Jobs in Search and Rescue Dog Training: Options and Requirements

Oct 15, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dog trainer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensing information to find out if this is the career for you.

A career as a search and rescue dog trainer may be possible with a high school diploma and on-the-job training, although some opt to pursue a bachelor's degree in animal science, biology, or a related field. Search and rescue dog trainers also need to be certified as a dog handler or field assistant, and then be trained in search and rescue.

Essential Information

Search and rescue dog training requires handlers to become certified members of rescue teams. They must undergo training in search and rescue with and without a dog and have experience on a rescue team before being able to train and evaluate others. Search and rescue dog training is done on a predominately volunteer basis.

Required Education Variable; a high school diploma and on-the-job training to become a certified dog handler or field assistant OR courses or a bachelor's degree in animal science, biology or a related discipline, along with training to become a certified dog handler or field assistant
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 13% (for animal trainers)
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $29,290 (for animal trainers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


To become a search and rescue (SAR) dog trainer, one first must become a certified dog handler or field assistant. Numerous certification options are available; the most appropriate ones specialize in SAR training. SAR dog handler training programs are offered by federal and state governments, as well as specific SAR organizations. Aspiring SAR dog handlers and trainers might consider starting their training with a relatively young dog that they can train alongside of while seeking out other credentials. Required training to work as an SAR dog handler can include emergency response and CPR certification, SAR strategies, wilderness survival skills and helicopter safety.

Training programs typically offer specific classes aimed at different aspects of SAR, and aspiring dog trainers can expect to train for several years to become officially designated members of an SAR team. Some training organizations require handlers to demonstrate ability in SAR and SAR dog tactics by becoming a certified field assistant. Either way, those looking to train SAR dogs need to go through a rigorous training process first and receive credentials as a part of an SAR team.


Licensed SAR dog handlers or field assistants can become actual trainers. One way is through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces, in which both dogs and their handlers are trained and tested to become part of a US&R team. FEMA's requirements consist of being an SAR dog handler for three years, completing FEMA's Canine Search Specialist Training Course and evaluation to become a US&R team member and shadowing at least two evaluations. This qualifies individuals as FEMA US&R task force evaluators, where they will be part of training and evaluating new candidates for the many task forces across the nation.

SAR dog teams and their training facilities are almost always offered on a volunteer basis. Most handlers, trainers and evaluators for SAR organizations actually end up paying money rather than making it. SAR dog training is a field appropriate for people who want to serve their communities while making money elsewhere.

Although there is no specific degree required to enter this field, search and rescue dog trainers need to have on-the-job experience, CPR certification and training in SAR strategies, wilderness survival skills and helicopter training. They should also be certified or licensed as a dog handler. Search and rescue dog trainers prepare dogs to participate in search and rescue operations.

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