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We have found that there is no standard terminology for describing various disciplines, specific search tasks that canines are trained to perform. Therefore, we propose and use the following terminology:

Search Dog
A general term referring to a canine trained for searching based upon visual, olfactory, or auditory clues. This would include the disciplines of: area search dog, trailing search dog, cadaver search dog, decomp search dog, disaster search dog, water search dog, forensic evidence search dog and human remains detection dog.

Area Search Dog
This dog is trained to cover or grid large geographic areas by sampling the air currents for traces of human scent. The dog searches and samples the air currents by ranging/quartering back and forth through the area that is assigned to the team.
This dog is sometimes referred to as "Wilderness Search Dog or "Air Scent Dog" which is another general description of many search dogs. Some area search dogs are also scent specific. They work from a scent article to search for the person that matches the scent article, ignoring all other humans in the area.

Trailing Dog
A canine with the specific ability and training to track/ trail and locate a specific human on the basis of scent.

Cadaver Dog
A narrow term, used in a search-and-rescue context, to indicate a canine primarily trained as a trailing or area search dog that has also received cross training in the location of dead human bodies.

Decomp Dog
The term "decomposition dog" was started by the NecroSearch group. They felt it better describes how dogs will indicate decomposed human scent which includes blood, feces, urine or other material with human scent on it.

Forensic Evidence Dog
A general term that can describe several different kinds of specialties. Include but not limited to firearms, weapons, articles or scent discrimination. There are some people that describe Human Remains Detection Dogs as Forensic Evidence Dogs.

Water Search Dog
A dog trained to locate dead bodies under water. This can be done from a boat or as a shoreline search.

Human Remains Detection Dog
This Detection Dog is a specialist and has never been trained to look for live humans. They specialize in crime scenes, old cases, small scent sources and residual scent. These dogs have been trained to exclude fresh human scent along with all other animal scents.


When would I use an Area search dog?
If the missing person is despondent or a potential suicide you will need area search dogs that have been cross-trained as cadaver search dogs. Using both resources will give the best coverage, whether the missing person is alive or dead.

When would I use a Human Remains Detection Dog?
Human Remains Detections dogs are best used for cases like buried bodies, aged disarticulations, old homicide or suicide cases, bone searches, blood evidence, residual scent, crime scenes, building searches, and vehicle searches.

What are the qualities and skills of a Human Remains Detection Dog?
The Human Remains Detection Dog is trained to alert on residual scent along with other faint scent sources like dried blood. The dog is taught not to disturb the crime scene by digging or retrieving evidence. An important skill the dog is taught is how to search homes or vehicles without causing harm to property. The dog is taught to discriminate between human and all other non-human items. The dogs usually work more slowly and more methodically.

What is CSST?
Canine Specialized Search Team (CSST) is a volunteer resource of the County of Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner's office. CSST uses specially trained and certified canines in the field of forensic evidence and in the location of human remains. We are available for all agencies in the county and as mutual aid with other counties throughout California.

How can I contact CSST?
You can contact us at 888.413.2778
E-mail us at info@csst.org

Can I join?
To join CSST you need to be at least 18 years old; if you are younger you might want to check with your county to see if they have an explorer Search and Rescue program you can join.

If you are in California you might want to visit and learn about other canine teams, i.e. California Rescue Dog Association ~ www.CARDA.org, or Wilderness Finders (Woof) ~ www.searchdogs.com

How long does it take to train a dog?
The first time handler will take from 1 1/2 -2 years to train their first dog. At the same time you will also be taking classes on learning map and compass, first aid, crime scene preservation, hazmat, as well as learning how to train your dog. The more time you have to train the faster the training goes. We expect handlers to train 2 to 3 times a week minimum with their dog, more is desirable.

What kinds of breeds can do this work?
Many breeds are capable of doing detection and search work, but the working, herding, sporting and hound groups have the best track record. Some mixed breed dogs have also been successful doing detection and search work.
If you are interested in Human Remains Detection and you do not have a dog, we recommend that you contact us first. Come to a training and see the dogs work and talk to us about the kind of dog you are thinking of getting. If you have a dog, contact us and make an appointment to bring the dog out to training. We will be happy to evaluate your dog.

Can I make a donation to CSST?
Yes ~ CSST is a charitable 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation. All donations are tax deductible and will be greatly appreciated. Please, make checks payable to:


P.O. Box 81, Los Altos, CA 94022-0081