Search and Rescue Dog Teams

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When someone goes missing, it's likely that a search and rescue dog plays a vital role in his or her aid. In fact, canine search and rescue teams are used around the world to work through obstacles that humans alone can't endure. Dogs can smell and move far better than any human, according to NOVA. Their superior senses are critical to locating victims. Search and rescue dogs are trained to find people who are lost in the wilderness, buried beneath avalanches, drowning, or those trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building. Search and rescue dogs can specialize in finding people alive in the hopes of rescuing them, or help law enforcement by locating human remains.

What is Search & Rescue?

Female dog parent in orange shirt leans down to praise her black and white rescue dog.

It takes the right dog and handler to make a successful search and rescue team, and there are dedicated people out there who love, train, and then unleash their dogs in real-life situations.

Mara Jessup of Michiana Search Dogs has two Border collies: Kenzi and Kolt. True to their breed, Kenzi (age seven) and Kolt (age two) were born needing a job to do. Although traditionally herding dogs, their instinct and desire to please make them easily trainable.

Kenzi and Kolt are both trained for finding living people in the wilderness and light disasters. "Search and rescue work is at least 95 percent training and maybe 5 percent actual searches. But being prepared for when there is a need makes all that training worth it," says Mara.

Colette Falco, another search and rescue dog handler, echoes Mara's thoughts. She works alongside Maricopa K9 Search and Rescue, a part of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona. Kya, her two-year-old Belgian Malinois, is a cadaver dog. "This simply means that she is trained to search out and alert to the presence of human remains, " explains Colette, "She has already brought closure to families in locating their loved ones that have gone missing and unfortunately not survived." Although a somewhat negative outcome, the use of canine search and rescue teams allow families to find peace after tragedy.

Two woman lead a dog on a leash on a rescue mission

Keep Up the Great Work

Search and rescue dogs are invaluable when it comes to finding lost and trapped victims. In fact, Mara and Colette concur that canine search and rescue teams have a much higher success rate than humans searching alone. "This is due to the acute scenting sensitivity of a dog's nose and ability to catalog and recall scent profiles," says Colette.

Mara agrees, adding, "They're using their nose instead of their eyes and, if the wind is right, they can pick up on human scent from a hundred yards out and follow it to the person and alert their handler. They also move faster than a person and can cover a large area much more quickly."

Dogs also have the ability to weave and navigate through tighter, more cramped areas than humans helping their trainers know where to alert search and rescue teams where to focus their search. Their ability to get into these smaller crevices like in the rubble of a crumbled building help locate people in need of help without disturbing areas where it might not be foundationally sound if a human were to try and search through it. A rescue dog showing up can also be a sense of peace for victims caught in the rubble. It's a sign of hope that help is on the way.

Not only do canine search and rescue teams prepare for true disasters, they also perform their capabilities in public demonstrations to show the value of working dogs. True rescue work is often done behind the scenes, but their contributions to society should be showcased front and center.

Contributor Bio

Katie Finlay

Katie Finlay


Katie Finlay is a Los Angeles-based dog trainer and writer. She has been working with dogs and their owners both in person and through her articles for over six years. She is a writer and contributor to many pet-related websites.

Katie is an active competitor in many dog sports, most notably Schutzhund/IPO. She is a hard-working member of the American Working Malinois Association, Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of Southern California and her home IPO training club, All Canine Working Dog Club. She enjoys talking anything dog, so please feel free to reach out to her via her website:!


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