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Iowa State University Extension

New Working K9 Handler Academy provides search and rescue training

Working K9 Handler Academy

A child is lost in 80 acres of woodland, at night and in the rain. An elderly man is missing from an Alzheimer’s facility, last seen heading north through town. Situations like these often require the services of canine search and rescue teams. These canine handlers need specialized training, and now they can get it online, from the Working K9 Handler Academy. It’s a partnership of ISU Extension and Paws of Life, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the education of search and rescue dogs and their handlers.

Getting that education has been difficult, said Robin Habeger, Paws of Life executive director. “There isn’t a school. You can’t go somewhere and take a class.”

Habeger was looking for a way to make search and rescue training accessible to more people when a friend directed her to ISU Extension Continuing Education and Professional Development (CEPD).

Habeger and her team of search and rescue experts provided most of the content, said CEPD Director Eddie Loo. Then CEPD shaped it into a series of interactive online courses with readings, quizzes and a final activity or essay. Each course requires about one to six hours of independent study at the learner’s convenience, and the learner can take up to 90 days to complete a course. The cost varies from $30 to $55 per course. Register for the courses online.

Four courses are available: an introduction to canine search and rescue, search strategies for wilderness and other areas, crime scene preservation and bloodborne pathogens. Bloodborne Pathogens for the First Responder and Canine Handlers is designed for first responders who have the potential to be exposed to human blood or other potentially infectious materials. Iowa State’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety developed this course to fulfill OSHA’s requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act.

Additional Working K9 Handler Academy courses are being developed and will apply to search and rescue canine handlers as well as those in other working dog professions, such as law enforcement canine handlers. Anyone who is interested in canine learning theory and nutrition or simply loves dogs also may be interested in the courses, Habeger said.

This article appeared in January 2010 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter