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Leerburg Dog Training Q&A Archive Q&A on Search and Rescue

Q&A on Search and Rescue

Q&A on Search and Rescue

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I try and answer every question I receive on dog training. I may often come across as a little on the blunt side, (some may call it brash). That is because I consider myself an advocate for dogs and not dog handlers. I am an advocate for common sense dog training and not the latest fad that appears on the horizon. Good dog training is not rocket science. It's common sense.

  1. My Dog worked at the World Trade Center

  2. My 10 month old dog is trained to track. Now it is time to train it in Air Scenting. I am having problems with control off leash. What should I do?

  3. My sheriff will not allow us to use our dogs for S&R unless it is certified. Where or how can get this done?

  4. Can my beagle be trained in S&R?

  5. My 9 month old GSD is a great S&R dog, but she is showing signs of aggression towards the other S&R dogs in my group. Any suggestions on how to stop this behavior without quitting S&R work?

  6. I want to get into S&R - there seems to be so many different opinions. What should I do?

  7. I have a few problems with training my SAR dog. How do you balance obedience training and motivational search training?

  8. I’ve let a large playful, lab turn into a dominant, dog aggressive nightmare. He is cross certified in wilderness and human remain detection. I can’t show up at a search and have any confidence that he will not be aggressive out in the field. Any direction would be greatly appreciated.

  9. My Mal is almost seven months and training in tracking and arson are going very well. I now would like to teach her to bark when she finds the Quarry. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

  10. My Search & Rescue dog has been skunked twice now, will she ever learn to avoid these critters?

  11. My beagle sniffs all the time, could she do search & rescue? 


Freya vom Leerburg

Hi, I wanted to update you on Freya vom Leerburg, call name Deja Vu. We purchased her from you in 1996. She is now a really good, working SAR dog. Here is a photo of us working at the World Trade Center Recovery Operation on Staten Island. We were tasked with locating human remains in the rubble that was trucked to the Fresh Kills Landfill. We were successful at our job. Thank you for a great dog and best friend.

Pathfinders K9 SAR.

Freya vom Leerburg

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Mr Frawley,
I have a 10 month old Bouvier that I am training for SAR. He is currently tracking but I am starting him on the basics of air scent off lead. My problem is that the older he gets the more the prey drive seems to have kicked in. Once he took off after snowmobiles while off lead and now he is starting to show interest in cars (crouching and attempting to lunge while on lead) I have started putting a prong collar on him and walking him by the road and treating him if he doesn't try to chase and correcting him if he does. He was pinched twice by the prong and now sits behind me when a car goes by. Am I on the right track? He seems to be rather "soft" with corrections. Also, should I tell him No or Leave It while correcting? He is starting to run the fence in the back yard when cars go by and works himself into a frenzy and will now jump the fence to chase the cars.



You are about 200% wrong is just about everything you are doing.

10 months is way, way, way to young for air scenting.

Read my articles on TRACKING THROUGH DRIVE on my web site.

If you want a SAR dog then do it right. Learn about TTD. Train your dog in TTD. When that is done then do air scenting. Your dog is still a puppy – whoever is giving you advice needs training.

Here are some videos to teach you the right way:

Training a Police (S&R) Tracking Dog – Level One This video was filmed in Canada with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). In my opinion they are some of the best tracking dog instructors in the world. S&R trainers in Canada cannot be called out until they have passed a level one certification by the RCMP. This training tape shows how dogs are trained to this level.

Track Laying for a Police Tracking Dog How to lay a good training track is critical in training tracking dogs. This tape goes into a great deal of detail on track laying. There is an art to laying a good training track. This tape shows how the experts do it. If you are new to S&R or police tracking, or if you are constantly having to retrain track layers, this tape can save you a lot of time and energy.

