Certifications and Training

“What organization should I get my certification through?”  I see handlers ask this question often on social media, and inevitably, they will get a variety of responses, and often biased as to each handler’s opinions.   But a choice of certification, should always be the handler’s own choice as to who they get their certification through.

First, I would recommend checking different organizations standards for certification, while you are training your dog.  Find the one that will suit your needs the best.  Now this does not mean, to find the one with the easiest standards.  It means to find the standards that are more likely to replicate the actual conditions that you and your dog, are likely to encounter in your area, where you will be working.

The same holds true for the location of your certification.  For example, it makes no sense to be living and training in Montana and travelling to Florida or South Texas, for a certification.  Terrain and weather will make a big difference as to how you and dog will work.  For example, Florida and South Texas have very high humidity levels.  If you are not used to working in high humidity, then you should probably not attempt to certify in that condition either.  The same holds true as to when you travel; you and your dog, may need some time to rest up from the travel, before jumping right into work.

Another thing to take into consideration, is how likely the local law enforcement agencies (deploying authority) will readily accept your choice of certification.  It could be a waste of your time, effort, and money, (for a SAR handler) to take a certification, for example, from NASAR, when the local agencies are only willing to accept those that have a law enforcement connection or affiliation, or vice versa.  Whatever agency that will deploy you, it is their decision as to what certifications will be accepted.  NOTE:  By no means, am I trying to belittle or demean any organization that I have noted.  I only use these AS AN EXAMPLE ONLY!

Basically, you absolutely need to research the different organizations offering certifications in your specific discipline, before you are ready to apply for that certification.  It can save you training time and objectives that you will train on.  To save yourself from misinformation, do this research for yourself.  Do not rely on others to give you the correct information!  Some handlers may qualify, or even prefer, one specific organization’s certification, while you may not.  DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!  This will allow you to train better, ensuring that you are hitting all the different components that your certification standards will be asking for.  For example, in trailing work, most basic certifications call for the dog team, to trail the subject, and then give a reliable TFR upon locating the correct subject.  Then there are some certifications, that will use articles dropped along the trail, requiring that the dog give a reliable indication on them.  If you will not be expected to locate articles on a trail, then do not choose this certification.  You can always choose this after you and your dog have achieved your basic certification.

Choose a good, realistic certification, that will be evaluated in your area, and uses standards that will best replicate the conditions of how you will search.  Once you achieve that basic certification, you should always keep training to keep that level proficient, plus train to meet higher objectives, such as locating articles along the trail, or multiple subjects, etc.  Don’t try to do too much in your dog’s initial training and certification.

Now, this last point, there will be folks who will disagree with me.  An initial certification can absolutely be achieved within twelve months of training.  That is NOT to say twelve months of age, of the dog, and it certainly is not saying that the dog is “mission ready.”  A basic certification, in any discipline, is well within reach of any dog/handler team, with twelve months of training.  It simply means that the team has accomplished the first objective that is to be reached.  Having specific objectives for the team to train for, about every 6-12 months, with good constructive feedback, makes for a more motivated handler.  Training in SAR can take years, so by breaking the training down in this way, will allow the handlers to stay motivated, rather than simply giving up after MONTHS of working, with nothing to show for their efforts.  My team works our training like this, where the handlers are recognized for reaching each objective, and in doing so, they remain motivated, to continue with the training.