New Working K9 Handler Academy Provides Search and Rescue Training

K9 Handler AcademyA 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.

The academy is a partnership of Iowa State University 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.

Introduction to Canine Search and Rescue offers a basic overview of the field, including the types of canine search work (trailing, area search, human remains detection, disaster, water and avalanche), what is expected of professional canine search and rescue volunteers and their dogs, as well as time and financial considerations.

Canine SAR Search Strategy: Search Strategy for the Wilderness/Area Search Dog Handler covers basic search strategies. It also introduces how meteorology, time of day and terrain can affect wind and scent movement and how to develop appropriate search strategies.

Crime Scene Preservation and Search Incident Considerations for the Professional Volunteer covers scene preservation, types of evidence, chain of custody, proper procedures, training logs and post search incident reports.

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.

This first round of the Working K9 Handler Academy is designed for handlers involved in search and rescue efforts, Habeger said. Additional courses are being developed and will apply to these 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, she said.

Search and rescue gives people a chance to do something important with their dogs and also give back to their communities — helping to find lost or missing persons, Habeger said. The Working K9 Handler Academy helps people with an interest in search and rescue decide if they are ready to make the commitment.

For more information about the Working K9 Handler Academy, contact Robin Habeger at (515) 231-5763.

Contacts :
Robin Habeger, Paws of Life, (515) 231-5762,
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775,