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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a search dog?

A search dog is a dog that is specifically trained to locate human scent. Search and Rescue dogs are frequently called SAR Dogs.

Are there different types of SAR Dogs?

There are 5 different skills of SAR Dogs:

  • Air-Scent Dogs - Smells the air for a human scent. Follows the scent of any human, not just a particular person.

  • Trailing Dogs (sometimes called Tracking Dogs) - Follows the scent of a human by sampling the scent of the subject's clothing.

  • Water Search Dogs - Trained to search for drowning victims.

  • HRD Dogs (Human Remains Detection Dogs, sometimes called Cadaver Dogs) - Follows the scent of dead humans and human remains. Used mostly after a disaster.

  • Avalanche Dogs - Search for people trapped under the snow up to 15 feet.

Some SAR Dogs are trained in multiple tasks, usually depending on the breed.

Which breed of dog is best for search and rescue?
The breed of the dog is totally the choice of the handler but the following criteria should be considered:

  • The dog should be of a size capable of overcoming the type of terrain that will be encountered. The dog needs to be of a medium size to ensure this. The dog should not be of a size that prohibits the handler from assisting the dog to over come problems encountered in the field.

  • The dog must be agile, capable of climbing, being lifted and be comfortable in water and various terrains.

  • The dog must be of significant intelligence to be trainable and be capable of problem solving.

  • The dog must get along with animals and people and be able to wait in vehicles for long periods of time.

  • The dog's coat should be capable of protecting the dog from the type of environmental conditions that will be encountered.

It is widely accepted that a dog with a long muzzle is more proficient at detecting scent. Bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Rottweilers and mixed breeds make great SAR Dogs. Other breeds like Border Collies, Boxers, Corgis, Dobermans, Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles (that's a Labrador and a Poddle mix), Malinois, Schnauzers, Tervuren, Australian Cattle Dogs and even Poodles can do great work, too! Dogs with traits for sporting, working and herding are the top picks. Temperament is more important than breed.

What is an operational SAR Dog?
An operational SAR Dog is a dog that has completed successfully all requirements and testing procedures.

What is a dog handler?
The dog handler is the owner and trainer of the SAR Dog. The handler is responsible for all aspects of the care of the dog. The handler is also responsible for deploying the dog in a manner that provides maximum utilization of the dogs abilities. The handler is responsible for locating clues while on a search.

What is a SARtech?
A SARtech is a highly trained person that is responsible for all aspects of search work. They assist the handler in caring for the dog. They are responsible for navigation (map and compass) and radio communications. They search for clues and are responsible for relaying back to the command post the location of the team, the victim when located and any clues that are found.

Are all SAR Dog teams the same?
Teams vary greatly in their performance and abilities. Some teams are no more than social clubs or kennel clubs. A good SAR Dog team should have a proven track record, train frequently, and be recognized by the supervising agency in their operating area.

What is the difference between SAR Dogs and police dogs?
SAR Dogs are trained to locate lost or missing persons. Police dogs are trained to apprehend persons that are escaped or fleeing apprehension.

How long does it take to train a SAR Dog?
On average it takes about 2 years to train a dog to meet the requirements for basic operational level. This is working the dog 2 or three times a week on search problems and daily on obedience. This is a general statement as it varies greatly depending on the handlers experience and the dog's ability.

How do I get involved?

JCSDA is highly committed to doing everything within our power to discourage persons from becoming involved. The theory behind this course of action is that very few people are truly suited for the physical and psychological strain of SAR work. It has been our experience that only about 1 in 20 will actually remain active after their first deceased victim find. If you think you have what it takes contact us and come with the team.

I'm still interested. What are the requirements to work with JCSDA?
Please go to our Join Us  page and fill out our pre-application. Someone will get back with you.


The following information is for reference only and may change depending on state, local and agency requirements.

  • Fill out an application

  • Fill out a Release of Liability Form

  • Fill out a Sleep Policy Form

  • Fill out a Background Check Form


If you are from Indiana, disregard the Kentucky background check. You will need to go to your local Sheriff’s office and ask what's required for a background check. Mail all of this to the JCSDA address, or bring it to a training that you wish to attend.

If you are training a dog, we ask that you contact a member of the training committee and arrange a time to assess your dog, this includes:

  • Going over vet records and what is involved

  • How to train your dog

  • Doing a FEMA non-aggression test

  • Doing a Canine Good Citizen test

1. You will need a Criminal Background Check from the Kentucky State Police. The fee is $20. Download the form.
Mail the results to JCSDA, 8004 Smyrna Pkwy., Louisville, Ky. 40228

2. You will need to take several on-line FEMA classes. These classes are free of charge.

  • ICS-100: Introduction to the Incident Command System

  • ICS-200: Basic Incident Command System for Initial Response

  • IS-700: An Introduction to the National Incident Management System

  • IS-800: National Response Framework, An Introduction

  • Structural Collapse Awareness

  • AWR160 - Terrorism Awareness for Emergency First Responders

  • Acquire an Amateur Radio License from the FCC. Testing Dates & Locations

  • Purchase this book: Barron's Guide to Search And Rescue Dogs (about $14)

Additional Information

The Probation Period for new recruits is 6 months. You would not be able to respond to a search request until after 6 months. In addition we and State EMA require recruits to attend a Basic Search and Rescue (BSAR) class sponsored by the KyEMA. (JCSDA occasionally helps teach this course.) These classes are currently free. You are responsible for your transportation, food, lodging and personal gear.

We also require a Managing Search Operations and NIMS 300 course also sponsored by KyEMA.

Members are also required to have:

  • American Heart Association Heartsaver First Aid, with Enviromental

  • American Heart Association Healthcare Provider CPR

  • Emergency Care Safety Institute Wilderness First Aid, or WMI Wilderness First Aid or Higher

Dog Shot / Vet
The next time your dog goes to the vet, you should have him/her do the JCSDA Certification.

  • Search Dogs of JCSDA Shall have, per State law or Agency Regs.

  • Rabies: Can do either 1 year or 3 year

  • Bordetella Kennel cough: Bronch - live

  • Canine Distemper multisystemic viral disease, either CDV or rCDV

  • Canine Adenovirus Liver, Hepatitis , MLV Parental (Combo vaccination)

  • 5 in 1

  • Distemper

  • A2denovirus

  • Canine Parvo (CPV-2MLV)

  • Parainfluenza

Search Dogs of JCSDA: Recommended, but is optional

  • Lepto or Lepto 2 - way Giardia

  • Heartworm Porphy

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