There is no specific breed or size of dog, although generally a medium to large size dog with hunting or herding instincts is best suited for this work. They must be extremely active and healthy. Search dogs endure strenuous work and enjoy the jobs they do. Search dogs must also love people and have a good bond with the handler. These are family dogs that are owned and live with their human partner.

How Search Dogs Work

The human body is constantly shedding skin cells that give off scent. Each person gives off his or her own individual scent. Search dogs are trained to identify and follow each scent trail regardless of terrain.

Tracking dogs will find almost every footstep with nose close to the ground. They are most often used when there is a “place last seen” for the missing person. We train on Scent Specific ExacTrak here at SWFK9 Search Unit.  This is a method that not only tracks the specific skin rafts and odorants of a particular human but also puts into the equation of the earths disturbances, soil, terrain, Geographic’s, vegetation differences and numerous other scientifically backed proven methods that bring us in tighter and far more consistent in results and success. This training method is being taught at seminars around the United States and make a tremendous difference in the proficiency and dedication to the track.

Trailing dogs work much the same but will work a wider area with nose higher; not necessarily in the exact footprints.

Air scenting dogs concentrate on the lighter skin rafts blowing on the wind. They work in a grid pattern, scenting for any human scent. These dogs are used when there is no known “place last seen” and can allow you to clear an area quickly.

A cadaver dog or human detection dog is one that is looking for a particular level of decomposition in a human body after they pass. This could be a grave site or numerous other areas.

Can a Dog become overwhelmed with the scent coming from the scent article? How much better is the dog’s sense of smell than that of a human?

“W. Neuhaus… employed an olfactometer for mixing and delivering odorant samples at very low concentrations. …. he estimated that a dog’s ability to detect butyric acid (a component in sweat that smells like dirty socks) is from 1 million to 100 million times better than a human’s ability. …. Butyric acid is a prominent feature of the scent picture utilized by dogs. Neuhaus’s findings…of tracker dogs. …. human sweat has about 0.156 per cent of acid of which about one-quarter is aliphatic. If only 1/1000th of this penetrates steadily through the sole and seams of the shoe, it can be calculated that of an acid such as butyric acid, at least 2.5 x 10 to the 11th power molecules would be left behind in each footprint. This is well over a million times the threshold amount for the dog, and could still give a detectable smell when dispensed in 28 cubic meters of air” Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training by Steven R. Lindsay.

Southwest Florida K-9 Search Unit K-9 Requirements

Search Dog Trainee (Including Puppies)

  1. If new handler to team, they must participate in 3 team trainings, within a 60-day period, before bringing canine candidate to training. 
  2. The search dog trainee must comply with the “Trainee Protocol-Addendum 510” before commencing training in a search dog discipline. 
  3. The search dog trainee will be evaluated in an informal manner at least monthly by a member of the training committee to monitor progress and give any needed assistance. 
  4. A trainee dog must be in training attendance 75% of all trainings for a 3-month period, prior to being eligible for Protocol 510 testing. 
  5. Dogs should be kept secured or on leash at all times unless socialization time is agreed upon by handlers when a training session or mission is complete. 
  6. Dogs are not to be tied out/up at any time. Dogs must be in containment either inside the cool vehicle or outside.
  7. No canines or animals are allowed to be at events or training sites that are not currently approved for the Search Dog Trainee Program without BOD approval and must have complied with the previous canine search dog criteria. 

Search Dog Deployment Status Criteria

Deployment eligibility is granted upon the member in good standing and the canine having a current nationally recognized certification from a NIMS compliant organization. (Listed below is certification qualifications for the acceptance of SWFK9 Search Unit, this does not necessarily meet other National or International Search Team requirements).

  • North American Police Working Dog Association 
  • National Association of Search and Rescue 
  • National Network of Canine Detection Services 
  • International Police Working Dog Association 
  • National Search Dog Alliance 
  • American Working Dog Association 
  • National Narcotics Detection Dog Association 
  • Any other testing certification agency must be put into review to the BOD and must be a NIMS compliant organization. 
  • Once canine is nationally certified, it must be in attendance to 50% of team trainings in order to remain deployable. Other SAR related trainings or certain absences will be acceptable with BOD approval.