Prospective Members

Dear Prospective CARDA® Member

To make our training run as smoothly and with as few misunderstandings as possible, and to perhaps answer a few questions you may have, we have provided some necessary information about CARDA as well as some general guidelines about training with us here at our local CARDA group.

Be sure to read ALL FAQs. 

Still interested in joining us? Please fill out the District Inquiry form.

    What is CARDA?

    CARDA is the California Rescue Dog Association, Inc., a 501(c)3 volunteer search and rescue (SAR) dog organization. We are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to assist Law Enforcement Agencies and other public safety agencies – local, statewide, nationwide and even worldwide. CARDA is not a sports club where dogs earn titles. We train, certify, and deploy handler-dog teams to assist law enforcement in the search for missing persons.

    How can I join CARDA?

    Prospective members start by contacting CARDA. A CARDA district representative who will contact you to answer questions and discuss your interest and suitability for K9 SAR work.  District representatives refer suitable candidates to CARDA local training groups in their region. New prospective members may observe and participate in CARDA training for up to 120 days as a guest.  You will find out if CARDA is suitable for you and your dog. To join CARDA and get on track to deployable status, you must be sponsored by one Mission Ready/Active member as a Pre-Apprentice member.  We require that you train with us as a Pre-Apprentice member on a regular basis, typically 2-3 times a week, for 4 to 12 months.   Your sponsor will be evaluating your interest and commitment as well as your dog’s temperament and progress. As a CARDA member, you will be covered by workers compensation insurance only during official CARDA training sessions. You will also have an opportunity to work with CARDA handlers in one or more training groups and get to know them. It will give you some idea of the time commitment and amount of work required to become a SAR handler. We will help you in the initial training of you and your dog as a search team. After the Pre-Apprentice training period, you may apply for Apprentice member status. To advance to becoming an Apprentice, you must be sponsored by two Mission Ready/Active handlers, who will accept the responsibility of helping you become a Mission Ready team.

    What kind of dog can I train for SAR?

    There are numerous breeds of dogs that are capable of doing SAR work, though most are from working-bred lines of the working, herding or sporting breeds. Some breeds are more suitable than others. Not all breeds of dogs and not all dogs within a breed have the drive, temperament, or physical ability to do the work required. Dogs at the extreme ends of the size range, i.e. very small or very large, tend not to be suited for this work. The dog does not have to be a purebred, though you can have the advantage with a pedigreed dog to look at the parents as a guideline for temperament and working ability. If you don’t already have a dog, a good idea is to come out to official CARDA trainings to observe different breeds before you make up your mind. Talk to different people about the pros and cons of their breed in doing search work. Certain breeds may have inherent traits and talents that make them either easier or more difficult to train for SAR work than other breeds. If you are set on a specific breed, you will almost always be better off buying from a working line and not a show or pet line. Ask CARDA members for their recommendations for breeders. Investigate genetic diseases of the breed and make sure you get your dog from a line that has had minimal or no health problems, from parents tested free of the common genetic diseases in that breed. A reputable breeder should be able to answer any questions you have about health problems, temperament, and working ability. You don’t want to put years of hard work into training a dog just to find out later that it is not capable of doing the work due to a genetically-linked disease, inappropriate temperament, or inadequate working abilities. You want to start with a dog that has as much potential as possible to do the work.

    Do I have to start with a puppy?

    You do not have to start with a puppy, but search dogs are usually in training by 2-years of age.  One of the advantages of training a puppy is that it will most likely have an extended working career. Younger dogs may not have acquired unsuitable habits or behaviors that may have to be untrained. You can also often train desirable behaviors into a puppy more readily versus an older dog.

    Can I train more than one dog at the same time for SAR?

    It takes a great deal of time and commitment training even one dog for SAR work. Pre-apprentices and Apprentices may only train one dog in CARDA.  If you have more than one dog, we can help you evaluate which dog would make a better candidate for SAR work.

    How long will the training take?

    You should plan for 2 – 3 years to train your dog and to gain the skills you need to become Mission Ready Team.

