Search And Rescue Dogs


Well-Known Member
I saw this mentioned in the Service Dog forum, but was hoping to open it for discussion :)

My own dog, Charlie, is relatively high drive/energy - compared to service dogs certainly! I got him because my other dog couldn't do agility (structural and temperamental reasons), so I set out for a moderate dog but started building in drive the moment I got him. Charlie is very easy turn on/off, so I feel like I got the best of both worlds :cool2:

I've always been interested in SAR (Search And Rescue), and when I finished college and found my own house that portion of the state badly needed (still needs) wilderness SAR dogs. I live in Western Massachusetts, and there are only a couple of dogs that cover the entire Berkshire Mountains!

I didn't start training Charlie for SAR until last December when he was already 3 years old, but he already knew many commands (close to 100) including scent discrimination and finding hidden objects. His evaluation with the president of the club was essentially perfect - there was nothing that he could have done better! Charlie's training has been going slow (due to weather especially), but he's just about ready for area searches... :yipi: At the moment he gets to see the first second or so of the runaway (though the subject just walks quietly away, drawing no attention).

I know there is at least one other SAR dog in-training here, and I'd love to hear more of her story :dogsmile:

Jean Cote

Staff member
What kinds of temperaments does the dog need to have to be a Search And Rescue dog?

I'm assuming he can't be scared of much.


Well-Known Member
For temperament:

- The dog needs to not be aggressive towards animals under normal circumstances, and can never show aggression towards a person - even if they are obviously 'out of it'. Protecting their owner from a real threat should be okay.
- The dog needs to have enough play/prey drive that they will never give-up on their own, but they also can't be interested in 'crittering' (chasing squirrels, etc).
- No fear that would effect their work (need to be fine with thunderstorms, but they won't fail for disliking the nail-clippers).
- Physically, the dog should be large enough and fit to cover a lot of terrain quickly, including jumping fallen trees, and going through/over bushes.
- The dog's hair may affect the type of work or the season - a black dog or a long-haired dog may not stand the summer sun, and a short-haired dog may be too cold in the snow.

Training depends on the dog's personality (whether they prefer play, prey, food, petting etc), but you need at least two people. One handles the dog, while te other is the subject. Training doesn't start until the dog/puppy has a strong bond with their owner.

This is how I've been getting Charlie ready for wilderness SAR (searching for lost people in the woods, not after an urban disaster like an explosion or tornado).

1. Experienced trainer held Charlie on-leash as I 'teased' him and jumped around a corner, still calling him. This is called a run-away. Charlie was released and bolted straight to me. I praised like crazy, letting him jump all over me and do his 'bounce' trick (bunny hops). The total distance was about 15'.

2. Then I held Charlie while the trainer did the same thing, but we used cheese as an added incentive since Charlie had never met him before. I followed Charlie to the subject and we both praised him.

3. Charlie was so enthusiastic that he reached the subject long before I did, and automatically turned back to me as soon as he'd taken the cheese. I aske3d him to 'show me', and he led me in... that was the beginning of his re-find.

4. In our next session I had another stranger run and hide a bit farther away, and Charlie was just as eager. I incrementally lengthened the distance, and slowly faded the amount of teasing/calling the subject was doing.

5. Currently I only use food intermittently, and Charlie watches the person for a second (so that he has the idea of a 'run-away'), then I turn him around or cover his eyes. The subject walks quietly, not encouraging him at all, and goes about 50-100 yards in an arc (hopefully well-set to catch the wind). After they are in place for about 30 seconds I release Charlie and tell him to "Search!"
He's pretty good about sniffing the wind and moving back and forth to catch the scent, but I'm still learning how to handle him correctly. I also have a bad habit of being too close to him when he makes the find, so I've been wandering off like a fool in the opposite direction so that he needs to come find me, once he's found the subject.

There are many different alerts: a dog can stay with the victim and bark for help (though this could scare a lost person - better for disaster work where travel is dangerous), come back and bark at their handler, sit/down next to their handler, touch them with a paw, nudge their hand... anything that is obviously getting your attention. When Charlie is really excited, he naturally wants to jump up on me/near me, so that is the alert that I am teaching him. I may need to teach something more formal before we can be certified, but for now that is the easiest thing to use... he hates to bark and doesn't like to sit/down when he is excited. By choosing a behavior he wants to perform, it'll be easier to encourage him to alert without my help.


