AZ-TF1 Canine

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Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) involves the location, rescue (extrication), and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces. Structural collapse is most often the cause of victims being unable to escape, but victims may also be trapped in transportation accidents, mines, collapsed trenches and most recently in their own homes and businesses secondary to a hurricane. 

Urban Search and Rescue is considered a "multi-hazard" discipline, as it may be needed for a variety of emergencies or disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, storms and tornadoes, floods, dam failures, technological accidents, terrorists activities, and hazardous materials releases.

US&R Participants

There are many participants in the National Urban Search & Rescue Response System. These participants can be grouped into three main categories.

  • FEMA – establishes policy and leads the coordination of the national system.
  • Task Forces – there are 28 FEMA US&R Task Forces spread throughout the continental United States and equipped by FEMA to handle structural collapse, large scale rescue and wide area destruction.
  • Incident Support Teams – support the US&R Task Forces in accomplishing their mission through logistical, electronic, and coordination expertise.

Search and Rescue Dog Teams

  • Each canine and handler team must be certified through FEMA in search and rescue
  • For the handler, certification includes written and verbal testing regarding search-and-rescue strategies briefing skills, and canine handling skills. 
  • For the search-and-rescue canine, certification includes proper command control, overcome innate fears of tunnels and wobbly surfaces under the guidance of the handler.      
  • Certification for each Canine Search Specialist Team (dog and handler) requires the canine and handler to pass a FEMA sanctioned evaluation process administered with rostered US&R evaluators.
  • Currently there are less than 200 such certified teams throughout the United States.

Training and preparing the canine/handler team
There are many traits and qualities a handler looks for when choosing a canine partner to enter a training program. Of the dogs that appear to be suited to perform this type of work on the average only one out of approximately 200 dogs will successfully complete their training and become certified. Some dogs start their careers as puppies, while others start their training when they are one to two years old. Because of the physical requirements involved in this type of work most disaster canines are retired between eight and ten years of age. Most teams will dedicate two to three years of training before starting the evaluation process. This investment will total over 2,000 hours of work on rubble piles, debris, construction sites, and building search scenarios. Because the canines are asked to work independent of the handler obedience, direction and control and socialization are additional areas that are included in their training programs.

Disaster canine traits and temperament
Play drive, confidence, and high energy are probably the three desired qualities found in a disaster canine. A dog that will trade their food for a toy has a tremendous advantage in learning to locate trapped or unconscious victims. From the first day of training the canine is conditioned to alert (bark) for a toy reward. Because of the strong bond that is present between the handler and the dog the handler becomes the dog's first "victim". In training scenarios the term victim is used to describe the person the dog is asked to find. The handler will show the toy to the dog and run away a short distance upwind. The dog is released and chases the "victim". Once the victim has been located the dog quickly learns that a few barks will be rewarded with a glorious toy and tons of love and interaction with the victim. It doesn't take long for the dog to understand that this is really just an elaborate game of hide and seek. As the dog progresses the "victim" becomes anyone dedicated enough to allow themselves to be buried alive by a group of handlers. The new victims are placed in a barrel with a lid. When the dog alerts (barks) at the closed lid the victim appears and play time begins. This behavior will later move on to a rubble pile and the barrel is replaced by a hole for the victim to hide in as the dog searches.

The dog as a tool
Disaster canines are trained to locate live victims and indicate the position where the strongest scent is found with a focused bark alert. Because of their light weight and agility canines may be asked to search areas that are unsafe or simply not big enough for a human to enter. Once an alert has been given search cameras and electronic listening devices can be used to further pinpoint the location and position of these people. Another advantage the dog has over technology is that once a victim has been identified rescue specialists can initiate extrication and the dogs can continue to work the remaining area. With electronic devices immediate rescue activities would have to be delayed until the entire area was surveyed. A dog's nose will still work whether a jack hammer is next to a second victim or 100' away. A dog can also clear an area that is deemed unsafe by structural engineers or firefighters. A common example is when an unsafe area is suspected to contain people that may be trapped or unconscious. To enter that location with electronic devices puts the rescue and search specialists at great risk. Clearing the area with a canine allows crews to concentrate their efforts on victims that are already identified. This allows a better and safer utilization of personnel and resources. Common sense would dictate that a 70 pound dog with their weight distributed over four paws will be less likely to cause a weakened structure to collapse when compared to a number of 200 pound firefighters and their equipment.

Wilderness and non disaster urban settings
Our dogs search for any live victim. With maturity and continued training a disaster canine can effectively work in a wilderness or non disaster setting such as a lost child in a neighborhood. Disaster dogs are called air scenting dogs. What that means is that they smell or scent the air for any live humans in the area. Tracking or trailing dogs, such as Blood Hounds follow the scent of a particular individual that is deposited on the ground as we walk. This is where you would see the "scent article" (clothing, hat, shoes, etc.) given to the dog to identify the lost person's individual scent. Both tracking/trailing and air scenting dogs can be outstanding assets to authorities responsible for organizing search and rescue activities.

