I. Purpose

The purpose of the mission readiness policy is twofold. Its primary goal is to help ensure that team members have achieved a high enough level in their training to contribute to a search in a safe and competent manner. A secondary goal is to define the team's standards for mission readiness so that new members will have a clear understanding of the requirements and can use the information to help guide their training.

This evaluation is specific to a dog and a handler as a team. An alternative tracking / trailing MRE may be used for re-certification of a team. A dog is only mission ready with the handler(s) with whom the dog passes the evaluation.

When a team member requests evaluation for handler/dog mission readiness (Section III), the Board will select a subject/evaluator and an observer/evaluator for the field test, and will make sure that the selections are acceptable to the handler. The evaluators will give a written report of the test to the rest of the Board, and the Board as a whole will determine whether or not the handler/dog team has met the overall standards for mission readiness.

If the Board finds that a member does not meet the overall requirements for mission readiness, the Board will discuss the areas in which improvements are needed in order to help the handler/dog team focus their training for their next evaluation.

II. Requirements for Handler and Support Person Mission Readiness 

1. be able to demonstrate proficiency with map and compass,
2. have appropriate equipment,
3. understand basic search procedures and strategies,
4. understand and follow guidelines for radio communications,
5. be physically fit for typical search conditions,
6. contribute to teamwork

The State of New Mexico PACE examination for SAR volunteers addresses 1 through 4. The state provides study guides for the exam which team members can use to determine specific requirements for 1 through 4. In addition, Mountain Canine Corps provides a recommended equipment list which includes canine-related equipment not required by the state exam. Team members are required to take the PACE exam in order to be in compliance with State recommendations and to demonstrate mission readiness in these areas.

Since Mountain Canine Corps is called out for searches in a variety of weather conditions and terrain, there is no specific test for item 5. However, it is critical that team members have adequate previous experience in comparable terrain and weather conditions on any particular search for which they volunteer. For example, members should not volunteer for a search that will require extensive hiking above 10,000 feet with a full pack unless they have done it previously. Item 5 does not require that a member must be mission ready for all conditions. For example, a member may be physically fit for most searches, but be susceptible to altitude sickness and should not volunteer for high altitude searches. The important point here is that the team member should not discover such a problem on an actual search. It is ultimately the responsibility of each team member to honestly evaluate both personal and dog fitness for any particular search. The team will periodically schedule group hikes in typical search areas and conditions to help members to assess themselves as well as to gain experience. Participation in these hikes is recommended for self-evaluation.

Teamwork is a crucial component in our ability to contribute positively to a search. To determine mission readiness for item 6, the Board will consider such things as regular participation in team practices, regular meeting attendance, being supportive of other team members, and contributing to the team as a whole.

III. Requirements for Handler/Dog Mission Readiness

In order for a handler/dog team to qualify as mission ready, the handler must satisfy the requirements for handler mission readiness (Section II) and must pass the basic field test.

For the field test, the Board will assign a "subject/evaluator" and an "observer/evaluator". The subject must be knowledgeable about canine searches, but not someone with whom the dog is very familiar. The observer must not know the path or location of the subject. At the handler's direction, the observer may perform tasks that a support person might perform. The observer is not to "solve the problem" for the handler-dog team. Some observer advice may be appropriate in keeping with the spirit of the exercise as a learning experience for all involved.
The subject will discuss track-laying and location plans with the Board before laying the track. The subject will lay the track according to these general guidelines:

1. the track must not be intentionally tricky (no walking backwards, walking only on rocks, backtracking, no deliberate scent pools, etc.)

2. the track must not be overly easy (intentional scuff marks, staying on a single trail, etc.)

3. when possible, the track should follow natural features, trails, game trails, jeep roads. Portions of the track should be off-trail.

4. the track layer must leave numbered, scented articles. The first article should be dropped approximately five minutes from the start. Subsequent articles should be dropped approximately every 8-12 minutes thereafter. The articles should be easy to see.

5. the track layer will make note of landmarks near each article or , if possible, the track layer should record the UTMs of the location of each article. If UTMs aren't readily available, the track layer must not waste time trying to obtain them.

6. the track must be aged at least four hours. The track can be aged longer at the handler's request.

7. the track should take about 45 minutes to lay.

8. when the track is laid, the subject will leave a starting article and a footprint (made on aluminum foil) at the starting point. If possible, the track layer can leave a footprint on the ground also. The footprint on the ground does not indicate direction of travel.

9. the track layer must not be accompanied by dogs or other people.

10. the track must not be flagged.

11. the track must not be easily followable by mantracking techniques only (e.g., entirely through snow). Some footprints through patches of snow, mud, etc. are allowable.

12. the track layer should try to lay the track so that it won't be likely that the dog will "shortcut" the track. If the dog does shortcut the track, it does not necessarily mean that the test will be invalidated (it will be up to the evaluators and Board to consider this on a case by case basis).

The subject should be in radio contact when the dog-handler team begins work, and the subject must be able to get to the end position without disturbing the work of the dog-handler team. The observer should make occasional progress reports by radio to the subject for safety and monitoring purposes, and will report to the subject when articles are found. If convenient, the handler or observer may use a GPS to report their position to the subject periodically. The subject will stay in place until the handler and dog arrive at the end position (or until the exercise is cancelled).

The handler/observer team should not ask the subject for information about the track, nor should the subject volunteer information of this kind. However, the subject can and should inform the handler/observer team if safety is an issue or if unexpected circumstances have compromised the track in some way. In such cases, the handler may be requested to turn off his/her radio so that the observer/subject can discuss the problem.

If either safety is jeopardized or if weather conditions have caused the track to deteriorate excessively, the exercise should be cancelled. The handler, observer, and subject must agree that the conditions are adequate in order to begin the test. The exercise may proceed as long as the subject, handler-dog, and observer are willing and able, and provided all agree that the handler-dog team is working safely and effectively. A practical limitation for the search duration is 5 hours. If the subject has not been found after five hours, the handler, observer, and subject should negotiate about whether or not to continue the exercise.

The observer and subject will evaluate performance of the handler/dog team and will report their observations to the rest of the Board. The evaluators will provide a written report on the handler-dog team's ability to work effectively together, the preparedness of the handler for the conditions, the difficulty-level of the track, the weather conditions, the dog's ability to correctly determine direction of travel from the starting point (if applicable), the handler's ability to read the dog, the handler's ability to take reasonable steps to get back on track if he/she detects that the dog is off-track, the handler's ability to maintain composure, whether or not articles were found, whether or not the subject was found, and whether or not the dog indicates a find when the subject is found. The Board will determine whether or not the handler/dog team has passed the test based on overall performance according to these criteria.

It is possible for the team to pass the test without finding the subject or articles. Likewise, finding the subject does not necessarily mean that the test was passed. It is recognized that the result of the exercise is somewhat subjective, based on the judgment of the evaluators and the Board. It is possible that on any given day any handler-dog team will not work well, and after reviewing the evaluator's reports, the Board will determine that the test was not passed. In this event, another exercise will be scheduled at the handler's request.