Well-Known Member
Oh yea, so glad to have someone to discuss SAR. We are currently in training with our 1 year old English Coonhound. Since we are avid equine trailriders, we have always been interested in Mounted Search and Rescue and when faced with having to find another trail companion (our former one got arthritis and could not go any longer) we decided to search for a hound and really get serious about the SAR. We searched for all hounds and even included GSD breed. We found some young English Coonhound pups that had not been introduced to the "coon tail" and found just the right qualities. "Z" has proven to be a good choice. She does not have an interest in wildlife beyond the average puppy and even that interest is quickly diverted by voice and she is showing a sincere interest in the "FIND" game we play.
We started much the same as yoyopoodle but I have never been the victim. I have always given the command to find and been with her for the resuce. She is currently working on re-find, but she is young and we are not going to rush her training. She is working right now on total out of sight searches, but is still working on "same" victim. She has even been successful on a find that she was not prepared for. DV (designated victim) came home from work, left jacket on side view mirror of vehicle, and proceed to "get lost" in the woods. After some time, I took Z outside, on leash, and let her smell jacket. Then I released her from the leash at the same time giving the FIND command. She took time to locate the track using air scent and with very little direction was able to locate track and follow to victim! Needless to say, we were elated and she definitely was proud of herself. I have often thought that maybe I need to enter my training dairy into a blog. Anybody interested in reading that??


New Member
Thank you for posting this yoyopoodle. SAR is very interesting. I would of loved to do SAR with my Bassett Hound, but never did any training or had any type of resource, etc. I find it so interesting.

zcoonhound I would love to read your blog if you started one regarding your training. It sounds as though it's second nature to z.


Well-Known Member
I'd also love to read a blog of a dog's training experiences... that's a great idea - I may do that for Charlie too!

I'm not very familiar with mounted SAR. What is the primary mode of detection? Air-scent, trailing, tracking...?
Are you affiliated with a club yet, or is there another website that explains more about mounted SAR with a dog?

The dog training part can take up to 2 years before certification, but I need to become a 'ground-pounder' (searching on foot without a dog) before I am certified with a dog. Not sure if that is just my region/club, or if it's nation/world-wide. It's hard to find the classes!


Well-Known Member
I will work on getting my blog started on her early training.
We do not have a local SAR club, so we are having to most of the training ourselves. Once we reach the level where I think she is ready for testing, I will have her evaluated by a SAR club that is located in South Carolina. We are expecting the training to take a full two years to complete and we are using the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA) as our study format.
Mounted Search and Rescue is done from horseback. This form of transport allows searchers to carry in supplies for lengthy stays and to traverse rough terrain faster than on foot. Needless to say this type of search team requires a great deal of training and desensitizing. The dogs utilize the air scenting and trailing skills just like for SAR and some mules and horses have been known to develop air scenting skills as well. I would think that tracking dogs might be a little harder to use from horseback. I don't think that there are many "groups" that specialize in MSAR, it is primarily an individualized localized function in rural areas.
As a handler, I do have to pass certain tests and get certifications in different areas such as medic first aid, orienting, radio operations, etc. I plan on utilizing my local Technical School for some of the certifications, and any clubs and organizations nearby that could offer me instruction and certification such as the Red Cross.


New Member
Good job Yoyopoodle!! Our trainer does SAR with her german shepherd and has been in the news for finding lost children recently!

My dog is also high drive and in the past I had thought about getting into SAR training but I didn't for two reasons - one is the time commitment, I know my limitations. Another is that don't SAR handlers have to be able to remain calm and responsive in emergencies like administering first aid to victims with gaping wounds or being OK with finding dead or decomposing bodies? I don't think I could do that!

I look forward to the SAR training blogs though!! Keep up the good work guys!!


