K9 Unit FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who owns the dogs on your team?

The dogs are owned by the volunteer handlers. They pay for all expenses, such as food, vet bills, and equipment.

Who trains the dogs?   Do you purchase them already trained?

The dogs are trained by the members of our K9 unit. Often, members participate in SAR K9 conferences and seminars. Purchasing a dog which is already trained is not recommended, because the handler and dog need to train together to become a solid team.

How long does it take to train a dog?

Actually both handlers and dogs have a lot of training to do. Realistically it takes around two years to become a mission-ready handler/K9 team.

What are the steps to becoming a handler?

KCSAR K9 Unit dog handlers are first members of the larger SAR team, with all the skills and knowledge demands of basic searching and related topics. K9 training comes after those foundational steps are completed. So, becoming a handler begins long before getting a dog.

First, we suggest emailing Human Resources and setting up a time to attend a monthly meeting so we can meet and answer any of your questions. Then, observe multiple K-9 trainings. These two steps will give a clearer picture about the necessary commitment involved. Then, begin the application process. This includes an interview and a criminal background check before you can be accepted to the team.

Once on board, prospective members hold probationary status and are assigned to a ground crew while working on the basic KCSAR training requirements. These include:  Federal Emergency Management classes, ground search techniques, land navigation, radio communications, first aid, crime scene awareness, and more.  (For more information, see https://www.kcest.org/frequently-asked-questions/search-and-rescue-faq.) Probationary members can attend K9 training during this time. Following probation, those requesting assignment to the K9 Unit are granted a place on that team. Once the K9 Unit administrators feel a new member has enough foundational K9 support training, your dog may then be evaluated for acceptance into the program.

What sort of things does the handler have to learn?

On top of all the general SAR areas of knowledge, handlers (and their assistants, called flankers) need to learn K9 specific topics such as K9 first aid, scent theory, dog behavior regarding scent, scent article collection. In addition, it is smart to gain as much experience as possible on real searches, as well as the specific skills and knowledge needed for the desired canine search discipline.

What sort of testing do you do?

Before a dog can enter our program, it must have an entry level evaluation. After that there are three more trailing levels and a final mission-ready test. We also encourage our handlers to obtain external certifications as well.

I’m really interested in becoming a handler. I already have a dog (or am getting one soon). What do I need to do?

We recommend two things. First, email our Human Resources team for more information about how to become involved with the team. The second is to observe a few of our weekly K9 Unit trainings and interact with the team. Becoming a handler involves a lot of time and money. It can be both frustrating and very rewarding. We want people to understand the commitment level before they proceed.

We do NOT recommend getting a dog before you begin these initial steps.

I already have a dog that does really good at finding hidden food and “Bobby” when he hides.  I think he’d be good for Search and Rescue.  Can I have him join your team?

This is a popular question. We suggest you read the above information about becoming a SAR K9 handler. There are many steps to becoming a handler and having a dog invited into the training program. Both the dog and its handler will undergo an immense amount of training as well.

What types of dogs do you have on your team?

We have a variety of dogs, including bloodhounds. Although we shy away from breed biases, it is necessary that dogs admitted to training be appropriate for search work. There are specific parameters that are needed and breed tendencies for success which members of the K9 Unit will be happy to discuss with you when you join a training.