Time and Money Commitment
The time commitment is extensive.
Search and Rescue is a serious service with which there is a sound expectation of professionalism, commitment and conscience.
Alpena SAR K-9 Unit generally trains as a group one day/night each week and members participate in a full team drill quarterly on a Saturday. You should plan on an additional 4 to 10 hours each week, training on your own and meeting informally with other members of the team. Training takes place year round regardless of weather and we rotate training locations between Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties. In addition, most members attend at least one out of state seminar every other year. Even after you and your dog are mission ready, the training never stops and you are required to attend 75% of all formal sessions.
Callouts for actual searches tend to occur at inconvenient times and often in the middle of the night. Searches typically occur in some very remote areas in the tri county region. Alpena SAR K-9 Unit teams are on call all day and night every day of the year and members, with few exceptions, are expected to respond.
The time commitment required of the K-9 Unit is not strictly devoted to training and searching. Members must also participate in public awareness events and assist in the day to day operations. This level of commitment affects your family, friends and career. Therefore, it is necessary to have the support of your family and at least an understanding by your employer to undertake this endeavor.
Because we are a volunteer organization, you must pay all of your own expenses, including training costs, equipment, transportation and lodging where needed. Costs to the member can run up to a couple of thousand dollars each year.
If you already have a dog . . .
Your dog must be obedient and always under your control. You should both be in top physical condition and agile enough to safely negotiate obstacles in the wilderness and in disaster rubble. It is strongly recommended that both you and the dog are comfortable around water.
We are not a breed specific organization and welcome mixed breeds and purebreds alike. In this region, SAR dogs generally are of medium to medium-large size and usually come from the working or sporting breeds. Small dogs generally do not work well for our purposes as they are limited in their ability to cover large areas and climb over obstructions.
Because it takes up 2 years to train a SAR dog, most handlers start with a puppy or young dog. This provides for a stronger bond and a longer working career. Additionally, you can often shape the desirable behaviors into a puppy more easily than into an older dog.
There are four general types of search dogs – area search (air scent), trailing, disaster/USAR and human remains detection (cadaver). Upon entering the unit, you will have to decide for which area of search work you and your dog are best suited.
Due to the significant time and attention required to train a SAR dog, we do not allow a new handler to train more than one dog at a time.
Physical and Psychological Fitness Requirements
To participate in search work, you must be both physically fit and healthy. Searches can potentially last up to 12 hours a day for several days and be located in areas of very rough terrain with inclement weather. Your search area may be steep, brushy, swampy, snowy, covered with poison ivy or inhabited by bees, ticks, and mosquitoes. We train in these same areas and under these same conditions. If you have an illness, or any physical or psychological limitations, it is best to consult with your physician to make sure s/he approves of this activity.
There is also the possibility of having to spend the night out in the wilderness during a search, so mental as well as physical fitness is a must. Remember, on a search you are there to help and should not become a victim yourself.
Being a search and rescue team member requires a certain psychological fitness. We wish to encourage your interests but there are a few realities to consider.
- A serious long-term commitment is mandatory.
- There are always potential risks to you and your dog.
- You will be expected to go out in the woods at night with just your dog and maybe one other searcher.
- You must be willing to share the forest with snakes, ticks, spiders and bigger “residents”.
- A positive attitude, confidence in your abilities, self-reliance and ability to evaluate if you are capable of performing “the search” is a must.
- Honesty and acceptance of constructive criticism are necessary.
- You must be psychologically prepared to cope with finding deceased subjects.
- Search and Rescue is a lifesaving service where egos and personal prejudices have no place.
Selection and Training of SAR Dogs
Before accepting a dog into our program it must be well socialized and temperamentally sound. The dog must enjoy being handled by people and be able to get along with other dogs and animals.
If you do not already have a dog—GOOD! We recommend that you enter into the program without one. This allows you time to complete your field support training and get a better understanding of the type of work that interests you and the type of dog that may be best suited for that particular job. Many of our team members have extensive experience training dogs and are happy to talk with you about the type of dog most suitable for you. They may also be willing to assist you with the SAR selection process of your K-9 partner.
Dog Handler Skill Requirements
As the human member of the canine team, you will have completed a 16 week field support training program before you can enter a prospective dog into the K-9 program. You will become proficient in land navigation using topographic and trail maps and a compass. You will develop knowledge in radio communications, search and rescue safety, scent theory, search strategy and wilderness skills.
Additionally we would like you to have some understanding of K-9 learning theory and K-9 communication. Once onboard, your teammates will help you to become efficient in the necessary skills. If you have special expertise in an area of knowledge relating to SAR (medical care, tracking, rescue, dog training, etc.), you can share this expertise with other team members.
During your field support training you will be expected to work with different Operational or Mission Ready Teams from each area. You will learn a lot of necessary skills by observing and asking questions. We are always willing to share what we know with you and often your observations and questions help us learn, too.
We will be training in all kinds of weather, which provides new members the opportunity to try out their outdoor gear (not on a real search in the back country). Searches are common in rainy and stormy weather, so good rain gear is very important. All personnel, whether training or searching are expected to bring proper gear and clothing for the weather. Being cold and wet for several hours is no fun and possibly dangerous.
The 3 Steps in Becoming a member of the K-9 Unit
If, after reading and considering the above information, you wish to meet us and find out more about our team, here is the process:
If you are interested in coming to one of our weekly training sessions, contact our K-9 Training Coordinator, who will tell you when and where you can meet us. Please come properly dressed in a long sleeved shirt (even in the hottest weather), long pants, a baseball cap, long socks, and hiking boots, if you have them. Tennis shoes are not recommended. Bring water to drink and insect repellent. We recommend that you observe at least one training session. DO NOT BRING YOUR DOG.
Once you complete the observer period, you can submit an application to the Sheriff’s Department. A background check and a possible interview will be conducted.
Associate and Operations Member:
Upon notification that your application has been approved, you will be welcomed on board as an Associate Member and will be on a probationary status for 1 year. During this time you will be invited and expected to attend 75% of regular team training’s. This will also provide you with the opportunity to work with our handlers and get to know them as we help you through your 16 weeks of field support training. This experience will give you a better idea of the time commitment and amount of work required to become a SAR dog handler.
Once you complete your field support training we will consider you an Operations Member which means you are operational in that capacity and you may participate in actual search missions. At this same time, we will evaluate any potential K-9 entry and enroll approved candidates into our K-9 training program.
During every aspect of your training, you will be expected to keep a training log to monitor and document your progress.
Upon meeting all of the necessary criteria and successfully completing a series of level progressions, evaluations and outside certifications you will be considered an operational K-9 Team.
Operational teams must re certify every two years by outside certifications.
At the end of the 1 year probationary period, we will evaluate your interest and commitment, as well as your dog’s temperament and progress, and establish your acceptance as a Full Member. As such, you must continue to maintain 75% attendance and must continue to progress your own skills and any those of any K-9 that you enter into a program.
Keep in mind, we are not a “dog club” nor are we “dog trainers”. Alpena SAR K-9 Unit is a search organization. We will work with you to assist in your training and progression, but the burden is upon you to achieve your goals.
We hope that this frank explanation of our requirements has not dampened your enthusiasm nor deterred your interest, but we feel it is necessary to be well informed before deciding to pursue the goal of being a canine team member