All Handlers are experienced members of their local Mountain Rescue Teams before they start training. Handlers and Dogs train at least once a month on a SARDA training weekend. These training sessions are held across the whole of Southern Scotland in a different location each month and generally mean staying in a hall or hostel for the weekend. This allows the handlers to become familiar with the different areas they may work in on a 'callout'. The dogs train to find volunteers called 'Dogs bodies', who lie out on the hill to be found by the dogs. Without them the training of a Search and Rescue dog would not be possible. Visit our 'Dogs bodies' page to find out more.
Training for a pup starts at around 6 months and revolves around what is called the "find sequence". This means that the dog learns that when he or she finds a person on scent, then returns to the handler, indicates and then gets the handler back to the body they get a reward. Once this find sequence is complete the dog and handler are awarded Grade 1 status.
The dog and handler now move onto the next phase of their training. Here the dog has to work an area for a few minutes before the find of the body occurs. The dog must then still successfully complete the find sequence. This is practiced over and over again until the dog will always complete the sequence despite the length of time before the find and despite other distractions that may be in the area, such as other wildlife, burns, walls and so on. Once the dog and handler are able to successfully work an area for around 20 minutes and still successfully find a body they are awarded Grade 2 status
During this training a stock test will be carried out by a local sheperd. It is imperative that the dog must not be interested in stock, otherwise farmers would not allow dogs to work on their land. The shepherd has the casting vote as to whether the dog team can continue training.
The dog team is now ready to be assesed by external assessors for the first time. Two weekends a year the Association invites assessors from the sister SARDA organistations in the UK to come and assess the association's dog teams. After a grueling weekend, in often atrocious conditions, a dog team will find out whether their hard work has paid off and they are awarded 'Callout' status. At this point the dog team is awarded Search Dog (old Grade 3) status and joins the Association's 'callout' list, available 24 hours a day to the police and Mountain Rescue teams to search for missing persons.
The dog team now continues to be assessed until they reach 'Mountain' and 'Advanced Mountain' Graded status, which is considered to be an experienced dog team. At this point the assessments drop to every 2/3 years, which ensures that the team is always ready for whatever incident may arise. Handlers are expected to training regularly even once reaching this level.
If you are interested in training a dog for Search and Rescue you must first be a member of a mountain rescue team. This ensures you have the necessary skills to look after you, your dog and the casualty you will be looking for. If you are interested and think you fulfill the required criteria, please contact us to visit one of our training sessions. Info@SARDA.org.uk