Search and Rescue Dogs (SARD): How to Become a Search & Rescue Dog Handler in the UK

Search and rescue dogs have a vital role throughout the UK. They’re used to find missing people in all kinds of terrain, and they do so with immense effectiveness. One search dog has the power of multiple humans and can cover vast areas in a fraction of the time.

While these brave dogs rightfully deserve a lot of the credit, you must also remember there are trained dog handlers helping them become search and rescue machines.

The role of a search and rescue dog handler is very serious and requires a great deal of training. If this is something that interests you, then we’ve got some excellent advice for you to read.

Below, you’ll find the various steps that must be taken should you wish to become a qualified dog handler.

Becoming a Dog Handler – Join Your Local NSARDA

The first step is looking for your local National Search And Rescue Dog Association. There are many of these across the UK, usually for specific regions.

Find yours and look into becoming a member. It’s a relatively easy process, but every association may have specific requirements they look for in members.

Typically, you need at least 6 months experience as a ‘body’ for your local NSARDA before they accept you as a member. This means you’ll be used as the live body dogs have to search and rescue as part of their training.

You won’t do any specific dog handler training of your own at this stage, it’s merely voluntary work to show you’re committed to this role.

Plus, you will learn basic rules about being out in the field and gain experience of working in similar conditions you’ll be under as a dog handler.

Another requirement is that your dog has to be brought along to undergo an acceptance test to see if it passes the parameters to become an actual search and rescue dog.

Once you and your dog have met all the requirements, you can start your journey as a trainee dog handler.

Search & Rescue Dog Handler Training: Requirements

Before you become a trainee dog handler, there are extra requirements you need aside from being a member of the NSARDA.

These conditions are different depending on whether you want to become a handler in mountain or lowland areas.

Mountain Areas: Dog handlers in mountain areas need to have the support of a Mountain Rescue team to undergo training. So, if your local NSARDA doesn’t have a mountain rescue team, then you can’t train in this capacity. You also need to have been a proper member of that team for at least a year.

Lowland Areas: Here, you need to be a member of your Lowland Rescue team for 6 months while also undergoing qualifications to already be a Team Leader or Search Technician.

How to Become a Search & Rescue Dog Handler in the UK

This is where things get very hard for you and your dog.

Here, you’ll begin training as a dog handler, and it can take you a good 2 to 3 years before you’re qualified and accepted for this role. Training usually gets split into different stages, with assessments at the end of each one to determine if you’re ready to progress.

There are three main ways you will train to become a handler; locally, regionally, and nationally.

  • Generally speaking, local training is set up by your local NSARDA and works around the schedule of the trainers there.
  • Regional training is more structured and takes place every week or two.
  • National training is a monthly occurrence and will make you undertake a national course.

By undergoing all three types of training, you’ll often find yourself out in the field for around 3 times per week training your dog.

You’re constantly being monitored to see how you’re progressing through the course, and you will see review periods each month. If you fail to pass a review, then you’ll either have to get yourself up to the right standard or be asked to cease your training.

Once you have completed and passed your training, you will be a qualified search and rescue dog handler. Please be aware that you’ll be reassessed a year after you’ve qualified to ensure you’re still up to scratch. Assessments will then take place every three years after this as well.

So, there you have it; this is what it takes to become a search and rescue dog handler in the UK.

It’s no easy feat, but with a role as serious as this – with lives at stake – you need all the training you can get.

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