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Our Team


OVSARDA dog teams are certified, and re-certified annually, to Canadian police agency standards. Within Ontario, our mission-ready teams have been certified through testing by the staff at the Ontario Provincial Police K9 Academy. Several of our teams have also certified to those standards required by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Alberta).

Every operational OVSARDA dog team is required to be both trained and certified in both air scent and tracking. An air scenting dog may work on or off leash. He quarters back and forth across a search area, under the direction of his handler. When he locates a missing person, he is taught to indicate by barking or jumping on his handler.

A tracking dog will follow a given person's scent trail through woods and fields, urban settings and wilderness, until he locates the person. He will indicate all track related scent items along the way i.e. discarded gloves or hats, candy wrappers, etc. Each track is different, so success depends on many factors such as the age of the track, the weather conditions, or the amount of traffic in the area. (For an example, see the search report for Aylmer Nov. 1999).

Certified teams also are required to pass tests of evidence search, obedience, agility and non-aggression.

OVSARDA also trains dogs in a number of specialties.

  • Water Search - These dogs are able to search bodies of water, either from shore, while swimming or most commonly from a boat, and detect the scent rising from a body below the surface (For an example, see the search report for Elliott Lake Aug. 1999)

  • Disaster Search - A disaster dog is trained to search rubble or collapsed structures. Disaster dogs are often used after earthquakes, tornadoes or explosions. This kind of search dog requires advanced agility and directional skills, as well as the universally accepted Bark alert. OVSARDA teams have certified to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards.

  • Cadaver Search - A cadaver dog is trained to locate human remains. This might mean the intact body of a recently deceased subject, or disarticulated remains, scattered through animal activity or other means. Dogs are trained to locate and indicate human tissue, blood and bone. OVSARDA teams must certify to North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) standards.


All OVSARDA dogs are non-aggressive towards humans. Temperament and suitability for SAR work are constantly being assessed, both formally and informally.


OVSARDA handlers are trained first and foremost to be ground searchers. During the period when the handler's dog is in training, handlers are required to respond to search call-outs as regular ground pounders, walking a line or assisting in base camp. Basic handler training conforms with the Ontario Provincial Police standard for volunteer GSAR personnel, and includes the following:

  • Map and compass

  • First Aid/CPR

  • Crime Scene Protection

  • Radio Communications Procedures

  • Incident Command System

  • Survival

By the time a handler and his dog are Mission Ready, handlers will also be well versed in:

  • Scent Theory

  • Search Planning

  • K9 First Aid

  • Search Management

  • Lost Person Behaviour



I have a dog. He likes to sniff. Would he be a good SAR dog?

SAR dogs have several basic characteristics - a love of people, the ability to play for hours on end, stamina and endurance. Some folks say that a SAR dog should also be a natural retriever. The dog must be physically sound and capable of hours upon hours of work. Given that you will likely spend 2-3 years training the dog before attaining Mission Ready status, it is highly preferable to start with a puppy or a young dog. Physical characteristics include a medium size (50-80lbs) and, for SAR in Ontario and most of Canada, a double coat. Some common SAR dog breeds include the German Shepherd, the Golden Retriever, the Labrador Retriever, the Border Collie, and the Belgian Sheepdog.


What does it take to train a SAR dog?

An excellent question! The handler is, by far, the more critical component to a search dog team. You can start with the best dog possible but, if the handler does not have the commitment to work 10 hours or more a week, the ability to objectively identify strengths and weaknesses in himself and his dog, and the know-how to design exercises and training plans that address those weaknesses, the team will simply not measure up. Handlers need to be good dog trainers, as well as outdoorsmen.


I don't have a dog, but I would like to help out. What can I do?

If you want to help but don't want to go on searches, OVSARDA needs people to handle search statistics accumulation, public relations, finance and fundraising, equipment maintenance, to name a few.

