Search Dog Team

Over the years, DSRTP have been very fortunate that some of their dedicated team members have adopted the additional phenomenal responsibility of training up a professional search  and rescue dog.

Search dog Sunny retired in late 2016, search dog Toohey tragically died in September 2017 leaving the team without such a qualified dog.

As of late 2017 there are 2 dogs (Honey and Saoirse) and handlers intensively training several times a week in order that their dogs will be qualified during 2018. These dogs will assist with DSRTP searches, but are also called upon more frequently to assist the emergency services regionally and nationally if required. There are more than 30 such trained dogs nationally according to the Search and Rescue Dog Association

Read the historical messages below from the dogs (and their handlers!), note how thorough and intense the training is to ensure the dogs can perform reliably in the extreme conditions searches are often conducted under.

December 2017 Here is Honey, our 7 and a half year old Labrador training in the Brecon Beacons in early November. She is being trained as a “Trailing” dog rather than more commonly used “Air Scenting” dog. Rob’s previous dog, Toohey who tragically died in September of this year was trained in this discipline which involves the dogs sniffing generic human scent blown on the wind, which enables them to search wide areas of moor and mountain side very quickly and efficiently.

Honey, as a “Trailing” Dog is being trained to follow a specific human scent, with the use of a scent article such as a hat or T shirt belonging to the missing person. She follows this exact trail left on the ground by the subject, starting off with small piles of food left periodically on route as an incentive. She got the message very quickly being a greedy lab! Markers in the form of small flags are also dropped to give the handler an idea of the route to follow.

The long lead, up to 10 metres is used to keep control over the dog, whilst giving them a small amount of freedom to hunt. If she loses the scent, for any reason the handler reals the line in an lets the dog retrace it’s steps to regain the trail direction. Similarly to air scent training, when the dog successfully locates the subject laying on the ground in a camouflage bivvy bag, she then collects her reward; A game with a tennis ball!

Below is a 4 minute video is Honey and Rob’s first “Blind” trail, i.e. no food dumps, no markers, and no idea which direction the subject has gone.

Thanks to Jacquie Hall of the Northumberland Canine Centre, and Honorary SARDA Trainer for her expertise as ever.


Ken and Saoirse search rescue dogKen & Saoirse’s training is moving on at a fast pace. Saoirse, (Seer-Sha) Ken’s eighteen month old collie has now almost completely finished her training to become DSRTP’s new Air Scenting Search Dog, where Sunny and Toohey left off.

She has successfully graduated from ”Stage 1” where the dog learns to use its’ nose to hunt for, locate generic human scent, and return barking at their handler to indicate that they have found.

They are now in “Stage 2” where the focus is on the handler to learn how to plan and implement search strategies out on the hillside, using geographical features, wind speed and direction to use the dogs advanced scent detection to its maximum potential. i.e. to save lives in wild places!

Once Ken has honed these skills and Saoirse has had more experience searching larger areas of hillside they will be “Pre-assessed” to ascertain whether they are ready for the gruelling 3 day Mountain Rescue Search Dog Assessment in the Lake District, or Brecon Beacons in either January, April or November of next year. We wish Ken & Saoirse all the best, and will keep you posted on their progress.

September 2017 Some tragic news form DSRTP, and in particular for team member Rob. Search dog Toohey, and beloved family pet belonging to Rob and his family, died after a brief but tragic kidney illness.

Search dog Sunny

December 2016 – Message from search dog Sunny! My handler Alan has retired from the team, and as such that means that I am also retired as a Search Dog. We must also give Alan thanks for all the hard work that the pair of them have given when assisting searches in the south west. Sunny’s lovely nature will be sadly missed on Tuesday training nights! We wish both Sunny and Alan a happy retirement from searching.

Message from Toohey!

December 2015 Rob and Toohey - Search & Rescue Dog AssociationSearch Dog Toohey becomes fully qualified!

On a wild mountain side in the Brecon Beacons in December, DSRTP team member Rob Heath, and his pet dog Toohey, undertook a gruelling three day Mountain Rescue Search Dog assessment in horrendous weather conditions. This dedication in these conditions appropriately sum up the daily training that had taken place for years including monthly journeys to train with other search dog teams in wild places all over the country.

After 3 years of intensive training, and 2 years of being on the operational call out list he was the only dog and handler team, out of five others from various Mountain Rescue teams in England and Wales, that passed and upgraded to the status of “Full Search Dog”, which is the highest qualification that can be achieved within this voluntary organisation.

