Frequently Asked Questions
Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado, Inc. is made up of volunteers from all around the state of Colorado who are dedicated to training dogs, themselves and each other to assist on searches for the missing child, hiker, hunter, skier, water enthusiast or accident victim. SARDOC is a 501(c)3 Corporation.
SARDOC’s performance standards are based on realistic search conditions. A SARDOC dog and handler team demonstrates that they meet these standards before participating on searches. With such standards, search management can expect SARDOC dog teams from anywhere in the state to perform similarly and predictably in a search emergency.
While the main objective of SARDOC is to train dog and handler teams so that they can meet these standards, SARDOC also assists law enforcement agencies in Colorado and the surrounding region in finding the closest qualified SARDOC dog and handler team whenever they need the specialized search resource. In addition, the membership actively participates in educating these agencies on how to use search dogs efficiently and effectively.
SARDOC trains both the dog and the owner, not just the dog. The search dogs are trained and handled by their owners.
A trained search dog can cover with its nose the same amount of ground it would take about 30 humans to search.
SARDOC trains dogs in two basic search disciplines, trailing and air scent. Trailing dogs follow the trail of scent particles shed by a person. The scent trail is affected by wind and other weather conditions so the dog does not necessarily follow the person’s exact footsteps. Rather, the trailing dog may work parallel to the path the individual actually walked.
An air scent dog detects scent particles that are carried in the wind from the missing person’s location. Several air scent dogs can be fielded on a mission to search different search segments at the same time.
SARDOC dogs are trained to scent discriminate in both disciplines. They are able to smell an article of clothing recently worn by an individual and then find the person with the matching scent.
Because the dogs are trained to scent discriminate it is not necessary, nor recommended, to delay the search while waiting for search dog teams to arrive. However, it is helpful to keep contamination to a minimum in the areas to be searched by dogs.
In instances where a scent article is not available, air scent dogs can search for anyone in the area.
In addition to searching in the wilderness as either a trailing or air scent team, SARDOC members may also extend their skills to specialty areas such as water, avalanche, or evidence searching. SARDOC dogs have been used successfully to locate drowning victims, avalanche victims and items of evidence at crime scenes.
A trailing dog is expected to be able to follow a 24-hour-old trail prior to testing. To become operational, the dog and handler team works a mile-and-a-half to two-mile-long trail which is aged 8 to 12 hours and contaminated with other people’s scents.
An air scent dog and handler team demonstrates their ability in 3 separate scenarios: searching a large area (1 square mile) in an efficient manner, searching at night and searching for multiple lost persons at one time.
Water, avalanche and evidence dog teams are tested in scenarios closely resembling actual search problems.
Trailing dog and handler teams usually train for 3 years prior to testing. Air scent dog and handler teams typically train for 2 years before testing.
Dog handlers train 300 to 500 hours per year to reach operational status with their dog. In addition to training with their dogs, the handlers are required to belong to and train with their local fielding agency such as a search and rescue team, ski patrol, park service or sheriff’s department. This involvement may require another 300 to 500 hours per year for both training and actual search and rescue missions. A typical search and rescue team member will be on call 24 hours a day.
SARDOC specifically trains and certifies dog and handler teams in search dog techniques, not in overall search and rescue skills. Dog handlers must be skilled in navigation, survival, leadership, search management, first aid and rescue techniques. Handlers acquire and maintain these additional skills through their involvement with the search organization which they ultimately will be working with on actual search missions. By being a part of the search organization, the dog team is integrated in the initial response to an incident.
SARDOC trains a variety of breeds of dogs. We have successfully trained working dogs, herding dogs, sporting dogs, and mixed breeds. The breed is not as important as is the attitude of the individual dog. The dog must be eager to please, willing to approach strangers, non-aggressive towards people or other dogs, and have the stamina and endurance to withstand long hours of searching in mountainous terrain.
Training may be started with dogs as young as 8 weeks. The important factor is that the dog must be bonded to its handler. Mature dogs have been successfully trained as well. No dog is fielded on search operations until it is 18 to 24 months of age to protect the bone growth plates and to ensure mental maturity.
A dog handler must be prepared to respond to missions with enough personally owned gear to be in the wilderness for at least 24 hours. The handler should be able to carry a 30 to 35 pound backpack in mountainous terrain and stay out overnight with minimal sleeping gear.
SARDOC was incorporated in 1983. Currently it has numerous handlers around the state who have become operational with their second dogs, keeping an invaluable experience level in the search dog community. Dog and handler teams meeting SARDOC performance standards are called an average of 75 times per year, mostly by serving the handlers’ local search and rescue agencies.
SARDOC is funded solely by contributions and grants from individuals and corporations. SARDOC is a not-for-profit organization.
You can contact SARDOC at:Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado
P.O. Box 1036
Fort Collins, Colorado 80522