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I am writing from the north woods of Minnesota where there are less than 5000 residents in a county that is more than 90% public lands. There is not a lot of activity here for Search & Rescue, but when there is, it is naturally traumatic. We have found that when dogs could be of use that it is many hours before a trained and certified professional can arrive. The closest certified unit is 5 hours away. So for over a year now I have been training my Chesapeake for SAR work. We started with air scent training with articles, and human hair samples when people were not available to hide. Air scenting is a valuable skill but after watching the dog for a number of months I came to believe that in our environment that trailing/tracking is more efficient. The wind shifts often in a matter of minutes. The dog would get mixed signals and being strong headed he would look for a trail and go in that way if it was more reliable. So now we are trailing with one of your good harnesses though he will still work high if the scent is right. This is a fascinating activity learning each day about scent and the way the dog works it. He is learning too. I know I have a lot more to learn and am saving up for your video on tracking. Books and MinnSARDA are my sources for guidance now.

Here is my frustration that I am hoping you can offer some perspective on: I need to be certified to satisfy the liability and political needs of our sheriff. I can join a down state group like MinnSARDA (if they will have me) and work under their wing, but that means I must answer to them first. I believe that I should respond directly to my sheriff so that the dog can be utilized quickly if a child is lost or a hunter is out in the dark. I want to be certified but in a reputable way. Do you know of ways to get tested and certified? Also do you know of any trailing/tracking seminars?

Thank you for your time,


Your sheriff is not very up to speed on dogs and he is in a "cover you ass mode". Its stupid to require a dog to be certified - who certifies them? Just because these people 5 hour's away say they certify dogs - who says they are qualified to do so. If they are teaching air scenting before tracking then they are not qualified to certify S&R dogs. That is ass backward in training. Once a dog learns to run around with his nose in the air looking for a person they can almost never be trained to track with their nose on the ground.

When a tracking dog gets track loss we want the nose to go to the ground. When these S&R groups train air scenting first and their dogs are then asked to track - if they lose the track their dogs noses go up in the air to air scent. They don't put their nose on the ground and look for a track.

This is one of the main reasons most American S&R groups would or could never be certified if they were in Canada (where they know how to find lost people with dogs). Dogs up there track first before they are trained to air scent.

Print this out and give it to your sheriff. Print the TTD articles and let him read them. Keep detailed training logs. If I were your sheriff I would set up a level 1 track and make you work it before I allowed you to work your dog:

An unknown track laid by a stranger -
1 hour old
1 1/2 miles long in the country
4 corners
3 or 4 articles left
1 or two road crossings
1 or 2 cross tracks
1 back track.

Keep detailed daily training records to work from.

If your dog can do this then he is ready to be called out to find missing people.

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I am currently involved with a non-profit organization that assists w/ search and rescues and other public safety related situations... The director has allowed me to be our S&R canine officer - the problem is... I currently have a female beagle/Dalmatian mix (75lbs, short hair, age: 5 yrs) who is a doll to play with and is very obedient. Do you think my pet would be able to be trained to conduct a search? And is there any way for me to do some trials that would let me know?

Thanks in advance.

- Rob


No, I do not think your dog can do this. I can only compare it to this: you would not take a truck to a Formula One race.

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Hi Mr. Frawley,

I have been reading many of your question/answers on your site (a link from my state SAR site). I wonder if you could help me with suggestions for my 9 month old GSD female. She is a GREAT trailing dog with SAR...the problem I am having is that she is showing some dog aggression towards the other SAR dogs. She rushes over to them with hackles raised, and looms over them. When they run and play, she runs after them snapping at their shoulders. When she is confronted by other dominant dogs she immediately submits. Her continuous barking at other SAR dogs while waiting in the car is improving with now very strong corrections, and a strong bark collar (my 5th one!) She is large, fearsome, and frightening to the other SAR dog owners and they are apprehensive about her with their dogs. It is difficult to correct her as all the dogs are loose in the field when these problems occur. She is always friendly to is just dogs she tries to dominate. We are just finishing our 12th week of dog obedience classes (where she is always on her best behavior).

I would greatly appreciate ANY suggestions. I am just sick at the thought of having to give up the SAR work as she loves the work and I do too.



I am not a big fan of how most S&R groups operate. (i.e. teaching air scent work before tracking is a huge mistake.)

Allowing dogs to run in a pack is also a huge mistake.

