Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces are supported by highly trained canines and canine handlers. All of FEMA's US&R task forces have canine/handler teams, nearly all of which are certified in urban search-and-rescue strategies and techniques.
Each canine/handler team must pass rigorous national certification in urban search and rescue. Canine/handler teams must be re-certified at least every two years in order to participate in search and rescue operations.
For the handler, certification includes written and verbal tests regarding search-and-rescue strategies, briefing and debriefing skills, and canine handling skills.
For the search-and-rescue canine, certification includes proper command control, agility skills, barking alert skills to notify rescuers of a find, and willingness to overcome innate fears of tunnels and wobbly surfaces under the guidance of the handler.
There are two levels of certification for search-and-rescue canine/handler teams:
- Basic certification (Type 2) requires the search animal to perform to specific standards under the handler's direct supervision and guidance
- Advanced certification (Type 1) requires the search animal to perform to those standards outside the direct supervision and guidance of the handler, and to successfully search more difficult rescue simulation courses
It takes years of training for a search dog to reach basic certification. Many good search dogs never receive advance certification.