GSAR Canine Team Information
The GSAR dog program in BC runs alongside that of Emergency Management BC's (EMBC) volunteer search and rescue teams. The dog teams are certified annually by the RCMP. In order to eventually validate/certify a SAR dog with the RCMP, the handler must be an active member on their local EMBC search and rescue team and have completed the Ground Search and Rescue Training. While not mandatory, some field experience with a GSAR team after basic GSAR and before becoming a dog team will help hone required GSAR skills, help with understanding the GSAR team concept and make you a better GSAR dog handler
Canine handlers must be willing to put an incredible amount of time (most of it on your own), effort and patience into a successful working dog team. In the beginning, expect to train at least 2 times per week (often more). Each formal training event is likely to take an hour to set up - laying articles in a search area (the first trip to the area), an hour to search (the second trip) and throw in daily short (5 min) obedience sessions for the formal part. Include daily vigorous walks to maintain your team's fitness at the high level required in working dogs and handlers and it all adds up to lots of time. Handlers must also be skilled in navigating though the bush with a compass, understand how weather (wind, temperature) affects dog searches, and be able to keep up with their dogs in sometimes very rough bush and terrain (not many trail searches). You also need have a high level of self motivation and initiative for those long hours out there by yourself training in all kinds of nasty weather.
The other factor often not discussed is financial. New handlers should be under no illusions - it's not cheap to train a dog for SAR! Most of the cash outlay will be yours (vet bills, travel, gear, gas, suitable vehicle). If you're lucky, your GSAR team may subsidize an annual training trip to a BCSDA (BC Search Dog Assoc) course, but for the most part, you will spend a decent amount of your money doing this.
To be a good candidate for Search and Rescue work a dog must possess some special characteristics. They must have intelligence, agility, stamina, drive, work ethic, confidence, and a willingness to be trained. They also require a high level of fitness and good social skills with other dogs. Aggression of any kind is unacceptable in a SAR dog. Other key must-have dog personality traits include a desire to please the handler, be able to learn through reward (beyond food) and a willingness to be social with others (especially strangers). If a dog is unable to comfortably approach and greet other people, it's unlikely they'll seek and find them if they are lost.
All new dogs must undergo a puppy assessment (done by RCMP or BCSDA) before being accepted into further training. No specialized training is required for the initial assessment beyond basic puppy obedience and an attachment to a dog toy. Dogs can be assessed from 6 months to 2 yrs old. Normally, if the dog has had no previous SAR training, a three year old dog is on the edge for the maximum age to start a career in SAR. Training to a validation standard usually takes about two years (more if you aren't already on a GSAR team) and a dog will often start to have physical issues at around 8. For the effort involved, we encourage new handlers to consider younger dogs.
Qualified Search Dogs are expected to have a high level of obedience, no aggression towards other dogs or people and excellent fitness and a extremely strong bond with their handler.
The dog training component is taught through other area dog teams and membership with BCSDA (which works closely the RCMP Police Dog Services). BCSDA only meets only twice per year. The rest of the training is done by handler and other SAR dog teams in their region and, if lucky, reaching out to your local RCMP dog handler.