Massachusetts Task Force 1 - Canine Unit

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MA-TF1 Canine Unit and Handlers

The MA-TF1 canine unit is comprised of 12 Canines and their handlers. Each of these dogs has been selected for character traits that will make them a good search dog in a challenging environment. The most common breeds are Labrador and Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Border Collies.

It takes approximately two years to train these dogs to certification level with the goal of having dogs certified by the age of three. MA-TF1 dogs are trained for either finding live victims or human remains, not both.

Dogs selected for the MA-TF1 program are tested at approximately one to two years old for their independence, willingness to engage a stranger in play and their comfort searching for a toy on the rubble. MATF does not accept puppies into their program, if a handler wishes to purchase a puppy they work with the puppy up until it can be evaluated at one year for its natural talents and suitability for the work. MATF does not accept dogs over the age of three unless the dog has prior search training and is an outstanding candidate.

Most MA-TF1 handlers have years of experience in the dog world, either in sport dogs or being on a wilderness search team. Many of our handlers are first responder from either the fire service or law enforcement.

MA-TF1 Canine trains as a team three to four times a month; handlers are expected to train outside scheduled trainings to make the progress they need to certify. Trainings are usually Sat or Sunday, occasionally on a Friday. We have attendance requirements for participating in all team trainings in addition to those required to be a member of Canine.

DHS and FEMA Canine Certification Evaluation Course

“On a sweltering June 4th and rainy June 5th, 2016, 25 dogs and their handlers from Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces across the nation participated in the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Canine Certification Evaluation course at Aggregate Industries in Littleton, Massachusetts. Their mission to rapidly find an unspecified number of live victims buried deep beneath the rubble. Simulating some of the destruction found after bombings or natural disasters, the K9s comprised of German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and other breeds, traversed sharp rebar, rough concrete, and slippery wooden pallets. The spirited younger dogs ran back and forth throughout the piles sniffing every crevice, while the most seasoned dogs understood the importance of conserving energy and systematically chose their course. Upon finding a victim, the handlers would reward their canine colleagues with a treat or a quick game before it was time for them to continue the search for more survivors. Throughout the two days, the love and deep admiration the canines and handlers have for each other was inspiring. The training to become one of the elite K9 search and rescue teams is long and arduous and not every team makes it. However, the chance that one of these dogs in the future may save a life trapped in the wreckage of a collapsed building makes it a worthy endeavor for most of the teams to pursue.”

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If you would like to arrange a visit to the team Cache and Training site, please contact us ahead of time. Visitors and prospective members can find Directions to the Cache here.


If you have interest in applying to MATF Canine please contact the Task Force at