How to Train Your Border Collie for Search and Rescue

Medium
2-4 Months
Work

Introduction

Border Collies have great speed and agility. They are eager and willing to learn and have a sense of smell far stronger than a human's. They are also one of the most intelligent breeds of dog, which makes them perfect for training to be a search and rescue dog.

When there are reports of a missing person, dogs are a great starting point for the search and rescue teams. They will be able to pick up on a scent much sooner than a human can pick up tracks of them. Well trained dogs and their handlers set off on foot usually where the missing person was last seen and will try to trace a trail of scent to find them. They will be able to cover a wide variety of terrains and large areas of ground quickly and efficiently.

Defining Tasks

Training a Border Collie to search and rescue is much easier than training other breeds of dog, however, this doesn’t mean it will be easy. You should start training your dog to search and rescue at around 6 months as long as you have built a strong foundation of obedience training in him. You can start training younger than this, however, it may take you longer to see consistent results as his attention span may be a little short.

At a basic level, search and rescue will start off as a game to a dog and you will need to have instilled a play instinct in yours. You will also need to find an effective incentive for him to start to search for his toys and more importantly, people. Master this training and you will be well on your way to having a professional search and rescue border collie!

Getting Started

If you think your border collie is up to the job of being a search and rescue dog, there are a few things you will need:
  • Treats: These are important to reward your dog for his good work after he successfully makes a find.
  • Toys: Toys such as a tugging rope are great for this kind of training as it enables you to play tug of war and fetch. 
  • Clothing: You will need items of clothing such as socks, gloves, or a t-shirt that you can leave as a trail. 
  • Assistant: You will need an assistant that can hide from the dog. Try to choose a friend or family member that already has a good relationship with your dog.
  • Training Ground: A large area with lots of trees is a good place to start training. The trees will provide a good hiding place for your assistant as the dog will not be able to see them and will have to use their sense of smell.
Once you have these key things, you are ready to start your training.

The Game Method

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Step
1
Make it fun
You will need to turn searching into a game for your dog and make it as exciting as you can. Use one of his favorite toys (a rope toy works well for tug games) and start to play tug and pull with him.
Step
2
Learn to fetch
Now encourage your dog to fetch the toy and bring it back to you. If he hasn’t done this before, you may need to throw the toy away from you and run with him to retrieve it. Use an encouraging and positive tone of voice. Border collies have a natural instinct to chase and should pick up fetching a toy very quickly.
Step
3
Play tug of war
When you get to the toy, pick it up and start playing tug with him again. When he picks up the toy, give him lots of praise and make a fuss of him. You can also give him a treat if you want to.
Step
4
Fetch
Throw the toy away from you to make your dog chase and bring back the toy. When he comes back to you with it, give him lots of praise. Repeat this step until he gets the hang of it.
Step
5
Hide the toy
Ask your Border Collie to sit and stay while you go and hide the toy. Once it is hidden, use a vocal command to “search” and ask him to retrieve the toy. Now that your dog has mastered searching for his toy, you are now ready to teach him to search for people.
Recommend training method?

The Leave A Trail Method

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Step
1
Introduce your assistant
As this is your dog’s first time searching for a person, you will need to introduce them first.
Step
2
Scent
Have your assistant wear a few items of clothing for an hour so that their scent can be smelled on the items.
Step
3
Smell
Now its time for your assistant to greet your dog and make a fuss over him. They should hold items of clothing that they have been wearing in their hands and encourage the dog to smell them and get to know their scent.
Step
4
Leave a trail
Now that your dog knows your assistant’s scent, have your helper hide. Your assistant should drop items of clothing they have worn along the way. Have them drop all the items until they reach their hiding place.
Step
5
Introduce a command
Give your Border Collie a verbal command such as “search” and start to lead him along to the first item of dropped clothing. When you get to the first item, pick it up and praise your dog.
Step
6
Repeat
Continue to follow the trail of dropped items with your dog, praising him each time until you reach your hidden assistant. Once he has found them, be sure to give him lots of praise and a treat!
Recommend training method?

The Hide A Person Method

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Step
1
The challenge
Now that your dog has learned to follow a scent trail, its time to make it more challenging for him.
Step
2
Play
Have your assistant play with your dog and make lots of fuss over him. Use his rope toy to play tug of war and get him excited and energized.
Step
3
Stay
You will now need to wait with your dog while your assistant goes to hide. Give him the command to 'sit' and 'stay' while your assistant disappears out of sight to hide.
Step
4
Start to search
Once they are hidden, use your vocal command “search“ with an encouraging and enthusiastic voice and point away from you.
Step
5
Find
Start to move in the direction of where your assistant has gone to hide. Use the vocal command “search” repeatedly until your dog hopefully finds your assistant. The first few times he may need leading to them however with time and practice, he will eventually learn to search them alone.
Step
6
Reward
Be sure to reward your Border Collie with treats and lots of praise when he has performed his search well.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Néw puppy
Border Collie
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Néw puppy
Border Collie
8 Weeks

I am going to purchase s border collie puppy. I have been up and visited the puppies and Thursday I am going up to make my choice. Do you have any advice on the sex of the dog? Male versus female, or is their any preference for S&R. Bev. (916) 316-1737

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Beverly, That depends mostly on whether or not you plan to spay or neuter. If you plan to spray or neuter, then both sexes in Border Collies make equally good candidates for Search and Rescue work, and it will simply come down to the individual temperament and train-ability of the specific puppy. If you plan to keep the puppy intact, then a male will have a tendency to wander more, which can cause issues for search and rescue work, but does not make it impossible by any means with thorough training. A female will tend to be more moody, especially while in heat, and will be unusable as a search and rescue dog surrounding her heat cycle, which can last for three weeks two times per year. She will probably only bleed for one week but she can attract males and be fertile for as long as three weeks. Both males and females can make equally wonderful search and rescue dogs. Neither is usually a better choice than the other in that particular breed. I suggest choosing based on the individual puppy's temperament and train-ability. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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