WOOF was the first Search and Rescue dog unit to be operational in California and one of the earliest units along with ARDA (American Rescue Dog Association) in the western US. It was originally started by Sandy Bryson of Markleeville, CA in 1975 and has been a state recognized unit ever since. Early on, the El Dorado Sheriff Department and later Marin County Sheriff Department played significant roles in bringing SAR dogs and specifically WOOF, to California and served as the primary dispatch for many years. Now, the California Office of Emergency Services dispatches all SAR dog units and WOOF is also dispatched by the Nevada Department of Emergency Management, and a myriad of other law enforcement agencies.
WOOF has always been recognized for it's capable, professional, certified teams.
No, handlers do not get paid as a volunteer with WOOF or the Washoe County Sheriff Office SAR K9 Unit. All costs are the handler's responsibility.
Expect to pay several to many thousands of dollars out of pocket each year. There is no charge for the training itself, but all equipment, travel costs, etc. are the handler's responsibility.
Some of the expenses involved in being a dog handler are:
Some training opportunities involve extended travel and participation fees. Adherence to state of California and Nevada regulations are also required and may involve some expense to handlers.
A lot. Training is ongoing, continuously so long as the handler and dog are working towards certification and maintaining field-readiness as a certified team.
Handlers learn quickly that extramural activities they once did in their free time take a back seat to working with their dog.
Training the dog involves daily lessons at home, training with veteran handlers after work on weekdays and every weekend.
You will need a vehicle with clearance and AWD at a minimum. 4x4 is preferred.
Expect to drive a lot.
Both dog and handler must learn to search in many different environments under all kinds of conditions - cool, hot, steep, flat...
Training locations vary. We conduct objective-based training which requires choosing training sites based on what we need to accomplish.
Generally, our training is done in and around the Lake Tahoe and Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. We conduct training in urban and suburban environments of Reno/Truckee/Carson City.
Not with WOOF or the WCSO SAR K9 Unit, no. When your schedule changes check back with us!
Yes, all volunteers undergo law enforcement, state and federal background checks. This cannot be waived.
There is considerable responsibility. As a search dog handler you are expected to:
Maturity and good judgment are important qualifications for a handler to have - as a handler you are responsible for the safety of yourself, your dog, accompanying search team members, and the victim!
Finally, all equipment, food, training, veterinary care, and transportation to workouts and searches, are the responsibility of the handler.
WOOF has a structured training program. Candidate teams are trained under the direction of WOOF's Master Trainer who designs a program tailored to that team.
There is no charge for the training itself, but all equipment, travel costs, etc. are the handler's responsibility.
The candidate follows the training plan designed for him/her and his/her dog to progress through the program so that the team gains the necessary skills, experience, and knowledge needed to complete the process through to certification, and as a certified team in the field.
Much of the training of the dog is hands-on, but some of the handler's training is completed outside of the dog workouts, such as CPR/First Aid, and other course work.
Being comfortable working with a trainer and the WOOF program requires one to be a student, to listen, hear constructive criticism, implement advice, and interact with others in a professional manner. Close coordination with the trainer ensures that the candidate is on track with his/her dog.
Ultimately those who possess these qualities are able to tackle the challenges of becoming a capable, skilled SAR dog handler within the necessary time frames, and make good teammates in the field.
At any time. Day or night. Often in bad weather.
You will need to have a flexible enough schedule that you can leave work/home immediately to respond to a search and rescue deployment and be gone for an unknown amount of time - even overnight or into the next day at times.
Searches are life-threatening emergencies. Just like you want an ambulance to arrive at the scene of a car crash right away, so does SAR need to respond when someone goes missing.
NO. If you do not yet have a dog please wait until you have some firsthand experience participating in training with the team. If you already have a dog, read on. We address that elsewhere.
WOOF looks for specific characteristics and temperament in its dogs. Let us help you find the right dog for you that is also the right dog for work. We have decades of experience in dog selection - draw upon the expertise of your future teammates to help stack the odds in your favor of getting a great working partner.
WOOF handlers meet the state of CA OES guidelines and/or with Nevada POST and pass a fitness test conducted above 7,000' elevation annually. In addition they participate in overnight backpacking and camping to meet the requirements of the state of California as well.
The dog must be physically fit. Physical fitness is a requirement - SAR dogs are athletes. You ask a lot of the dog and to do what you ask they have to be in shape and ready to respond.
