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Thank you for your interest in Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S.!

You are very welcome to visit one of our training sessions, see what we do and walk along with some of our dog teams. We will be happy to answer your questions.  Wear sturdy long pants, hiking boots and dress for the weather.  We are out at least four hours and usually six or more, so bring plenty of water, too.

Please email us before you come, just in case we have a last-minute site change. (We ask that you do not bring your dog with you the first few visits).

For all the nitty gritty details, including full requirements and suggested equipment list, please see below.

We hope to see you soon!

General Handler and K9 Requirements

All new K9 handlers must start as air scent teams. We encourage you to focus on air scent in general, since it is the core specialty of the team.  After gaining an initial qualification in either of this discipline, handlers may (and are encouraged to) pursue one or more specialty disciplines such as water search, human remains detection and disaster first responder.

Intensive time commitment.

MA/D generally trains as a unit on Sundays with one Saturday night a quarter for 6-8 hours at each session. You should also plan on another 4 to 10 hours a week training on your own and meeting informally with other members of the unit. Training locations vary over the entire area that we cover (Northern Virginia and Central Maryland primarily). This training takes place year round in all weather. In addition, most members take at least one weekend or longer training course in a search and rescue specialty per year. After you are trained and certified as “operational,” training continues to keep you and your dog in top shape. You are required to attend 75% of the formal training sessions while training to become operational, and 33% of the sessions after being certified as “operational.”

Personal financial cost.

We are a non-profit volunteer organization, which means that you pay all of your own expenses, including gear, required equipment and transportation. MA/D does provide radios, pagers,
some reimbursement to operational teams for mileage to and from searches, and some reimbursement for outside specialized training. However, costs to the member can run up to several thousand dollars each year. Required equipment includes backpacks, uniforms, hiking boots, navigation equipment, rain gear, sleeping bag, wear and tear on your vehicle, gasoline, etc. All of your equipment must be purchased prior to your becoming operational. Because this is a volunteer organization, many of your expenses may be tax deductible.

Physical and Mental Fitness.

You definitely need to be both physically fit and healthy!  Searches can be located in areas of very rough terrain with inclement weather. Your search area may be steep, brushy, swampy, snowy, covered with poison ivy or inhabited by bees, ticks, and mosquitoes. We train in areas with these same conditions.  There is also the possibility of having to spend the night out in the wilderness during a search. There are potential risks to both you and your dog, including tick-borne diseases and injury. You must also be psychologically ready to deal with finding deceased subjects. Not all missing persons are found well and alive.

Applicant Process

STEP ONE – Initial contact and observation

 Contact MA/D’s Membership Coordinator to arrange date and time to attend a MA/D training session
 Attend several MA/D training sessions WITHOUT YOUR DOG
 Meet MA/D members, ask questions, walk with operational handlers on area search, and participate as ‘subject’

STEP TWO – Submission of application

Obtain applications from MA/D’s Membership Coordinator.
Submit the completed application package to MA/D’s Applicant Review Coordinator. A completed package includes:
Completed and signed application for person and application for canine

$50 check or money order

(We are required by requesting agencies to run background checks on all our volunteers.)
Statement, 100 words or less, why you would like to join Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S.
Copy of Canine Good Citizen Certificate (if dog is less than 1 year of age, CGC is not required in the applicant stage but will be required prior to proceeding to trainee member)
Copy of Vet record to show the dog’s current vaccination. Your dog should undergo a complete physical to ensure that it is physically fit and able to do the job before him.

STEP THREE – Review and Evaluation
Within 30 days from receipt of a completed application package MA/D’s Applicant Review Coordinator will:

Review the application package;
Conduct an interview;
Contact references; and

Evaluate the canine as to its potential for SAR.

The results and recommendations will be forwarded to Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S. Board of Directors.  The Applicant will be notified if their application has been accepted or rejected.
During the entire applicant process, we encourage you to continue to attend MA/D training sessions. This will enable you to begin learning the handler skills needed.  You may not bring your dog until after the canine evaluation and after you have been advised that your application has been accepted.

Training and Certification

The applicant period takes 3-6 months. The Board of Directors (BOD) votes on applicants to determine suitability of the team after the team has attended 12 full training sessions and upon the successful completion a basic trail evaluation described below. The BOD, considers both the handler and the dog’s performance during training, This vote requires a majority of the Board.
K9 teams must obtain operational status within 24 months of being voted in as a trainee, barring illness or other event that temporary interferes with SAR training. To qualify as an operational member, the team must meet all of the designed requirements. Again, the BOD will vote on the team for operational status.  This vote requires a majority vote of the Board.

These standards are designed to ensure that a MA/D K9 teams are capable and competent. They must be capable of performing the task given to them anytime of the year, day or night, and in all weather conditions experienced in the Mid-Atlantic States.  Any person requesting an exception to any of the requirements must submit their request in writing to the Board of Directors for review and approval.  All evaluations are on a Pass / Fail basis and under the guidance of the Standards Committee. During an evaluation, no pinch, electronic (i.e. shock) or other type of correctional collar can be worn.

