FAQ

  1. VSRDA-Logo web What is an Air-Scenting dog?
  2. What is the difference between an Air-Scenting dog and a Trailing/Tracking or Trailing dog?
  3. How old can you be to volunteer with the team?
  4. Why do you have to be 18-years old before going on a search?
  5. What are my expected costs to get all my gear and training I’d need?
  6. How long does it take to train a dog to become certified?
  7. Can I train my 7-year old dog?
  8. What traits make a good working dog?
  9. What are some good dog breeds to use for Area Search / Wilderness SAR?
  10. Are the dogs your own to keep? / Are the dogs your pets?
  11. Where do you get your dogs?
  12. What kind of searches do you do?
  13. How many times are you called out a year?
  14. I don’t live in the Northern Virginia area…are there teams closer to where I live?
  15. How often do you train, and where?
  16. Can I come out to a training just to observe your dogs working?
  17. My dog needs a job. Will you work him?
  18. Do your dogs also find missing pets?
  19. I’m unable to hike around in the woods and don’t have a dog, but would like to help support your team. How can I help?

 

     Q1: What is an air-scenting dog?
A: Air-scenting dogs will search for the presence of human odor, meaning ANY human. Though dogs discriminate between unique individual's scent, Air Scenting K9s are searching for a "fresh" scent - one that is not in their immediate party (their Handler and any escorts he/she may have.) Scents are carried through the air in a varity of conditions: weather, terrain, time of day. An easy way to remember an air-scenting dog is: Nose Up, though they might also go nose down on a 'hot' track.

  • Air scent dogs do not require a scent article or tracks.
  • No starting point (or Last Known Position) is required.
  • Multiple dogs can work an area, though not at the same time.
  • A dog can work an area that has already been searched by dogs and/or people.

To learn more about air-scenting dogs in general, read Bill Syrotuck's, Scent and the Scenting Dog
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     Q2: What is the difference between an Air-Scenting dog and a Trailing/Tracking dog?
A: Trailing dogs are invaluable in their own unique way. When the right conditions exist, a trailing dog is an critical search tool. An simplified way to remember a Trailing dog is: Nose Down.

The difference between a Trailing dog and a Tracking Dog:  http://www.ussartf.org/dogs_search_rescue.htm

  • Trailing  dogs require a scent article, so the dog can discriminate between the victim and other searchers.
  • Weather and time will destroy the physical and chemical evidence of a track.
  • A starting point (or Last Known Position) is usually required.
  • A single dog’s reaction to a track influences an entire search.
  • Family members of the victim can contaminate a track.

