Search And Rescue Saturday–Testing K-9 Candidates

by Mr. Taleteller on

A few weeks ago one of our team members sent out a text message with a picture attached.  It is time to test a potential K-9 candidate.

K-9 Candidate waits for testing

K-9 Candidate waits for testing

Now, you can imagine our surprise to see the Bloodhound handler sitting on the couch with a German Shepherd Dog.  After the initial shock was over, he explained that the dog was given to him after a house fire that he responded to the night earlier.  He’s a fire fighter by trade.  He would like to have dog tested to see if there was potential to work search and rescue.

After a few emails a few team members set a date, time, and location to meet to give the dog an evaluation for its suitability to work in our field.

Now, I first will say that this is just one way of testing a candidate.  Like everything else there is another way of doing it.  It’s probably even better.  But, my take on things is to keep things simple, explainable, and very close to how our training works.  Why?  Just because…

Okay, in my opinion  the reality is that there are only a few concepts that need to be tested.  If the dog passes all of them you have a K-9 candidate for the team.  Then it is up to the training to assist the team to become operational.

So here’s my take on testing dogs to become search and rescue candidates.

We test for friendliness towards people and other dogs.  Why?  Our dogs could need to be held by another team member or someone else.  To give you an example, you maybe called into the command post and there is no room for the K-9.  Or better yet nature may call.  We also check on the candidate’s behavior towards other dogs.  On very large searches you could have numerous K-9’s out working at the same time, or just riding in the same car or being transported with other dogs present.  Friendly K-9’s are a good thing.

We then test for what motivates the candidate.  Is it toys? Is it food?  What kind of drive does the dog have is also looked at during this time.  This toys and motivation testing is really the nuts and bolts of your dog’s potential for working.  During this test we try doing several different things with the dog while taking note of the dog’s enthusiasm to search and find.  We also take note on whether the dog becomes distracted with other things or just forgets what it is looking for.

Lastly I test the dogs agility.  Depending on what the handler is wanting the new K-9 candidate’s discipline to be, it might not be to much at all.  I typically at least have the dog jump up on a few things.  Also I like to have the dog walk across a 1×12 that is about seven or eight feet long.  This give us a quick idea on the dog’s confidence level.

K9 Being tested for drive

Running To Victim

The following are my notes on the presented candidate and how he did while with us.


Friendly with people: candidate can show excitement but no aggression

Result: dog displayed no problems during test

Friendly with other dogs: candidate tied to post with unknown dog walking past (2x), candidate can show excitement but no aggression.

Result:  dog was very excited at Küster but showed no issues during this test.

Friendly with another handler untying from post: candidate can show excitement but no aggression

Result: dog displayed no problems during test


My usual test is as follows:  Take the dog to an area with dense brush that it has never seen before.  Show the dog a toy, hold collar, and toss toy around ten feet into the brush.  Then release the dog.  No speaking to the dog while it hunts for the toy.

Make notes while the dog is hunting about distractions, loss of interest, trouble with transfer between grass and tall brush, etc.

Result:  Did not test. Dog did not show interest in playing with toys for test.

We went on to show candidate multiple toys:  (balls, tugs, wubbas, bite pillow)

Candidate showed minimal interest in toys during the test but did like treats and seems to be food motivated.

Did a quick run away with Chip’s son (in view).  Dog ran to boy for treats and returned when called and treated.

Did a quick run away with Missy (in view, waiting for one minute).  Dog lost interest in Missy while waiting.  Did run to her when called.

We did not try any runaways with a victim hiding during this test.

Agility/Foot Work/Environment:

Did not test.  No available equipment.

Thoughts:  Moose is seven months old and still young.  I am concerned with the mildness of Moose’s drive.  That being said, the drive/hunt may be there and he just needs to learn the game.  That could be brought out more since we know very little about Moose and our search games are very new to him.  We all know, it is easier to bring a high drive dog down then get a lower drive dog up and keep it there.  It is doable, but takes time.  We left Chip with some concepts of games (hide and seek stuff) and to try to find what the motivator is for Moose.  The thing he loves (i.e. KFC and K-9 Otis).  These can be done around the house and yard or elsewhere.  I’m not sure if Moose will be attending our next training but we can certainly do another evaluation.  Evaluations do not take long at all and a second look doesn’t hurt. We did not test any HRD (human remains detection) source during this test.

Come And Get Me

Come And Get Me

So, What do you think the outcome of this test was?

Well, this K-9 candidate was not tested again.  Our team mate decided that the dog was a pet. I believe one of his kids will be doing obedience with him.


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  • SGilbert

    Very interesting! Can you tell from a puppy if your dog will be a S&R dog?

    • Puppies are never really know how they will do. There are things to look at and do to help. Parents of the puppy are a huge factor. Chase games, etc. You start to get a good feel for the dog rather quickly. But, you never know.

      • SGilbert

        Thank You for your response.

  • I’ve wondered what makes a good S&R dog and how to figure that out early.

  • Sue Dyer

    Hope Moose works out. A lovely looking dog.

    Hope you are having a lovely weekend. Sue, Polly & Honey