    What skills will I need to learn?

    You must take an approved First Aid and CPR course from the American Red Cross or approved equivalent. You must become proficient in the use of map, compass, and GPS as well as radio communications. Other required training includes wilderness survival, scent theory, ropes, patient packaging, low-angle rescue, man-tracking, the incident command system, and helicopter safety. Previous outdoor experience would be beneficial.  There are official CARDA monthly training workouts throughout the state to help you fulfill these requirements. Others you may satisfy through seminars offered by other Search and Rescue organizations or organizations like the local American Red Cross.

    What must I train my dog to do?

    The training your dog receives will be somewhat dependent on which basic certification you choose, either area search or a trailing. However, all dogs must be well socialized, and agile enough to negotiate obstacles in the wilderness and disaster rubble safely. The dog must be able to swim. You and your dog will learn how to get in and out of a helicopter. You may achieve specialty certification in other disciplines such as cadaver or water searches after you are mission ready in either area search or trailing. However, all dogs must begin as area search or trailing search dogs. You will find that there are different ways to get the same results with training. Start with one method of training, and stay with it, unless you discover it is impossible to attain your goals. If you switch from one method to another, your dog may get confused and not be able to learn the needed skills. If you have never trained a dog before, it is helpful to read a good basic dog training book that explains how dogs learn. You must take a basic obedience class on your own. Believe it or not, the most challenging aspect of training a dog is always to remember that dogs think like dogs, not like humans. Most training problems can be traced to the handler forgetting this basic principle and trying to get the dog to do something it doesn’t or can’t understand. When you start training, you must keep a training log of all sessions for you and your dog. You can see the progress of your dog as well as identify any problems or difficulties that may arise. Most of what you will learn about training your dog will come from actual training sessions as well as input from fellow members and especially the training sponsors. However, your ultimate success will mostly be determined by the amount of time and effort you put in. At a training session, don’t let your dog run around loose unless it is working. If other dogs are tied up or under any obedience command, don’t let your dog bother them. Some dogs will naturally protect their vehicle or the area where they are tied! Above all, your dog must learn to be very obedient and should always be under your control!

    Is this time consuming?

    YES! Expect to train 2-3 times a week (including night training) for 2-3 years with local CARDA training groups. You can do some practice on your own, but there is no substitute for training with your local group, even after you are Mission Ready. Some groups have attendance requirements. An official CARDA monthly workout usually takes place one weekend of each month in varying locations. You are expected to attend as many as possible during your training. Attendance at 6 CARDA monthly workouts is required as “sign-offs” before becoming field qualified. When you become a certified Mission Ready team, you will still need to continue to train regularly to keep your basic skills sharp, and you need to recertify every 1 to 2 years. Callouts for actual searches tend to occur in the middle of the night. Searches are in your county or other nearby counties, but they can be in other areas in the state. Though you are not required to go on all searches, we are on call all day and night every day of the year. Most requests for canine search teams come through local agencies. If you are interested in searching for CARDA, it is best to locate a SAR team that is affiliated with the Sheriff’s Department in your county and join that team. The most effective dog handlers today are searchers first, and dog handlers second.

    Is this expensive?

    It can be expensive. We are all volunteer. We purchase our uniforms, equipment, and gas. Travel to and from training and searches can run over 10,000 miles a year. If you do not have backpacking equipment, you will need to purchase it before you are mission ready. The cost range of equipment is from $2000 to $3000 in the first year. Also, many members buy an off-road capable vehicle for SAR. Additional veterinary expenses might be incurred. When mission ready we are expected to respond to a search equipped to be self-sufficient in the field for three days.