We are also always on the look-out for volunteer victims. We need to train our dogs to find anybody, not just people they know. Volunteer victims may be used in either a training or an evaluation scenario. The victim would normally be walked into position, and would simply stay put for as little as 5 minutes, or as much as 6 hours while the dog works the problem. Sleeping bags and foam mattresses, a thermos, bug spray and a bug jacket, and a good book are often all that is needed. Transportation can often be provided. Just call us to volunteer, at 613-667-9948.


Why shouldn't I be a SAR dog handler?

Training a dog for SAR takes a complete and total commitment. For starters, you will need to invest 10 or more hours a week. Only a portion of this is spent working your dog. You will also have to hide for other people while your dog waits in the car. Don't forget, you'll also need to leave your family and go out for winter survival exercises, or weekend search exercises. On average, 10 times a year, you will be called at 1 a.m. to deploy to a search. Or at 9 a.m. and will have to leave work to do it. You may need to take a day of vacation in order to go. And more often than not, you'll arrive just as the missing person is located in the local pub.

You will buy, and use, more insect repellent in the first year than you thought you'd go through in a lifetime - then you'll buy a bug shirt. That's in addition to the $1000-1500 you'll need to spend to get the basic SAR kit. That's in addition to the gas it will take you to drive to the assorted training areas several days every week. You will be out in the woods, hiding and training, during snow storms, rain storms, intense heat, freezing cold and darkness. You and your dog will get sprayed by skunks, and maybe quilled by porcupines.

You will get tense and uptight with every evaluation. You will be frustrated and disappointed when your dog fails. You will begin to understand why only 1 dog team in 100 make the grade.

If you honestly read all of the above and were excited by the challenge, you may be the kind of person we are looking for. You may be one of the weird ones who looks outside at a blizzard and says, I wonder how my dog will react in these conditions?, and goes out and trains. You may be one of the crazy ones who will climb a tree or crawl into a rickety old building, because you've been asked to hide there. You may be one of the masochistic ones who, when your dog jumps up, breaks your glasses and bloodies your nose when he indicates, manages to spurt out with honestly and with feeling, "Good Boy!!!!!!"


I want to join as a handler. How do I go about it?

Handler candidates are first required to attend 3 team training sessions, typically held on Sunday mornings, without their dog. This gives the candidate an opportunity to meet the team, learn about the commitment required to train a SAR dog, and determine if the team is a good match.  If still interested, candidates can pay a $100 assessment fee and continue to Phase II:  3 more team training sessions, where their dog does attend and is integrated into the training plan for the day.   If the candidate then wishes to do so, they can submit their application for membership in the team.

Note that no dog over 3 yrs of age will be considered.

This application is then reviewed by the entire OVSARDA team. Candidates are assessed by many criteria but the most important are commitment and potential. Commitment might be demonstrated by frequent attendance at Sunday work-outs, by an individual pursuing certification in First Aid, CPR, or wilderness navigation, by the purchase of books and the number of good (but annoying!) questions they ask. Potential relates to the age of the dog, whether he has the basic characteristics of a search dog, temperament, and the fitness of the team.

Only selected teams will be invited to join OVSARDA as probationary members. Now, the pressure really begins. The candidate will be given a checklist of goals he must attain within 3 months. They all relate to the human half of the team, and include following a senior handler on a 30 minute air scent problem, then setting up a similar problem for another handler; reading a SAR dog training book; starting a log; signing up for a first aid course; assembling the required 24 hour pack. More training checklists will follow. Once the probationary period has been successfully completed, the dog and handler become full (though not yet Mission Ready) members of the team.

Membership is a privilege, not an entitlement. The word volunteer does not necessarily equate with the word democracy. If at any time, the conduct of a dog and/or handler reflects badly on OVSARDA, they can be removed from the team.

Have you lost your pet?

OVSARDA dogs are trained to detect and pursue human scent only. They are trained to ignore all animal scents at all times. As such, OVSARDA dog teams cannot assist you in your search for a missing pet.

​​Looking to help make a difference? Contact us to get more information today!

Rather give us a call? We can be reached at 613-667-9948.


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