In your case you need to keep your dog on lead- with a prong collar. Walk through the field and when the dog even looks at another dog correct her with a level 7 or 8 correction. The problem is the people in your group are clueless on this and will not understand. I can tell you that if you do not get a grip (and quickly) they will be asking you to leave because your dog is too aggressive.

You may have to work this dog with an electric collar. I am working on an article that will teach people how to train with a collar. There is NO good book on this. A big part of this will be how to deal with animal aggression.

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I am a civilian trying to learn how to train my dog for search & rescue work. I have already spent quite a bit of money on instructors, videos, & classes. I have an 11 mo. old GSD who learns very quickly. The problem I'm having are so many opinions on how to teach tracking, air scent; AKC, SCHUTZHUND, etc. Who's right??? After reading some of your articles it seems to me you make the most sense. Fortunately, my dog hasn't had enough training with any particular method of search training as I have taken my time trying to find someone that "fits the bill" to teach us. We've been working on obedience for several months while I also researched S&R. My dog has an incredible prey & play drive & will do anything I ask of him. Right now his reward is with a toy, not food. I've treaded cautiously with him as he & I are both "green" and I want to mold him, so to speak, the best way I can without having to go back & retrain a different method. Do you recommend the TTD videos for a civilian search dog? The other question is "what about rubble piles where the dog isn't at a dead run?" Can you recommend what training/tracking method to use? I'm so frustrated. Can you help?

Thanking you in advance for your attention in this matter.

Margie & Echo


You should read the Q&A sections on my web site about S&R and on tracking.

You are correct - there are a lot of people in this country that are clueless on this subject. Most S&R groups fall into that category. They screw up and teach air scenting before tracking or worse they don't train tracking at all - hence they only find a small percentage of what they could find if they had done it properly (train tracking first and then air
scenting). I have written about the reasons on my web site.

Here are the tapes to get:

Training a Police (S&R) Tracking Dog - Level One -
This video was filmed in Canada with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). In my opinion they are some of the best tracking dog instructors in the world. S&R trainers in Canada cannot be called out until they have passed a level one certification by the RCMP. This training tape shows how dogs are trained to this level.

Track Laying for a Police Tracking Dog - How to lay a good training track is critical in training tracking dogs. This tape goes into a great deal of detail on track laying. There is an art to laying a good training track. This tape shows how the experts do it. If you are new to S&R or police tracking, or if you are constantly having to retrain track layers, this tape can save you a lot of time and energy.

Training the Police Tracking Dog - levels two and three - This tape deals with Urban and Suburban tracking. It was done with the RCMP in Canada and is now used to help train new their K9 handlers. I would recommend that you go to my web site and read the training articles I have written on Tracking Through Drive (TTD). You can find them in the list of articles at

When you have finished level one tracking 60 to 80 tracks and your dog can do the work then you can start air scenting. That's rubble work.

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I did look for an answer in your website before I began this email.  I have a 7 month old GSD.  He is a male about 65 lbs now.  I am currently training him as an SAR scent dog.  He has some tracking imprinting as a pup and still likes to track today, which I let him do.  Most of the training I have began in basic obedience and "find" which he goes out no further than 25 yards and returns (recall). It took 7 weeks to teach him to speak on command and I used food and toys for motivation.  Now that he barks, on command, I need to fine tune it.  I am having problems with distractions.  Is it his age?   

Recently, he has started having distraction problems and I want to focus and work through him with that. I try to minimize the distraction and add minor distraction in a little at a time.  Other dogs are his biggest distracters, so we have to work away, for now, from other SAR dogs and then I hope to increase the distraction over time with success. His distraction and reaction to other dogs in non aggressive, he just wants to play with them.  He had, what I believe to be, great socialization between 8 and 12 weeks.  He is the friendliest, SAR dog I have ever seen. Non-aggression is important in a SAR dog, but so is focus, so I need help.

Also, I have not done a lot of leash training and am having some battles on leash with him.  I don't want his experience on lead to be all bad with him pulling, which seems to be right MY problem. His nose is to the ground on lead and he goes!!!!!! I believe a lot of it is his age and drive, but I have to draw the line somewhere, not sure where.

