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Our K9 Partners are Amazing!

We are an all-volunteer 501(c)3 organization. Our volunteers spend their own time and money training, with support from grants and donations. 

Working with Search Dogs

If you’re a dog lover who has never been the partner of a working dog you are missing out on one of life’s most rewarding experiences.  How a dog physically sniffs out a subject, their dedication to the job and their patience with us handlers is truly inspirational.

It takes 100’s of hours to be come an effective K9 search team.  Teaching the dog what you want is the first (and easiest) step.  Teaching a handler how to interpret what their dog is “telling” them as they work a search is a constantly evolving challenge to master.


Humans communicate primarily through vocalization (talking).  Dogs communicate primarily through body language.  Handlers who learn to interpret their dog no matter the time of day, weather, distractions, or surroundings will find themselves most successful in locating missing persons.

We’d like to share some of our limited understanding of how our partners pull of the task of finding a missing subject.


The Nose

Our thanks to TED-ED and Alexandra Horowitz for creating that great animation explaining the basics!

Training the Dog

Training a search dog utilizes their instinctive skills of hunting and scenting.  Handlers then teach their dog in a step-by-step fashion to use those skills to play a really, really, fun game of hide & seek.  Once the dog finds the subject, they get rewarded by several really fun people cheering them, petting them, giving them treats and playing with their most favorite toy.  What’s not to love?

Dogs with a lot of energy, an intense focus on a favorite item and a strong desire to please can make excellent search dogs.

The average time to train a search dog is 18 months.  The bigger the dog the shorter their working life.

Tom sleeping.jpg

Training the Handler

Training the handler is where all the time and hard work takes place.  In addition to forming a partnership with a different species and learning to interpret their behavior, a handler needs many additional skills.

A handler needs to know how to use a radio, navigate by map/compass, survive in wilderness, use a GPS, administer first aid (both dogs & people), coordinate a rescue, plan a search strategy, adapt a search strategy and be able to think on their feet to problem-solve whatever situation might arise.

Handlers work with nationally recognized trainers to gain the skills needed.  Each handler is responsible for determining what kind of training is needed and doing what it takes to get that training.  The unit sponsors a workout every Saturday where skills can be practiced and refined.

Once a handler thinks they have reached a level of proficiency, they can request to be tested for certification (or sleep).

Kitsap County Search Dogs trains and certifies to the standards set by the National Search Dog Alliance.

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