General Requirements

1. Training Attendance – Must meet the attendance requirements set forth in MA/D’s Training Policy (trainees 75% and operational members 50%).
2. Background check – must submit for review a current criminal history records check performed by a law enforcement agency.
3.Search Team Member (STM) : Virginia offers the STM course for free annually. 
4. Public Relations – Must attend and participate in a minimum of three demo / presentations during the past year. Approval to attend with a dog, prior to passing the obedience and temperament requirements, is at the discretion of the PR Chairman and Standards Officer.
5. Medical – Must have a current certification in Basic First Aid and Wilderness First Aid or Advanced 1st Aid or higher; CPR (adult, child & infant); and Blood borne Pathogens. MA/D generally offers such training annually.
6. Lectures – Must attend lectures / courses that cover the topics set forth below along with any others designated mandatory. These include:

Canine 1st Aid
Critical Incident Stress
Documentation / Reports / Records
Equipment / Gear*
Helicopter Operations & Safety Issues
Haz-Mat Awareness**
Incident Command System**
K-9 Learning Principals / Operant Conditioning
Land Navigation*
Legal Aspects of SAR*
Lost Person Characteristics*
MA/D Organization
National Incident Management System**
National Response Plan**
Public Relations
Radio Communication
Radio Care & Maintenance
SAR Etiquette
Scent Transport Theory
Scene Preservation
Search Resources*
Search Strategy / Tactics
7. Several of the topics (*) are sufficiently covered in the Virginia Search Team Member course to meet MA/D’s requirements. In addition, several of the courses (**) are web based and offered on-line.
8. Survival Skills – Must attend a survival lecture and successfully demonstrate the skills during a “survival night” exercise. While the lecture portion is sufficiently covered in both the Fundamentals of Search and Rescue and the Field Team Member courses, we require the member to participate in MA/D’s survival night practical.
9. National Incident Management System (NIMS) Online Training and Examinations – Must complete and pass IS-100, IS-200, IS-700 and IS-800.  See for information.
10. Written Exam – Must pass a comprehensive written test containing questions representative of the general requirements with a score of at least 80%.
11. Records – Must maintain a training log.
12. Search Proficiency – Members must display and demonstrate proficiency in a series of field evaluations (see Evaluations below).


K9 teams must also pass a number of field and K9 evaluations. These are all described in detail in MA/D Standards posted in the files section on our Yahoo Group. Forms are also located at this site.
1. General Obedience – 5-minute down stay, heel, drop-on-recall, recall
2. Temperament Test – Greet another K9 team on heel, tie-out, K9 tie-out approached within 10 feet by another dog team, K9 moved by another team member to a second tie-out location, team loads in a truck with at least two other dog teams. No aggressive behavior is permitted. Aggressive dog behavior is defined under Virginia Standards for Air Scent Search Dog Teams as “Biting or lunging and growling at people or other controlled animals.”
3. Agility Test – Jump to truck bed, ladder, walk across suspended board (min 3 feet), tunnel.
4. Trail Evaluation – Trail – involves a path, trail or logging road approximately one-half mile. There will be one subject who shall be approximately 20 feet from the trail. The primary purpose of this
evaluation is to demonstrate that the dog understands the concept of “Go Search”, has subject commitment, and has the potential to achieve operational status. While the trained indication is not required, the handler must be able to “read” their dog to determine when the subject is located.
5. 40-acre Night Evaluation – 40 Acre Night – an area of approximately 40 acres composed of mostly woods with defined boundaries. There shall be one subject. 2 hours maximum time limit.
6. 160-acre Day Evaluation – 160 Acre – an area of approximately 160 acres composed of mostly woods with varied terrain. There shall be two or three subjects; the actual number of subjects will be unknown to the handler. 2 hours minimum and 6 hours maximum time limit.
7. Re-certification every 2 years – an area of approximately 40 to 60 acres composed of mostly woods with varied terrain. One sector border must be undefined (not a natural or man-made border but instead be a compass bearing). There shall be zero to three subjects; the actual number of subjects will be unknown to the handler. 3 hours maximum time limit.

Once the team has reached operational status, outside evaluations are encouraged. MA/D members certify in K9 specialties across a range of national certifying organizations.

Basic Equipment

This list is intended only to help prepare you to attend trainings during the applicant process. We do not expect (nor advocate) you buy specialized equipment until you are further into the training process. The Virginia  Search Team Member (STM) course materials contain detailed information about equipment you are expected to have as a member of a SAR organization.


Appropriate clothing and footwear for all varieties of weather. NO COTTON.
Water (1-2 quarts)
Food (for the day)

Handheld GPS or cellphone application (with spare batteries/power supply)
Whistle (plastic, no pea)
Small notebook and pen (and plastic bag to protect them)
Personal first aid kit
Personal hygiene kit
Headlamp and flashlight (always have a spare light)
Leather gloves
Bug spray/sunscreen (as appropriate)
Spare socks and shoes in your vehicle

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