I am working with a SAR team, and there are trainers that can spend time with us on distraction issues but not so much his pulling while on lead, and other obedience skills.

At some point I want to have all the basic obedience skills in place, but don't want to interrupt the motivational searching he does. 

How can I best balance these two?  Will a obedience class with other dogs before he has learned more basic skills be a waste.  He is 7 months now, and has a high play and toy drive.  He obeys well in the home and yard and when focused on searching.  Areas away from home, seem to cause more distraction problems for him.  Walking on lead is rough, and I feel like most of the problem is me.

What part of your training guide should I start with?  Your one puppy training guide is from 8 weeks to 8 months. Since he is so close to the end of that age, should I be looking at another DVD?  Any thoughts on the balance of obedience and motivation search training and what DVD's would work for me would be appreciated.

Thank you,



You should be focusing on obedience training and drive building right now – not on searching. This is covered in these two DVD’S:

Basic Dog Obedience

Building Drive and Focus

I suggest that you read the training articles I have written on “tracking thru drive” (TTD) – the articles are on my web site.

Your dog is too young for TTD – this should not start until its 12 months old. There are two reasons for this. You need to be very careful about over exercising a young dog (so you don’t cause bad hips) and they don’t have the mental maturity to focus long enough for TTD.

S&R groups in this country almost all screw up the training by teaching area search before tracking. Feel free to tell your friends I said this. I have written about it in my articles. When you teach a dog to air scent before you teach it to track you have created your own problem for tracking. When you track - once dogs have learned to run around with their nose in the air looking for odor it's about impossible to teach them to look for lost tracks on the ground – they always pick up their nose and air scent. This is why the vast majority of S&R dogs in this country cant track for crap.

With a 7 month old dog you can be doing Foot Step Tracking - then switch it over to TTD later.

There is a lot of information on my web site. Read the Q&As and the archives of my web board. If I were you I would be focusing on marker training, (covered in the dvd) and pack structure right now.

Ed Frawley


Good morning,

For someone who should know better, I’ve let a large playful, lab turn into a dominant, dog aggressive nightmare. I’ve been training search and rescue dogs for 15 years and he is my first dominant aggressive dog. He snarls, lunges when a new dog shows up at the house or out in public. As I never personally dealt with a dominant dog in the past, I didn’t see all the subtle warning signs as this dog developed. He is 110# 2 ½ old lab and last summer he started growling and snapping while on lead to other male dogs. Unfortunately, I was one of those trainers that used the Gentle Leader on way too many dogs and not seeing each dog as having a different temperament. I floundered around never really do a good hard correction until recently, so a lot of time as gone by. So needless to say, I purchased a prong collar and dominant collar as well as your Dog Aggression DVD. I also have Tri-Tronics collar, which I used to teach some off leash obedience work. As I weigh the same as my dog, I’m finding I need to keep the prong collar on him a fair amount of the time around other dogs. (I do need to say, the aggression shows when a dog gets about 4 feet away if not prong on, but he’s silent with prong.) When I do, he will not lift his lip at another dog and I can control him. My concern, as he is a search dog and I can’t allow his behavior off leash any more than on leash, I need some direction on steps to move him from leash work around other dogs, and I do use markers – stinky fish treats that get his undivided attention- to off leash and searching again. He is a very talent dog that is now cross certified in wilderness and human remain detection, and not aggressive one bit to humans/children.  But I can’t show up at a search and have any confidence that he will not be aggressive out in the field especially with a male dog. Any direction would be greatly appreciated.



There are a couple of things that need to be done.

1-    With dogs like this we need to step in and not allow other dogs near them. By that I mean – dogs are pack animals. Your dog does not see other dogs as part of his family pack. If you have other dogs your dog is probably not aggressive to them.

Pack members expect their pack leader to take control of situations. They expect pack leaders to drive off strange dogs. So you needed to step between your dog and another dog when he was young – so your dog saw that you kept him safe.

It’s too late for this now. He already has his own way of dealing with this.

