Canada’s Disaster Search Canine Certification

Canine search specialist teams are an integral component of each of Canada’s four Heavy Urban Search and Rescue (HUSAR) teams. These specialist K9 teams, consisting of a handler and dog, must meet and maintain Canada’s Disaster Search Canine Certification standard. Let’s take a look at what’s in the standard.

The Canadian standard is divided into two parts, each of which contains a number of separate elements and required skills:

  • Level 1 (Basic) Certification
  • Level 2 (Advanced) Certification

The Level I certification includes the following elements:

  • Obedience
  • Bark alert
  • Agility
  • Rubble pile search

Although its inclusion has been discussed several times, there is no separate directional element in the Canadian standard. However, directability is a performance criteria in both levels of assessment.

The wearing of a collar and/or search vest is at the discretion of each team.

The obedience element includes the following required skills:

  • Non-aggressive to stranger (stranger unties canine)
  • Non-aggressive to dogs (loose leash heel in a figure 8 pattern around two sitting dogs
  • Off-leash heeling (right turn, left turn, about turn, halt, change of pace)
  • Emergency stop (down on recall)
  • Long down/stay with handler out of sight (5 minutes)

The bark alert element includes the following required skills, utilizing a bark barrel or similar set up:

  • 30 second alert with continuous barking (minimum six barks)
  • dog stays at location
  • handler does not communicate with dog

The agility element includes the following required skills:

  • dog completes at least 5 of 6 obstacles, including the 4 mandatory obstacles (45 degree ladder, elevated plank, unsteady surface, and tunnel)
  • dog demonstrates slow, stop, and turn on any obstacle
  • dog precedes handler

The rubble pile search integrates the other elements into a simulated deployment in a realistic disaster environment. Some of the required elements include:

  • responsiveness of the dog to handler control and direction
  • independent searching by the dog
  • commitment of the dog to each scent source
  • focused bark alert on each of two victims with no more than one false alert

The team has 15 minutes to search the rubble pile for the two victims. The handler cannot access the rubble pile until the dog has indicated on the first victim.

A Level 1 certification is valid for 15 months. A team does not need to recertify at Level 1 if they achieve a Level 2 certification during that period. A team must successfully certify at Level 1 before attempting Level 2.

The Level 2 evaluation consists of a single element – Disaster Search Operations. The assessment involves the search of two separate sites. The sites may simulate a total structural collapse, partial structural collapse, or an intact building and area search. At least one of the sites will include distractions. There will be a total of 4-6 victims (1-3 victims per site). The handler does not know the number of victims at each site. The team has 20 minutes per site. Teams must have no false alerts and can only miss one victim. Victim placements are often pre-tested by a certified dog to ensure a fair evaluation.

A Level 2 certification is valid for 15 months. A team does not need to recertify at Level 1 if they recertify at Level 2 during that period. A team must be certified at both levels before being deployed operationally.