    Some final comments

    One thing you must realize is that we are all here to help each other in our training. CARDA is not a club. We will help you and your dog get the training, instruction, and advice you need to become Mission Ready. You can help your fellow CARDA members (and are expected to) by being a “subject” for our dogs during training sessions. If you have some expertise to share with the group, please let us know. There will be training in all kinds of weather. Training sessions are the time to try out your outdoor gear, not on a real search in the backcountry. Searches are common in rainy and stormy weather, so good raingear is very important. If you are asked to participate in a longer search training session (e.g., being a “subject” for up to 4 hours) please bring proper gear and clothing for the weather. Being cold and wet for several hours is no fun and possibly dangerous. Proper clothing, a ground cloth, a sleeping bag, and enough food and water can make a training session or test “subject” a more pleasant experience. It is very valuable to walk with different Mission Ready Teams (as well as other less experienced members) in their training sessions to watch them work. You can learn a lot by observing and asking questions. We are always willing to share what we know with you, and often your observations and questions help us too. A word on physical fitness: If you have any disease or a physical handicap or problem, it is best to consult with your physician to make sure they approve of this activity. You need to be physically fit and healthy. Searches can potentially last up to 8 hours a day for several days and located in areas of very rough terrain with inclement weather. There is also the possibility of having to spend the night out in the wilderness during a search. Mental, as well as physical fitness, is a must. Remember, on a search, you are there to help find subjects, not become a victim yourself. The CARDA Fitness Test must be completed during your Pre-Apprenticeship and every two years. The CARDA fitness hike consists of an 8-mile hike with a 20 lb. Search pack, exclusive of water, in 3.5 hours or less (Type 3) or 3.0 hours or less (Type 2).

    Your Role as a CARDA Pre-Apprentice Member

    The Pre-Apprentice Membership period is like dating:

    • One feels out whether his/her dog can do search and rescue
    • One can explore the different aspects of CARDA training
    • One can see if s/he “fits in” to the training group
    • There is NO COMMITMENT ON EITHER SIDE to continue to an Apprentice membership

    The Pre-Apprentice Member has these advantages:

    • Is welcome at CARDA trainings and events all over the state
    • Will get the CARDA newsletter and minutes
    • Is covered at CARDA training events by Workers Compensation

    A Pre-Apprentice Member:

    • Pays dues and an application fee
    • May not get required skills signed off
    • Does not have voting rights in CARDA
    • May not go on searches as a CARDA member

    The Pre-Apprentice period is a limited time:

    • The Pre-Apprentice must complete a CARDA fitness hike within 90 days
    • Time starts when the Board approves the Pre-apprenticeship
    • After one year the Pre-Apprentice must become an Apprentice (need two sponsors), or their membership will expire
    Final Points to consider before you decide to train!
    • A serious long-term commitment is mandatory.
    • If you are interested in advanced dog training but are not ready to make a long-term commitment to training yourself and your dog 2-3 times a week over a period of years, or you are more interested in dog training accomplishments than searching for missing people, then we suggest you investigate dog sports such as agility, flyball, obedience, field trials, hunt tests, protection sports, nosework, or tracking. 100% support from your family is required.
    • Your search area may be steep, brushy, muddy, covered with poison oak or snow, etc.
    • Are you afraid to go out in the woods at night with just your dog and maybe one other searcher?
    • Are you afraid of snakes, ticks, spiders – or more significant “residents” of the woods?
    • A positive attitude, confidence in your abilities, self-reliance, and being able to evaluate if you are capable of doing “the search” are musts.
    • You might drive several hours to a search, and when you get there learn that the subject has already been found, so you drive home without being deployed.
    • You must be ready to deal with finding deceased subjects.
    • Searches are a team effort, with many trained individuals (sometimes hundreds) with different skill sets and roles coming together for a common purpose — to find the missing person.
    • At any given search, there is a very low likelihood that you and your dog will find the missing person.
    • If you cannot find satisfaction in being part of a broader team effort, in making your best effort at searching and in the success of the overall mission rather than your own personal accomplishments or those of your dog, then search and rescue is not for you.
    • You may not know when you will return home.
    • Honesty and accepting constructive criticism are necessary.
    • You must be able to accept when your sponsor and/or Traning Group Leader tell you that either your dog or you are not suitable for this volunteer work.
    • A search is a life-critical situation: egos and personal prejudices have no place in this.
    • There are always potentials for risks to you and your dog.