Obedience for the Search and Rescue dog

K9 Tomo in obedience The purpose of the obedience is to ensure that the canine is reliably well-trained to the Handler. The canine should perform at a level of manageability sufficient to ensure the safety of the canine, handler, and bystanders.


All animals capable of learning, carry out a behavior solely for positive reinforcement. This reinforcement comes either directly or as a consequence of escape from aversive situations (e.g. Aversion therapy) or as a result of previous experience which gave a higher level of enjoyment than anything else available in the environment at the time. In other words, the behavior of any animal is governed by what that animal perceives as the greatest reward.

Therefore, while a dog can learn the behaviors of how to search, the reward must always be “worth it”, or the learning won’t happen.

* A working dog will search through hunger and often, injury, because the reward is of higher value than the avoidance of pain and hunger, because we have tapped into the K9s’ drive(s).


Possession Drive Drive is NOT the same thing as instinct. Drives are the underlying motivations of behavior. Instinct differs from drive, in that it is a pre-programmed behavior or desire, like the instinctive need to eat, or to reproduce. Instinct is the unchangeable behavior of any animal, which cannot be modified or changed by the environment (to include a Handler) offering reward or punishment stimuli. *Rewards or punishment stimuli are also known as “positive" and "negative" reinforcement. 

As a general rule, we teach our dogs “ obedience in drive”. Think of "drive" as the gears in your car.

  • 1 st gear is casual.
  • 2 nd gear is moving forward.
  • 3 rd gear is both hands on the wheel.
  • 4 th gear means you better have a plan as to where you are going.
  • And 5 th gear, well, anything can happen.

Training a dog in-drive is best done with a team/professional trainer approach. For example, while our team has extensive experience and depth, we still use Kirby Hill with  Creature Comfort Inn to help us bring out the most in our new dogs, and increase the K9s' drives.

cooper drive The useful Drives of working search and rescue dogs are (in a simplified list):


  1. Prey Drive (based on desire to chase and ultimately, eat)
  2. Play Drive (based on desire to engage a toy)
  3. Defensive Drive (based on fear)

Type “working dog drive” in any search engine for more information. For SAR, we do not generally need to focus on Fight Drive or Avoidance.

Obedience for the Puppy:

VIDEO of K9 Cooper at 14-weeks old, a short exercise on obedience: 

Learning the initial aspects of obedience starts when a dog is a young puppy. We call this the “ Foundation”; and if done correctly, will make training MUCH easier for the rest of the dog’s life. The most important aspect of teaching a young puppy anything is to understand that dogs do NOT generalize well. Therefore a "learned behavior" needs to be practiced under many circumstance before you can hold the K9 accountable for a command 99% of the time.

The 2nd most important aspect of teaching a young puppy is that learning is a GAME; it should and can be fun for both the pup and the Handler. Puppies are capable of offering some hilarious and intelligent behaviors, and as a trainer, it is your job to encourage this independence and capitalize on the behaviors you want repeated.

K9 Leah obedience Obedience for the Immature Dog:

We like to teach our “teenage” dogs obedience in 3 rd to 5th gear, which requires a LOT of focus from the K9. This is the stage where you can start to expect behaviors on-command, and where a Handler will "shape" the behavior towards the final result. 

Obedience for the Mature “Salty”Dog:

Dog’s don’t “mature” until 2-3 years old. By this time in a dog’s life, when obedience is truly “learned”, then simple (and fun) maintenance is needed.