South Western Ohio Search And Rescue

Canines searching to make a difference... One life at a time.



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As the victim you have a serious effect on the search dog in training.  For the period of time that you are interacting with the dog, YOU ARE THE TRAINER!


Typical Scenario


You (the victim) will be given the dog’s reward.  Most commonly this will be some type of toy, but sometimes will be food.  You will then be “hidden” in a specific location and the dog will be commanded to “find” or “search”.  After the dog finds you and performs the correct indication, YOU will reward the dog.


Note: There are many different types of indication that can be used by a SAR dog.  For the purpose of this page, SWOSAR has focused on a bark alert, but you should always confirm with the handler the type of alert that is expected.




Once you are hidden... Do not go somewhere else!  The object of this "game" is for the dog to find you and bark to let his handler know where you are (unless the dog is tracking, in which case the game may end with the find).  Unless the dog is totally confused and the handler requests that you make a noise, Do not help the dog locate you!  When being a victim it's important to remember the dynamics of your scent may not put the dog right in front of you.  The dog may walk right past you and then double back.


 We want the dog to use his nose before his ears and eyes.


OK... so the game is about to end.  The dog has found you, what do you do?  The general rule of thumb is to stimulate the dog just enough to get the desired response.  For dogs that are new to SAR this may include showing them the toy, encouraging them with facial expressions, and maybe even telling them to "speak" (make sure you know the dog's individual command for this).  An intermediate dog may not need any motivation at first, but may become bored and stop barking or move away.  If this starts to happen a quick noise or a flash of the toy may keep the dog focused.  An experienced dog may sound an alert without any motivation and keep it up until rewarded.  The handler will tell you prior to starting how much bark alert is required, how much motivation you should give, and how to reward the dog. 












Before you reward the dog, there are some things to keep in mind.  Unless instructed to do otherwise, KEEP THE TOY OUT OF SIGHT!  Do not hold the toy above your head, this will encourage the dog to jump on you.  Hide the toy in your clothes, under your body, or behind your back.  Hide it securely or one of our opportunistic four-leggers will steal it!  


When it is necessary to show the toy to the dog, to keep interest or to start the bark alert, do it with a fast motion, almost teasing in a "now you see it, now you don't" fashion.  This kind of motion helps to build the necessary drives in the dog and will make the game more exciting and interesting for the dog to play. 




Your enthusiasm and energy will make a big difference in how motivated the dog is when searching in the future.  As soon as the dog has barked for the required time, give the toy with a quick motion.  This should be done immediately after a bark.  If you're dealing with green dogs, this may be after one bark, as the dogs are progressing this will become three barks, ten barks, and eventually thirty to forty seconds of barking.


As you are giving the toy, start saying "Good dog!" with enthusiasm.  Verbally praise the dog over and over again, and engage the dog in an excited game of tug-o-war that you'll ultimately let the dog win by releasing your hold on the toy.  Try to coax the dog back to you and play another game of tug - this will increase what we call "victim loyalty."  As you play tug you can move the dog towards the handler (unless of course the dog is stronger than you are and dragging you somewhere else!)


If you're hiding in a hole, box, barrel, or other enclosed area, and you can do so without injury, let the dog pull you out with the tug toy (or at least let the dog 'think' it's pulling you out as you assist).  This is great fun for the dog and helps make finding out-of-sight victims just as exciting as those in plain view.



The most common victim error...


Giving the toy too soon!  Think about the handler's instructions and be patient!  The object is to build a longer and longer bark alert.  If you can keep the dog going for a little extra, GREAT!


Remember, If things go wrong, it's not your fault!  We do not expect perfection, and the error was probably due to lack of communication.


The most common handler error...


Lack of clear instructions to the victim, or worse... none at all!  If this should occur, show that today you are prepared and ASK...

  • How many barks before I give the toy?

  • What position should I be in?

  • Should I cue your dog?

  • What commands, if any, should I use?





There may be occasions when the handler asks you to do things that are out of the norm.  Follow the instructions!  When this happens, the handler has something in mind to either fix a problem or further a training goal.  Just make sure that you understand exactly what the handler wants.  If you are unsure about the instructions, ask the handler to clarify them.  Ask the handler WHY you should follow the new instructions... most handlers are more than willing to talk about where their dog is in its progressions.




Your efforts on our behalf are GREATLY APPRECIATED!  If we ever overlook thanking you, shame on us.  We cannot train a search dog at all without you, you are a vital part to our team and to the end product of a SEARCH DOG!