The dog also must have a clean bill of health and be free of veterinary conditions that affect it's health and fitness. Dogs with physical limitations or sensory impairments are not considered suitable.
First time handlers who follow the training program generally certify within 12-18 months from being accepted into the unit as a candidate. To do so involves sticking to the training program, attending trainings, and implementing the lessons in between trainings and unit workouts.
The more quality, focused training you do, the more quickly you and the dog advance through the training program. This assumes you and the dog have the right stuff for the job.
Here's what a good candidate dog has on board:
1) Solid temperament: Not afraid of people. Loves new places. Not afraid of noises. Not "shy". Pretty much unfazed by new and different things, places, people, sights, smells, and noises.
2) High drive - meaning, one or more of:
3) Under 3 years old.
4) Not aggressive, especially towards people.
5) Physically sound. Healthy. Fit.
If your dog takes time to "warm up to people", is "shy", isn't into playing with you with toys and/or is a picky eater then you'll want to consider doing something else with your dog.
A good SAR candidate dog is not so smart as driven to play tug or retrieve.
Drive and temperament are the two primary factors in what makes a SAR dog. Drive is the dog's motivation - and we're looking for play drive (food drive in pups as well). The dog works for reward, just like people work for money, except the dog's reward is playtime with a person!
The dog with the right stuff will search for long hours in difficult conditions to get that chance to play tug or retrieve. A dog that will play for just a few tosses of a toy or who would rather entertain him/herself without a person is not the right dog for this job.
The right temperament is a dog that has the desire to work with it's handler - and that is confident in new situations and unfamiliar settings.
Temperament also includes being non-agressive and not fearful of people. A dog that is fearful of or aggressive towards people is not considered for WOOF. Dogs must be able to work along side another dog(s) and be able to focus on work but they don't have to be best friends with other dogs. SAR dogs are focused on their work - it's what they were trained to do.
A dog that has the drive, temperament, and fitness for the work paired with a similarly equipped handler is always a welcome addition to WOOF.
We are not looking for "smart" dogs. We are looking for driven, temperamentally sound dogs.
WOOF handlers will evaluate your dog, which should be less than 36 months old, and tell you up front if the dog has what it takes or not. If so, you can continue to participate with that dog.
If the dog does not have the combination of drive and temperament then to continue in the program will require the handler find a different dog that has potential for the work.
No. WOOF has an established training program that meets or exceeds industry standards and best practices for search, rescue, recovery and detection dogs. WOOF handlers are also teammates who rely upon each other in the field. Knowing each other and the dogs is part of training as a team.
WOOF dogs are started as early as puppies or young dogs. We will look at dogs that handlers already have up to 36 months in age. Exceptions to this are rare.
Ideally a prospective handler comes to WOOF without a dog and we help with puppy or dog selection. Having done this for decades, we can offer a lot of guidance, experience, and expert opinion with choosing a partner.
It takes most first time handlers 12-24 months to learn everything they need to become qualified to go on search missions. It takes a relatively short time to train a dog with the right stuff for SAR, but the handler and searcher skills take time to learn.
The dog needs to be able to learn and work in its prime. This is physically demanding work, and we want teams that are going to have many years together in the field.
Many different breeds of dogs make good SAR partners. In general the herding breeds and retriever breeds tend to have the drive and temperament for the demands of SAR work.
Remember not just any dog is right for the job though! The dog needs to be a reasonable size, not too big and not too small, and be in shape.
WOOF is open to most breeds that fit the bill. It is the individual dog that really counts - and what the dog brings to the table for the work at hand.
Work with WOOF handlers to first identify what breed you want to work with. Some people just like one breed over another and that is generally fine.
Once you've figured out what breed you want then WOOF handlers will work with you to find a breeder that has the particular type of dog you're looking for - and everyone looks for something specific to them.
WOOF handlers can help you communicate effectively with the breeder and conduct puppy testing to help identify the right pup in the right litter for you.
There are no guarantees in training a dog for search. WOOF dogs that are accepted into the training program have been assessed to have the 'right stuff' for search work. If WOOF looks at a prospective candidate's dog and determines they don't have what it takes, then there is a choice to be made: either get another dog that is suitable to train for SAR, or find something else to do with the dog.
Searching in Death Valley with proper gear
Future WOOF dog wrestles the big plush toy