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    Q3: How old can you be to volunteer with the team?
A: At least 16-years old. Keep in mind, a lot of our trainings and functions are held in many places. Some near and some far. Transportation arrangements will be required. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) requires that members be at least 18-years old to participate in a search. 
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    Q4: Why do you have to be 18-years old before going on a search?
A: All searches can considered be crime scenes, until discovered to be otherwise. We never know what we may encounter on a search. We do not want to subject minors to certain circumstances or events, such as finding a deceased person. As well, members have to pass a background check, which can not be performed on a minor; and VDEM requires all searchers in the Commonwealth of Virginia to be 18yo.
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    Q5: What are my expected costs to get all my gear and training I’d need?
A: In the beginning, all you really need are the necessities, such as a quality pair of waterproof (and comfortable) boots and jacket. Leather gloves, compass, backpack, and other items can be picked up later once you’ve determined that you’ll be sticking with SAR. We’ll also have all the recommendations on what to get, so don’t go purchasing all your gear right away. Training costs more in time and travel than for the classes themselves. Virginia is very supportive of the volunteer SAR program and offers many state funded classes, however these classes may be held as far away as the Southwestern part of the state.
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    Q6: How long does it take to train a dog to become certified?
A: Coming regularly to trainings on weekends, and fitting some in on a weekday when possible, can expedite your training to about two years. It can take as long as three years or more if your attendance is at our minimum requirement of 50%.
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    Q7: Can I train my 7-year old dog?
A: Because it can take several years to train the dog, you have to look at the return on how long you can expect to work them after becoming certified. Most dogs will retire by the time they reach ten years of age. Some retire earlier. So taking a few years to certify a dog that will shortly be at an age for retirement is not a good use of time.
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    Q8: What traits make a good working dog?
A: Outgoing, independent, playful with strangers, confident, sociable, able to maintain concentration, obedient, and curious. Upon request, we can take a look and evaluate your dog for suitability for doing SAR. It is best to start with puppies from 10-weeks to 8-months, in order to build a strong foundation for the unique demands of searching. See Using Search Dogs for more information.
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     Q9: What kind of dog breeds are used for wilderness SAR?
A: Most working and herding dogs are suitable to work in the Virginian wilderness during any season. German Shepherds, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Belgian Malinois, etc. are the predominant choices. Though, you do not have to have a dog to part of our team. We have volunteer opportunities that don't require even owning a dog. to learn more, see our Volunteer section.
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     Q10: Are the dogs your own to keep?
A: The dogs we use are our own dogs. They are our working partners as well as our pets.
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     Q11: Where do you get your dogs?
A: Our dogs come from many places. Breeders that we know produce good dogs from working lines are used. Some are rescues themselves even; coming from other homes and families that can not keep a dog, for whatever reason, and that would make a good working dog. Some are just dogs that are already part of the family of the member.
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     Q12: What kind of searches do you do?
A: We are a 'wilderness search and rescue team.' However, we also have units certified for Human Remains Detection, Water Recovery, and Disaster (urban) SAR. See Specialty Search Work for more info.
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     Q13: How many times are you called out a year?
A: On average, we get called out for searches about 35 times a year.
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     Q14: I don’t live in the Northern Virginia area…are there teams closer to where I live?
A: There are five dog teams throughout Virginia. We can assist you with contacting a team closer to you if you let us know where you live. There are also ARDA units in Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
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     Q15: How often do you train, and where?
A: We train on Sundays, usually taking off the first Sunday of the month. Occasionally there may be night trainings which are held on Saturday nights, and weekend long trainings/seminars that occur. In addition to these official team trainings, many members like to get together on weekday evenings (Tuesdays or Wednesdays) to train unofficially. These smaller, unofficial trainings give the chance to work on skills that will be checked at the official trainings later.
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     Q16: Can I come out to a training just to observe your dogs working?
A: You may come out to a training, however we will give you a schedule of certain ones that will be open to the general public to see. We do ask however that in return, you will be used to hide from our advanced dogs so that they can have someone new that they have not met to search for. But not to worry, there will still be plenty of opportunity to hike around and observe our dogs working at all levels from puppies to advanced dogs. See our Training Calendar if you are thinking about coming out.
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     Q17: My dog needs a job. Will you work him?
A: Members only work their own dogs and do not work someone else's dog.
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     Q18: Do your dogs also find missing pets?
A: We actually get asked this a lot, but they do not search for missing pets. We actually discourage our dogs from taking interest in distractions such as other domestic animals and wildlife.
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     Q19: I’m unable to hike around in the woods and don’t have a dog, but would like to help support your team. How can I help?
A: On occasion we need assistance with fund raising for the team, and can use people to do outreach. We also can use a graphic designer to assist with tee-shirt designs and the making of our team’s annual calendar. As well, if you have property that is large enough for us to work in (at least 100 acres), and wouldn’t mind letting us periodically train on it, please email and let us know.
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VSRDA Glossary

  • Air Scent
    Air Scent (Dog): A dog that searches for the source of human odor. They are typically "Nose Up" when they work, and are usually non-scent-discriminating. Air scent dogs do NOT require a scent artic
  • Agility
    Agility: A character trait which describes the natural (running) speed, surefootedness, and coordination, and the ability of the dog to correct and recover 
  • Agility
    Agility: A character trait which describes the natural (running) speed, surefootedness, and coordination, and the ability of the dog to correct and recover