2017 Canine Certification Testing

Trailing canine Woodrow finds Mark

SDN team member Mark, serving as a mock victim for a trailing test, just after he was located by canine Woodrow and handler Karen from Alamo Area Search & Rescue.

Search Dog Network’s mission is to train, certify, and deploy professional canine search teams to locate missing persons. In keeping with our mission, our canines participate in a national certification test every two years through the International Police Work Dog Association  (IPWDA). In collaboration with our response partners, SDN hosted this year’s test the first weekend of April. Throughout the weekend, 27 canine and handler teams from 7 canine search and rescue teams challenged the IPWDA certification standards for air scent, trailing, and human remains detection on land, shoreline, and water.

Canines demonstrate leash obedience

Canine and handler teams perform the obedience portion of the test. Canines Sophie, Sonic, Taser, and Kaja Joe demonstrate on-lead behavior.

Canine walking across a plank

Canine Kaja Joe is guided across a plank by handler Tami from Travis County Search & Rescue while canine Taser looks on with handler Denise from Cy-Fair Fire Department.

IPWDA testing for canine wilderness search involves an obedience and agility component. For the past couple of months, our canine teams have been practicing a group “down-stay,” walking at a heel, coming on command, walking across a plank, and allowing new people to load the dog into their car. Canine obedience both individually and in a group is crucial for the safety of dogs—especially in some of the terrain and weather conditions we face in this part of Texas.

The search portion of the test varies for each type of dog. Wilderness air scent dogs searched a 40 acre search segment, whereas human remains detection dogs searched a 2 acre segment (per IPWDA standards). Both testing scenarios have a time limit and could include up to two mock victims. Testing trailing dogs required more careful planning, because the mock victim had to lay a trail several hours in advance and remain in place until the search test was complete. These dogs used a scent object from the mock victim to help locate the trail.

LaNell and canine Remi walk through a field

Human remains detection canine Remi and handler LaNell return from the field after their test.

Water test scenarios for human remains detection dogs included a shoreline test with the source a few feet underwater near a shoreline or involved the canine perching on the bow of a boat sniffing for source fully-submerged in a larger body of water. Water testing for canines is a more advanced skill that takes lots of practice. Search Dog Network is often called to help with water searches, so we practice water searching as frequently as we can.

Setting up testing was an intense team effort and required careful coordination of resources. SDN found a suitable testing location, mapped out search segments for each type of test, planned and coordinated the testing schedule with all the testing teams, recruited mock victims for the air scent tests, and managed the logistics of test days with resource tracking from the SDN trailer, on-site veterinary care, transportation, and refreshments for all those testing. While weather conditions were near-perfect during the first two testing days, intense storm forecasts for the third required on-the-fly adjustments to condense three days of testing into two so that all canine teams could safely test before the bad weather arrived. Our SDN testing coordinators, Matt Young and Teresa Medearis did an amazing job with these schedule changes and all testing teams were fairly accommodated.

Canine Noggin searches from the boat with Teresa

Human remains detection canine Noggin and handler Teresa during their water test. SDN member Chris serves as boat operator.

In all, SDN certified 4 new canine handler teams and recertified 5 veteran canine handler teams, doubling our canine resources. Congratulations to all who challenged and passed the test!

New Handlers:
  • Kaitlin & K9 Sadie in Trailing
  • Daniel & K9 RJ in Wilderness Air Scent
  • Kim & K9 Seamus in Human Remains
  • LaNell & K9 Remi in Human Remains

Recertified Handlers:

  • Katie & K9 Aziva in Wilderness Air Scent and Human Remains
  • Teresa & K9 Noggin in Human Remains
  • Teresa & K9 Gator in Human Remains
  • Jim & K9 Sonic in Wilderness Air Scent
  • Matt & K9 Zapp in Human Remains
SDN members discuss testing outside trailer

Jim, Matt, and Chris confer at the SDN trailer, which served as the operations base for resource tracking and communications.

Leiha drives search teams in the gator

SDN team members shared logistics duties during the testing. Leiha drives the gator to transport testers to and from their testing locations

Vet students care for search canine

Vet student volunteers from the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team provided on-site care for canine Kaja Joe of Travis County Search & Rescue.


Photos are courtesy of Mark Garton.

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