Toohey joins Sunny, our other operational “Full Search Dog” within out team search protocols. Toothy is also available to be called out independent of DSRTP by the emergency services as part of the “Search and Rescue Dog Association” group assisting in life saving search and rescue operations that DSRTP aren’t necessarily involved in. This involves being called into incidents across a very wide area of the south west and nationally where required.

DSRTP would like to thank Rob and Toohey for their dedication during this extraordinarily dedicated training period. As a volunteer, this dedication deserves the greatest recognition. This is also a good time to thanks Alan and search dog Sunny for their years of valuable service to date!

Rob and Toohey will continue their monthly national training weekends, now helping other search dogs and handlers become full trained up “Full Search Dogs”.

Find out more about the great work of SARDA here:

Search dog Toohey

8 January 14 Great News!!! Rob and Toohey have now passed their assessment in the Lakes. The Team now has one fully qualified search dog (Sunny) and an Operational Search Dog (Toohey). Rob and Toohey still have another 2 years of training, when they will have to take & pass another assessment in a larger area in a reduced amount of time. Only then will they qualify as a “Full Search Dog”. Well done Rob and Toohey and all the best in your future assessments.

9 Nov 12: Congratulations to Rob Heath and Toohey who have just passed the SARDA pre-assessment test which is the green light for them to take the all important search dog assessment in January. Rob says “Yes just to confirm, last weekend Toohey and myself had a successful, snowy Patterdale course. We moved from Stage 2 into stage 3, and passed pre-assessment areas on the side of Helvellyn, which means we have been considered good enough to go for the “Operational Search Dog” assessment in January”. Well done to Rob and best of luck for the test in January 2013.

March 2012 Just to let you know that Toohey successfully passed the Indication test at 9pm this Saturday evening, at her lucky venue; Hebden Bridge again! She also performed very well out on the hill, in larger search areas for the first time. This means she has now moved from stage 1 to stage 2, and so hopefully we will be ready for the operational search dog assessment in January at Derwent Water. I am very happy, pleased & privileged to be associated with all the amazing Trainers, Handlers & Bodies involved with SARDA who, as ever, continue to instruct, help and suffer for this very worthwhile pursuit.

Well done Rob and Toohey!!

Mar 2011 SARDA now has its first registered Australian Kelpie Trainee Search Dog! This was taken at Hebden Hay (Hebden Bridge Scout centre ) when she passed:

Toohey was born on November 4th 2009 on a working farm / Kelpie breeder,  near Lydney in Gloucestershire on the edge of the Forest of Dean. I chose the Kelpie breed as I already have a seven year old Kelpie / Collie cross, and hope they have the potential to become one of the most helpful tools in Mountain Rescue.
We started basic obedience training in March 2010 at Hebden Bridge, with Jacquie Hall, a Canine behavourist expert,  who is responsible for all the puppies initial training as Honoury Training Adviser for SARDA.

This involves, initially, and critically teaching the dog its very first command; its own name ! Meaning, “Look at me there is another instruction coming which I need you to obey in the following second”! Then over the following several months we are taught to walk our dogs to heal, both on and off the lead. Speak (Bark) on command. Re-call; return straight back to their handler under control when called. To drop on command to the Down position whilst being recalled back to the handler.  Lastly to stay in the Down position, without standing or sitting up for at least 10 minutes, during which time the handler must go completely out of sight of their dogs for between 3-5 minutes of the total 10!

Once all these are mastered, dog and handler are tested in a field of sheep to ensure they are completely safe and not likely to chase, or attack livestock during the next stage of training, or later on a call out. This involves re-calling your dog through the path of approximately 15-20 sheep, and also putting your dog in the Down position, and then waiting for the flock to pass between the handler and dog. At no stage should the dog show any interest in chasing or aggression towards the sheep. Once all these requirements are met, then the dog and handler can become a registered member of SARDA and can commence stage 1 of the search sequence. (see the SARDA site for more training information).

The Kelpie breed is renowned for its highly strung nature so all of the above requirements needed an immense amount of time, patience, heartache and general hard work, both locally and at national training courses held on the first Fri, Sat, & Sunday of every month, ranging from Northumberland, The Lake & Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Brecon Beacons and Dartmoor. Fortunately the penny seemed to drop this weekend, exactly 12 months to the day since she attended her first course at Hebden Bridge in March 2010, and she performed to the required standards so bring on the next part of the adventure of knowledge and learning for dog and handler alike !

Search & Rescue Dog Association