog is not aggressive toward humans or toward other dogs (zero tolerance)
  • Dog is attentive and responsive to you
  • Dog displays a strong play drive (loves to fetch, tug, etc.)
  • Dog displays a strong hunt drive: he/she demonstrates an ability to “use its nose” in problem solving (example: finding its toy/ball when you throw it into a bush or hide it in the cushions of your sofa)
  • Dog is stable in temperament
  • Dog has no footing issues (willing to walk and jump over lots of different surfaces
  • Dog has excellent conformation, physical strength and stamina

If you are serious about becoming a handler, you should be prepared to face the possibility that the dog you own may not be equipped for search work.

Will you be willing to find another dog if your current dog is not compatible with search work? Due to the limited time that our members can give to group training and the urgent need to provide as many trained teams as possible, we cannot in good conscience spend undue amounts of time trying to train a dog to do a job that it is not suited for.

Disaster Search Dog Screening Criteria:

Evaluation tests for puppy selection:

What are the “official” training requirements for a disaster search dog and its handler?

Formal training requirements for dog handlers in Washington State are defined in part by the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 118-04-120), which defines specific training requirements for Search and Rescue volunteers.

Training required under the WAC includes the following:

Training Type Frequency of Required Refresher Training
First Aid & CPR Every 1-3 years (depending on type of training)
Blood Borne Pathogens Annual
Helicopter Safety Every 2 years
Search & Rescue Techniques Every 3 years
Search & Rescue Survival Skills Every 3 years
Crime Scene Awareness Every 3 years
Map & Compass Navigation Skills Every 3 years

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), formerly FEMA, sets the standards for certification of Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) canine teams. These standards define the specific testing criteria that each dog and handler team must pass to become certified as a member of a DHS USAR search team. These standards, together with other useful information about training and the DHS system, can be found at www.disasterdog.org.

Other Questions?

Do you have a question not answered here or elsewhere on our site? Please send your question to us at ndsd@ndsd.net and we will do our best to answer it.

You will also find a wide variety of FAQs on the website of the Search Dog Foundation at www.searchdogfoundation.org. The King County Search Dogs website has some training articles at www.kcsearchdogs.org. Although some of the questions and articles deal specifically with wilderness search dog training, many apply to search dogs in general.