2-    I would be training a dog like this with a remote collar (a Dogtra 1900NCP) We need to extinguish this behavior. The best way is to us the highest level of stimulation the instant the dog LOOKS AT ANOTHER DOG – not when he gets into fight drive. Simply looking gets him in trouble.

When you see the dog start to look away when in the presence of another dog we can often lower the level of stimulation down to a low level. Where people make huge mistakes is by starting with LOW LEVEL stimulation and then the dog learns to fight through the stem and then they learn to fight through higher and higher stems. So start at the highest and you can always back off.

This dog may never be a S&R dog. Not unless they let him always wear a remote collar when he works.

Kind Regards,
Ed Frawley


Thank your for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it. My Mal is almost seven months and training in tracking and arson are going very well. I now would like to teach her to bark when she finds the Quarry. The Quarry and her play very well at the end but no barking. She will bark at home or in the car and I never correct her. I always acknowledge with a yes then calm her down and tell her that everything is ok. I don't want her to think barking is bad and I do not believe she thinks that. I am not sure on how to get her to start. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.
On another note. Your mesh vest that Ed recommended is PERFECT. She is in the water all of the time searching and it does not have an effect on her at all. In fact, she gets excited when the vest comes out and know the fun is about to start. I am very impressed with the quality of it. Even the little light is water proof as I have not had a problem with it. It tracks well and wears well. In a nut shell, please keep up the great job with mentoring and providing quality products for my partners because Bandit and I both appreciate it.
Again, thank you to both you and Ed for your great service to the K9 community.
ps.  I attached a picture of her in the water with her vest.

Thank you,



You need to teach your dog to bark on command and then reward her. You can then transfer this over to the quarry asking her to bark before playing with her. Most dogs are easy to teach, put her behind a fence or on a leash tied to something and frustrate her with something she wants and when she barks, tell her yes and give her the reward (food or toy).

I’m glad the vest is working out so well for you. Thanks for the photo.




I have an operational SAR air scent golden retriever in the state of Virginia. I spent hours in the wilderness both training and on SAR missions.

My dog has been skunked twice in her life so far. The first time was at 6 months and most recently at 4 years of age. I'm always prepared and have the necessary recipe on hand to deal with removing the skunk oil and odor. My question is: Will she ever learn to avoid these critters? She lives with three cats at home and I often wonder if I have done her a disservice by socializing her with animals other than K9s. She does not chase deer or squirrels. Both skunk incidences have occurred at night out of my sight. I can only assume both times her curiosity took her in too close.

Fredericksburg, VA


If the experience of being skunked is unpleasant enough for her, MAYBE she'll learn. I know that some of my friends have dogs that have been quilled by porcupines time after time and skunked repeatedly, so I'm not sure that most dogs put 2 and 2 together about this.

I have hand raised baby skunks in the past and I know they are slow moving, and you DO NOT want to startle them. :) I'm sure that your dog probably happened upon a skunk and it reacted instinctively. You don't have to get all that close to a skunk to be hit by their spray, unlike a porcupine where the dogs have to almost make contact with the animal.

The only way I would know how to create avoidance of skunks permanently would be to pair the skunks scent with an aversive like an ecollar. You would basically teach the dog when she got the slightest whiff of skunk to avoid the area. I believe it would carry over to running across a skunk on a search.

I hope this helps.



I have a lemon beagle with the nose-from-hell... she won't potty if she scents something on the wind or ground. I watch her sniffing the air/ground, and wonder if she could do SAR. It is a waste of an excellent nose otherwise. She is very friendly (TOO friendly sometimes) to people and other animals. She has a cat of her own but I believe would chase strays. She does not appear to fear loud noises, like thunder, but rather is intrigued by them. nose to the air... nose to the air or ground is normal for her. Wind increases this, I can only think because more scents come her way...

What do you think? Can beagles do this?


I think many breeds can be taught to SAR, BUT there is much more to it than just sniffing. The dog has to be able to focus on a task, not be distracted and be biddable and have a good work ethic. 

If you are interested in finding out more about SAR, you can do a search on our website.

Check the search function in the upper left corner of the website. It will find posts, articles and Q & A’s that deal with your search terms.

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