Canine Training Program

SDF recruits dogs from shelters and breed rescue groups, gives them professional training, and partners them with firefighters and other first responders to find live people trapped in the wreckage following disasters. We go to great lengths to find Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois and mixes of those breeds with the exceptional characteristics required in a Search Dog: intense drive, athleticism, energy and focus. The traits that can make dogs unsuitable as family pets and land them in a shelter—intense energy and extreme drive—are exactly the qualities required in a Search Dog. SDF offers these amazing animals what they crave: a job!

Our nationally recognized training program turns these dogs into rescuers in the hands of highly skilled, caring professionals:

  • Canine Recruitment from animal shelters and breed rescue groups
  • Evaluation, socialization and Search Dog Training at SDF’s National Training Center in Santa Paula, CA (8 to 10 months)
  • Partnering the Canine and Handler (14 days)
  • Training toward FEMA or State Certification (1 year)
  • Ongoing training to maintain top Deployment Readiness

Ongoing training

SDF canines receive their formal search training from a talented group of professional trainers led by Sonja Heritage, recognized as one of the nation’s top canine trainers in the field of urban search and rescue.

Once the dog and firefighter are partnered as a team, they form an extraordinary bond that will one day save lives. The dog is with his handler 24/7, ready at any moment should disaster strike. The team trains weekly on rubble to reach the extremely high skill level needed to attain FEMA or State Certification. SDF provides ongoing training to ensure that the teams maintain top deployment readiness at all times.