Search and Rescue Dogs: Everyday Heroes

Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years. For hundreds of years, they have been even more than that. We have long taken advantage of dogs’ keen senses of smell, willingness to work for us, and loyalty to help us when we get lost. Dogs love to work and they are willing to do it for a treat or a toy, or even just a pat on the head. Without dogs, countless people would have lost their lives over the years.

Where are Search and Rescue Dogs Used?

Search and rescue can occur in a variety of places and in various situations. We probably all think of a St. Bernard with a brandy barrel digging a skier out of an avalanche when we think of rescue dogs. Certainly, that was the St. Bernard’s original role in Switzerland, but today the use of dogs in rescue has expanded immensely. Search and rescue dogs are used by police forces and volunteer organizations to find lost children, people buried in an avalanche, people in collapsed buildings, and even those who are drowning or lost at sea. These dogs can find people just by their scent and let their handlers know where the missing person is.

How are They Chosen?

Search and rescue dogs are selected in a variety of ways. Many law enforcement agencies purchase puppies who are carefully selected from breeders. Plenty of search and rescue teams, however, are made up of volunteers. In this case, the owner may not have selected her dog for search and rescue, but found that he was particularly suited for the work and wanted to help. Some handlers may look for their perfect working dog in a shelter. Although many professionals prefer pure bred puppies, rescued dogs can make excellent working partners.

How are They Trained?

Dogs who have the ability to work in search and rescue must go through very rigorous training. The work is hard and demanding and cannot be done on a whim. The basic job for a search and rescue dog is pretty simple: find the human scent and alert his handler. Training the dog to do this, as well as to get through some pretty tough terrain, requires time and effort. Around 600 hours of training are needed to make a dog field ready.

Training begins with finding humans in very easy situations. When the dog finds a person and alerts his handler, by barking for instance, he receives a reward to encourage him to do it again. The reward is up to the dog. Some are motivated by treats, others by a tennis ball or some affection. The dogs live with their handlers and develop a bond and a mutual sense of loyalty and respect.

What About Retirement?

Search and rescue dogs are tough cookies, but even they cannot work forever. Retirement becomes inevitable when a dog is too old to do the job well. This happens around eight to ten years of age, typically. At this point, the dog is no longer physically capable of the rigorous work involved in search and rescue. There are also emotional issues. The work of search and rescue is emotionally stressful and dogs are not immune to this. He not only needs to retire at a certain age, he deserves to.

In many cases, the handler of the retired dog will keep him at home for the remainder of his life. There he gets to live out his days in comfortable retirement. If for some reason the handler cannot keep her dog, there are organizations that help her find a great new home for her hard-working dog.

With any hope you never find yourself in the position of needing a search and rescue dog to come find you. However, if you should have be lost, buried or otherwise in a perilous situation, knowing that the dog who will stop at nothing to come find you should give you great comfort.

Ivan’s Puppies has been breeding and training puppies for over 30 years. Our hard work has been paying off, as now we are proud to be breeding Bulldog litters with excellent quality, with little to no health problems and good temperaments. For English Bulldog Puppies, visit our website at

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