What Does It Take To Be a Search and Rescue Dog?

In 2001, Denise Corliss and her golden retriever Bretagne headed to New York City to search Ground Zero for survivors. As CNN explained, this power tandem was just one of hundreds of search and rescue teams that worked in 12-hour shifts for weeks, searching for people after September 11.

The two trained together at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s Disaster City search and rescue training area just before the September 11 attacks in New York. Despite this training, Bretagne found zero survivors. Although, she did provide a bit of comfort and happiness to the firefighters and other workers at the time, CNN reported. They pet and played with her to relax between work.

Now, more than 13 years later, Bretagne is one of the only search and rescue dogs from 9/11 who is still alive. She has worked a number of other disasters and tragedies since 2001, including Hurricane Katrina. Bretagne retired from search and rescue work in 2009, but has continued to serve the public by helping children in reading classes.

What does it take to be a search and rescue dog?

Bretagne is impressive, not just because she’s one of the only remaining search and rescue dogs who worked at Ground Zero, but just because she’s a search and rescue dog at all. The job takes an enormous amount of skill, training and bravery. Not every dog can be a search and rescue dog, but here are a few facts you may be surprised about.

  • They don’t have to be puppies – According to the California Rescue Dog Association, older dogs can still learn the skills necessary to be a useful search and rescue helpers. Of course, CARDA is a volunteer unit, so some government or law enforcement agencies may have different rules.
  • Almost any breed can be a search and rescue animal – You don’t actually need a retriever or hound. Although these breeds are often better equipped, many can effectively do the work. Search and rescue dogs also don’t need to be purebred – mutts can work fine. CARDA does warn against very small or very large dogs, however.
  • Wanting to play isn’t a bad thing – It takes a lot of training to become an effective search and rescue dog. Whether it’s mountaineering, tracking, safety or discipline training, Canis Major explained that it goes a lot smoother when you have a dog who is willing to play, because that means he or she will work for a reward.

PetPlus has all medicine, food and supplies your dog will need to get into search and rescue shape, even if it’s just for finding that bone in the backyard.

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