How do I get started in
becoming a SAR Dog handler?
Many people are interested in becoming a handler or training a SAR dog. There are many ways to get training and we'll give you a few ideas here. Western Montana Search Dogs is a group of handlers who already have handler skills and our group exists for the purpose of providing SAR dog/handler teams for SAR missions. As part of that, we also train together. We are not, however, able to offer handler or dog training to new handlers. To do so would be so time consuming, that we wouldn't be able to continue our efforts to keep ourselves and our dogs at the top of our game.
However, we encourage new-comers to come to one of our training missions and offer to be a search "subject". It's a great way to see a little piece of what's involved and we'd be happy to give you some advice to get you going. If you are already a certified handler or have a certified dog and you wish to apply for membership, please contact us and we will give you information on joining. We encourage any possible new members to come to a few workouts and meet the group.
Being a handler and training a SAR dog takes an awesome amount of commitment and dedication. It's not for most people. You have to be able to commit to spending almost all of the free time you once had with your dog. Most SAR dog groups will also require a degree of personal fitness and medical training. At Western Montana Search Dogs, all of our handlers are, at a minimum, First Responders - with training in first aid and medical response. We all pass a "Pack Test" regularly, to guarantee our physical conditioning. In addition to staying fit and constantly improving your handler skills, you must have time to certify and recertify your medical training. All of our handlers must also pass the Gallatin County Sheriff's background check, because we are a part of Gallatin County SAR.
Once you've decided to commit to such an endeavor, then you have to start looking for a puppy and you have to learn HOW to select the right puppy. You need to figure out which of the working breeds you might want. Consider that this isn't just a family pet, it's a new family member and will be with you ALL the time. You'll want a partner that's compatible and has what it takes to be a working dog. After you've picked your breed, your breeder and your puppy, then you need to start training, both yourself and your new partner.
There are books to read, but more importantly there are classes and seminars you can take (see our links page). Feel free to contact us and we will do our best to tell you anything else that might help get you on your way! When you email us, be sure to tell us your current experience level or if you are just getting started, so we know how to best help you.