Disaster K9 Workshop/USAR K9 TECC Course November 2016: VA Beach

K9 search teams and support personnel from 18 states came together to challenge their skills and share training concepts at our combined Disaster K9 Workshop/K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care Course at Virginia Beach Fire and EMS Training Center November 28th - December 1st, 2016.

Superfit Canine returned to VA Beach this fall after a very successful event in July this year. The event started with our 2-day Disaster K9 Workshop. Attendees were teamed up with one of our experienced group leads as they worked through search problems in a variety of scenarios. The VA Beach Fire and EMS Training Center offers several FEMA Type I rubble piles, an agility yard, wide areas, and a 4-story burn tower. As a new addition, we were fortunate to offer an 18 hole golf course to provide very wide areas and an abandoned building for search operations. 

Live Find and HRD K9 teams rotated through stations where they were able to work through rough terrain, and scent/sound distractions. Thanks to the incredible rigging support from VA Beach Fire and EMS training center, attendees were able to be lowered with their K9 from the 4th floor of the burn tower to the ground where they were able to immediately send their dog into a search problem. 

Following our 2-day Disaster K9 Workshop was our 2-day USAR K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care Course. This valuable course was provided by our friends from Veterinary Tactical Group, a company that offers veterinary emergency training for dog handlers, tactical medics and veterinary personnel. Attendees were presented with the latest evidence-based knowledge of the most common life-threatening injuries in working canines. Not only did students learn what can be done to mitigate the risk of injury, they also learned what steps can be taken in the field to improve survival using TCCC/TECC guidelines adapted specifically for the unique anatomy and physiology of the K9. In addition to case presentations and lecture based learning, students had an opportunity to practice their skills hands-on throughout the course in field scenarios. 

Several media agencies attended the event, and were very excited to share the incredible service that search dogs and their handlers provide across the country. 

The entire event could not have been successful without the incredible support from the folks at VA Beach Fire and EMS Training Center and VA-TF2. Their dedication to supporting the mission of improving the deployment readiness of K9 teams across the country is greatly appreciated by all of us. 

For a full gallery of images of this event, please visit our Photography Event Page

If you are interested in attending one of our future workshops, please check out our Disaster K9 Workshop page. We're adding new events all the time!

It Takes a Village: Raising the Disaster Search Dog


Eric and I attended our first K9 search and rescue training a few months after September 11, 2001. We both had a lifelong love for dogs, and like so many others, were inspired to action by watching and learning about the rescue and recovery efforts by so many in the days/weeks/months following that tragic day. We would later realize how much this “hobby” of training search dogs would teach us about hard work, dedication, the human-animal bond, and the power of community.


No one will say that training a disaster search dog to the top federal certification level is easy. It takes thousands of hours of training, thousands of miles of traveling, early mornings, long days, lots of time away from family, and we can’t forget to mention the out-of-pocket expenses. Some dogs make the grade, and some dogs don’t. Some handlers succeed, and others fail. One thing we have learned, is that with disaster search dogs, success cannot be achieved alone. We’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of the journeys of countless dogs over the years and each encounter has been a lesson about community. 


You see, when you are training disaster dogs, it is all about drive. If the dog doesn’t want to do it they won’t, and it is up to us to build and maintain this drive at every training. Every interaction with a search dog determines its desire to search the next time, so we rely on each other as “victims/decoys/survivors”, to build on the last experience. Getting in “the hole” is equally an incredible opportunity and great privilege, but also a responsibility that comes with tremendous pressure. A successful session can build a dog up, but an unsuccessful session can knock back a dog’s training several weeks. 


Having a new puppy in training is really bringing this concept to light for us and we are forever grateful for all the folks in the disaster search community who are always so eager to help build drive in each other’s dogs. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing the anticipation in a dog’s body when he’s demanding the reward to appear. The icing on the cake is the verbal reward that accompanies the toy presentation. The more ridiculous the better, in our opinion. Here’s a great example of a successful alert and reward session:

We’d like to celebrate all of the dedicated folks willing and eager to get in “the hole” to improve the level of training of disaster dogs everywhere. Your perfectly timed enthusiasm may seem ridiculous and over-the-top, but just may save someone’s life someday. Thank you.