Well-Known Member
l_l_a;7076 said:
Another is that don't SAR handlers have to be able to remain calm and responsive in emergencies like administering first aid to victims with gaping wounds or being OK with finding dead or decomposing bodies?
You certainly have to remain calm and have knoweledge of first aid, but on an actual search a dog handler is rarely alone - there is a person who pays attention to where they are and keeping records, so that the handler can focus on the dog, terrain, and wind patterns. Otherwise I don't think I could handle a full search...

You also have a general idea of what you'll find - you know how long the person has been missing, and probably have an idea of what mental state they are in (illness or otherwise).

Charlie is only training to find live victims, so the chance of us stumbling upon a cadaver is fairly low... I know I couldn't handle only finding bodies! :msncrazy:


New Member
About how much time on average do you spend a week on specifically SAR training - including time to travel, lay the tracks, and so on?

Also, how do you keep the dogs from chasing wildlife or following the scent of wildlife they may encounter in the middle of a search? or are the dogs so engrossed in the scent they are following that they are oblivious to wildlife?

I like these SAR videos (out of the many SAR dog videos on YouTube)!

Urban disaster search and rescue
watching it I worry that the dogs may cut their paws on the sharp debris or something like that! the handlers seem to be wearing hardhats and other protective gear, why not the dogs?

avalanche search and rescue training day at a ski resort - this one looks like fun!
how neat is that - snowboarding and training your dog together! whenever I go snowboarding (Colorado is famous for skiing and boarding opportunities and we take advantage of that!!) I sometimes see the ski patrol people towing stretchers down the mountain, on top of the stretcher is something that looks like a body bag which I guess it's to keep the people inside warm otherwise they would freeze while being towed around. I've often wondered how they find those injured people, if it's other people informing them that they saw someone get injured (most likely I guess), or if they've had to send out SAR dogs. I guess if it was in the backcountry where avalanches happen then they would need to send the dogs.


Well-Known Member
Our goal is one search training a week. Of course sometimes life does not always cooperate but because of Z's age (she just turned a year old) we do not get stressed about it. When we were first training her to air scent and track, we would practice 3-4 times a week, but the sessions were very short and can be accomplished during play time outside. The real dedication to training comes when the dog and handler have met the criteria are are pursuing certification and staying fine tuned for calls.


Well-Known Member
Cool videos! There is a person on YouTube who is training two white Standard Poodle puppies for disaster search and she's been uploading videos every couple of weeks - I think her username is 'SearchDogPoodle'... I'll look it up and post a link later.

My group tries to get together every weekend, but we only have 4 dogs (when everyone can make it), so everyone is done in about 2-3 hours. My drive averages an hour each way, so it's a pretty full morning.
I try to train on my own once during the week as well, especially if there is a particular thing I want to work on. My room-mate or a friend will hide in my woods... I haven't worried about taking him to new places much, because the scent will work the same with the wind no matter where we train. I know he doesn't have fear issues, so I'm confident that he'll continue to improve in all areas... but I'll be expanding the locations as the weather gets warmer and he gains enough experience for 'real' searches :)

The dogs I've met ignore prey when they are searching for a human, but some are interested/distracted when they don't have another job. Charlie tends to slow down and become rather methodical trying to locate a scent in the air... could it be that my crazy boy is starting to understand how the wind carries scent?!?! Woohoo! :D

Today we trained at an AMC (Appalachian Mt. Club) camp called Noble View. They are really nice and we can usually find a hiker or two who will hide for us. We are constantly looking for new people because the dogs eventually stop finding us other dog handlers.... they assume we're not lost, even if we're trying to be. Charlie isn't quite there yet, but today he didn't come alert me until I called him - found the victim, and continued searching... ah well.... :)


New Member
Those are great videos, and lovely dogs too!! What is the "bucket" training for? (the video entitled "buckets - 2nd level...")

hehe yeah I guess you do need to get more people to assist you with training so your dogs don't think the goal is to find the other handlers or people they already know! sounds like Charlie is doing great!!


Well-Known Member
I think they're just using the bucket to build motivation and drive for a hidden object. That toy will be hidden with every victim they find for many months of training, until they are so eager to find a victim that the toy is given to victim when the handler gets there, and eventually the handler can be the one to play (if an actual victim needs medical treatment, etc).