Get Involved

We are delighted to have you join us in our training sessions. We often see volunteers who want to come out and see our dogs work, and we can always use help!  We are listed in several databases that identify community oriented activities, including the Santa Cruz Public Library Community Information Database.

We would like to get to know you prior to you coming out to your first session with us. In order to help us understand your experience and level of interest we ask that you complete a quick survey. You can access that survey by clicking here. This will open a new window for you to complete the survey.

You may also have a dog, or be thinking about training a dog for search and rescue.  If you are interested in joining us, as a candidate you will spend the first 10 weeks observing and helping with the training of the more advanced dogs. You are welcome to bring your puppy or dog to training after attending at least three sessions without. We will assess your dog and provide you with some next steps to take to begin your dog's search training.

Do not forget to bring your Candidate Training Record. When your candidate training record has at least 10 training dates filled, you may turn it in and receive your apprenticeship application. When you submit the apprenticeship application you will need to pay the $25 apprentice membership fee. After an additional 9 months of work with the group you may apply for membership. We train only apprentice and member dogs for search.

Your Introduction to MBSD Training

During your first 10 weeks you will be helping with the training of the more advanced dogs. By working with dogs at different levels of training, you will gain an overview of the sort of training you will be giving your dog. Without prior knowledge of both the endpoint of training and the many possible ways to get to that goal, we find new trainers get frustrated and are at a loss for how to proceed with their own dogs. Make sure you work with a variety of dogs and handlers. Also, expose yourself to each type of search discipline currently offered - wilderness and human remains detection - so that you will have a reasonable overview of these activities. In 10 weeks you will have barely scratched the surface, but you will have some idea of what it means to train a search dog. Ask questions - this is how you learn!

During this time we ask your patience and request that you do not introduce your pet to the agility equipment or rubble, do not start your dog on finding your friends, and do not make an imitation bringsel to "get a head start".

If you are enrolled in a dog training class, continue with that training. If you are not, please know that a dog must have basic obedience skills, a solid recall being one of the most important skills, before we will consider moving into the advance training of the search disciplines. It is of utmost importance that a dog have a solid foundation and a good relationship with their handler on which to build off. If you have a dog with a high drive, and know how to work with him, he will learn this discipline quickly.

During this time, you will need to get your basic equipment together. Refer to the handout Suggested Equipment for Beginning SAR Dog Handlers.

We find this a challenging and rewarding discipline. We hope that you find that it it is a commitment that you will want to make. We are pleased to have you join our training and participate in this special activity.

Instructions For Helpers

Here are a few important points to know before you start:
  • Follow the directions of the trainer or handler
  • Do not be innovative unless you've discussed it with the trainer or handler
  • Check with the handler - make sure you have an appropriate reward for the dog
  • If you have been placed by an MBSD member, be sure you know what to do if not found by a certain time, and don't wander unless that has been specifically asked for AND you feel comfortable doing so! All trees are not alike, but they sure all look alike
  • While at training sessions you will be expected to stay focused and involved with the training at hand. Idle conversation is discouraged.
  • Be kind to our environment - leave only your footprints or that which is biodegradable.
  • Please do not smoke - we could lose permission to use the property!

MBSD Training Programs

Monterey Bay Search Dogs trains dogs for two different search disciplines - Wilderness Area and Human Remains Detection (HRD).

In Wilderness search (or area search) dogs are trained to range widely through the woods searching for any human scent. They follow up any scent they find until they locate its source. The dog then picks up its bringsel and returns to their handler. Upon their return the handler removes the bringsel and the dog leads their handler back to the find (re-find).

Human Remains Detection work entails searching for cadavers (or body parts) in wilderness or disaster settings. Dogs work slowly and methodically to pinpoint the location of human remains. Our unit's HRD dogs generally use a bringsel alert or a down at the source.

We have previously trained dogs in disaster work. Please ask us about this discipline if you are considering it, as we can refer you to the proper resources in order to pursue it. Disaster work dogs are trained to search carefully over rubble piles until they detect scent from a living person. They follow up on the scent until they can get no closer to the buried person. The dog then alerts her handler to the find by barking above the person. The handler then goes to the dog and marks the victim's location.

Helping With Wilderness Training

Every dog you help train is at a different stage in its training and does things slightly differently than the other dogs. it is vitally important that you find out from the handler before you go and hide:
  • Where you should hide
  • What route you should take to get there
  • What position you should be in (standing, sitting, etc.)
  • What stage of alert work the dog is in.
  • Whether you should reward the dog on a find
  • What you should reward it with on the re-find. Dogs are ALWAYS rewarded
  • What to do if something goes wrong
Unless you are given other instructions by the handler:
  • Do nothing to attract the dogs attention. 
  • Do nothing when the dog finds you. After spotting you, the dog will return to her handler and then both will come back to you. 
  • Do not move until both dog and handler return to you.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that dogs are rewarded adequately. Make sure you know when to reward the dog, and then do a thorough job of it. Don't just give the dog its toy or food - tell it what a good dog it is, then tell it what a wonderful dog it is, tell it how clever and smart it is, pet the dog, play with it, yuck it up!! The more ridiculous you sound, the better you are doing!

Helping With Disaster Training

In disaster work our helper is almost always buried in rubble. You should always have on a helmet, boots, and gloves before being concealed. If you do not think you will be able to stay buried in a hole, say so before you are covered up. Sometimes holes aren't comfortable enough, other times they may just freak you out. Either way, tell us. While you are buried, do not make a sound. Try not to rustle. Try not to move at all. Play unconscious! Before being concealed find out:
  • Should you try to reward the dog
  • How many times must the dog bark before you reward her.
  • Should you just speak to the dog, or do you need to hand her a food or a toy
  • If you don't know what to do, don't do anything. If he gets desperate the handler can yell directions to you.
As in wilderness, it is very important that you make a big excited fuss over the dog when it is time to reward it. Just handing the dog a toy or piece of food isn't enough. We want to hear lots of "good dogs!" and similar stuff. Really get excited, the dogs will love you for it.

Please Follow These Guidelines During Workouts

  • Arrive on time - and we are serious about this!
  • Train, train, and train some more
  • Have a clear objective for each exercise
  • One exercise - one objective
  • Dogs not working are to be staked out or put up
  • Dogs on leash or staked out are not to be harassed by loose dogs
  • Aggressiveness toward people and dogs must be consistently discouraged
  • Excessive, premature, or abusive corrections will not be tolerated!
  • Mean what you say, but don't be mean to your dog

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