Working Dog Spotlight: Search & Rescue Dogs

Search and rescue dogs are a specialized group of well trained dogs who use scent to locate people who are lost, victims of natural disasters and bodies of homicide victims.


Search and rescue dogs have been used for hundreds of years. The first dogs used were St. Bernards of the Monks of the Hospice in the Swiss Alps. The dogs were trained to locate those who had become stranded or lost in winter storms while travelling the passes between Switzerland and Italy.

The first search dogs used in the United States were bloodhounds. They were used by police to track criminals and escaped prisoners and are still used this way today.


Today, there are more than 500 search and rescue dogs across the United States. They are used in wilderness searches, avalanche searches, water searches, and disaster searches

Some other dog breeds that are used as search and rescue dogs are:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier

  • Beagle

  • Border Collie

  • Coonhound

  • German Shepard

  • Golden Retriever

and many more!


How Do They Work?

Humans emit millions of airborne microscopic particles bearing scent. These scents are carried by the wind for thousands of miles. Search and rescue dogs are trained to locate these specific scents and can follow them for extreme distances, even long after they've been obliterated.

Search dogs can even work in areas where other searches have been as they are able to distinguish each human's individual scent from one another. They can work day or night, in most kinds of weather, and are especially effective where humans sight is most limited (i.e. in the dark, in dense woods or heavy brush, in debris and under water). 

How to Become a Search and Rescue Dog Handler

Search and rescue handlers must be physically fit, efficient in land navigation, first aid, wilderness survival and, of course, must enjoy working working with dogs.

In order for a dog to be come a search and rescue dog, the dog must excel in such areas as trainability, agility, endurance and friendliness with other dogs. Typically, handlers will begin training a young puppy, however, an older dog may be suitable if the dog has already developed a strong working relationship with his owner. 

The timeline varies but normally takes at least a year of training, twice a week before the dog is mission-ready.








1. L. (2014, November 26). Search and Rescue Dog Facts. Retrieved from

2. The History of Search Dogs in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved from