Join Date: Nov 2013
Location: Lake Tahoe Area
I think Kekipi hit the nail on the head.
First your dog. Many GSDs and working dogs have good nose capabilities. They also need to have drive in the hunt (some just wrap this up with prey drive). That is, they love the game and don't give up until they find it. They will charge through brush, steep hills, rock slopes for 4-8 hours. They need to have good nerves, not distressed by the conditions and stuff that is happening around them at all. Most searches are in crap conditions of one sort or another so they need some level of toughness. They need to be able to work around other dogs and relax around other dogs. I have seen mildly reactive dogs on SAR but they are very manageable. Your dog is VERY young. The distractibllity is likely puppy brain. A good recall is a must but you don't want to put too much obedience on them. They need to think for themselves and not be too handler dependent. This is a first dog. Many seasoned handlers like the really drivey dogs. The best SAR dogs are often nightmare puppies, in motion, drivey, curious and active.
Keep in mind there are different "disciplines": area (wilderness) air scent, tracking, trailing, human remains detection, and FEMA (natural disaster).
But like what has been said, by far the greater limitations are found in handlers. Good SAR work demands training 1-2 times per week. In CA a first dog team usually takes 2 years to certify running them through training until they are 100%, some obedience and agility, fitness and then all the sigh offs that you have to have: fitness, navigation, crime scene management, radio comms, scent theory, etc. Two years of training, driving, stomping in rain storms and getting stung by bees. Got to be okay with poison oak in my area and ticks (Yuck!!). Bears, coyotes and rattlers too (but ticks freak me out more). One of my summer searches two juvenile mountains crossed the road 1/2 mile from the trailhead where we were searching.... umm where is momma? That is a lifestyle choice. You have to have the heart for it and love working in difficult conditions. You have to have some aptitude for navigation. If you can't master a GPS and a compass and a map you are a danger out there. You might have to sleep in the dirt and it might be cold. You will definitely sleep in your car. You have to be fit to keep up with your dog. Good SAR dogs move quickly. I'm guessing I drive around 5-6000 miles a year (and I think that can be a low number for some).
Gear is expensive but tends to be upfront costs. It includes is everything a backpacker has plus a decent first aid kit (you will need some first aid... the amount depends on the certifying organization). I have a Subaru Forester and the back cargo area and back seat is full of equipment: backpacks, radios, gps, maps, multiple boots, climbing gear, now snowshoes, poles, emergency shelters, water purification, water, clothes (expensive some of them like my recent $450 rain jacket), tarps, food, dog gear, dog and crate.
The best thing is to find out who runs your local SAR group. Often under the county sheriffs but there are independent groups as well. Get with one of their K9 handlers to get the skinny. Different states do different things to accept, train and certify K9 handlers so you really need to check that out first. Then find out who is doing this training and are they affiliated with the SAR team.
I'm not trying to scare you off but it often is much less about the dog and much more about the handler.
Dutch Shepherd - Ptygo (Tee-Go) de las Flores
Rescue GSD - Freyja (Husband's Dog)