Arizona Search Dogs

Arizona Search Dogs is a nonprofit (501c3) organization that trains, certifies, and develops Canine Search Specialist teams to be mobilized with USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) Task Forces and to assist state and local jurisdictions in urban and wilderness search and rescue activities. Our teams have been deployed to the World Trade Center, The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, flooding in Houston, Texas, Dallas Fort Worth tornado, New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Ike in the Gulf Coast, and local searches for Valley residents. Arizona Search Dogs is also a Valley of the Sun United Way supported agency #1761. To contact Arizona Search Dogs feel free to phone or email John Dean/Lead Trainer at or 602-571-3838.


Significant Events

Tornado damage in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas (March 2000)
Assisted Texas Task Force 1 who deployed to assist local entities in the down town area. At the time TX-TF1 was just forming and had no trained disaster search dogs. We sent two teams and spent three days searching a damaged high rise and a 300,000 sq. ft. collapsed factory.

Assisted Taipei Task Force 1 (August 2001)
Spent a week in Taipei, Taiwan working with Taipei Fire Dept. handlers.

Deployed with AZ-TF1 to The World Trade Center (Sept. 2001)
Deployed to The World Trade Center disaster with AZ-TF1.

Deployed with AZ-TF1 to stand by at The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah (Feb. 2002)
Urban Search and Rescue teams were staged at a nearby military facility during the Olympics.

Kidnapped teenage girl along the Salt River near 24th Street. (2002)
Girl had been taken by an unknown man from her front yard. MCSO had tracked her to this area. Assisted with area search along river bottom…heavy brush and debris.

Natural Gas explosion in an apartment complex in central Phx. (2003)

Assisted with training of United Kingdom Firefighters initial Urban Search and Rescue training in College Station, Texas (Disaster City) (2003)

Searched the Fry's Marketplace at Mill and Southern after the roof collapsed during a severe rain storm. (2004)
A significant portion of the roof collapsed. Sending in firefighters to obtain an all clear was not possible due to the unstable remaining part of the roof structure. We used two search teams and were able to send in the dogs and clear the entire occupancy in about 15 minutes.

75 year old man walked away from home after a family argument (Dec. 2004)
Assisted Phoenix PD with a ground search of the area near South Mountain and 27th Avenue. Man was later located in El Paso, Texas…got a ride to the bus depot and purchased a ticket to see family in Texas.

Deployed with AZ-TF1 to Katrina disaster in New Orleans, LA. (Sept. 2005)
Conducted search and rescue activities in New Orleans.

Deployed with AZ-TF1 to Rita Atlantic Hurricane in the Gulf Region (Sept. 2005)
Conducted search and rescue activities in Gulf Region.

5 year old girl upset with her Grandmother and ran out the front door of their home. Girl did not return after a short period of time and 911 was called. (Dec. 2005)
Assisted PD with a neighborhood search. Girl found 300' east of her home hiding under a parked car…had been there approx. 4 hours during winter months in her pajama shorts and no shirt.

75 year old woman with Alzheimer's walked away from her north Phx home at approx. 2200 hours after an argument with her husband. (Sept. 2006)
Woman did not return so 911 was called early the next morning. As search teams (dogs and handlers) were searching the nearby golf course and side yards of homes a man 6 doors down approached one of our teams. He told us the missing woman was in his Mom's living room. She had apparently asked to spend the night with these neighbors and was returned home to her family by Phx PD.

13 year old girl ran away from home after drinking with friends. (2007)
Girl had been partying and ran away through the back gate of her home near 27th Ave. and Indian School. Phx PD's missing persons called for assistance in searching the neighborhood and the family residence. Girl found walking in an alley approx. ? mile from home. She may have been dropped off in this area by friends.

Assisted Avondale PD with a neighborhood search for a 6 year old boy. (Feb. 2008)
Mom stated boy was playing in the front yard and when she went to bring him inside she realized he was missing. Boy had actually been left at a mall in Phx and was in the custody of Phx PD. When Phx PD saw the story on the 10:00 PM news they called Avondale.

Deployed with AZ-TF1 to Gustav and Ike Atlantic Hurricanes (Sept. 2008)       Conducted search and rescue activities throughout Texas and US Gulf Region. Primary search activities centered on Galveston Island.

3 year old boy missing when playing at a paper recycling plant. (Dec. 2008)
Father worked at the plant and had returned during evening hours to pick up his wallet. Children were allowed to play in the plant yard and 3 year old son did not return with other siblings. Child found safe at the bottom of a 30' high x 75' long stack of baled and compressed paper.