Guide to Train a Rescue Dog

Many dogs have left their mark throughout history. For instance, Laika, which traveled to space in 1957, made him famous or Barry, Saint Bernard, which helped dozens of lost travelers in the snow in Switzerland.

The best-known of recent times: Frida, the dog in the service of the Mexican Navy, famous throughout the world for her rescues from Juchitán and Mexico City in September 2017. Here, we tell you about everything you need to know to train search and rescue dogs.

The behavior of the dogs in some cases is extraordinary. Makes them end up being a fundamental part of any rescue team.

Still, their exploits require specific training, which requires a lot of time and patience. Do you want to know how a search and rescue dog is trained? Read on, and you will know everything related to search and rescue dog training along with all its features and requirements.

There are many situations in which search and rescue dogs are tremendously useful in providing essential help in a given emergency.

For example, finding people buried under snow or mud after an earthquake, And, for this reason, some breeds of dogs used by the police also follow the same type of training.

A distinction must be made between dogs that follow a trail. For example, from a missing person’s garment and those which blow. Venting means merely smelling the air to capture the microparticles containing the human smell.

A rescue dog is not looking for someone in particular. The dog is looking for people in general.

The objective of the training for search and rescue dogs is to develop the animal’s adequate smell capabilities to detect human beings, otherwise impossible to locate, due to their at-risk spot.

Smelling is the key

One of the best-known qualities of dogs is their tremendous sense of smell. All people emit microscopic particles carrying human odor through the air, and odor is easily detected by dogs at a considerable distance.

The sense of smell is essential to a search and rescue dog, trained to help locate people who are missing. Now, let’s go step by step to develop a kind of training manual for search and rescue dogs.

What characteristics must a rescue dog have?

Training a dog for search and rescue dogs is an extensive training, which can take over a year. The ideal is to start as soon as possible when the dog is young, even a puppy. You can check its physical abilities and know its character.

Search and rescue training requires agile dogs, with great resistance and excellent physical shape. They will have to face multiple difficulties when it comes to following a trail.

Their good sense of smell is decisive to be selected. Besides, they must be sociable dogs and intelligent dogs. They will have to decide, for example, how to access a person who is trapped between irons and concrete blocks.

Finally, they must be playful and happy dogs for a straightforward reason: the training of a rescue dog is based on play.

They will want to reach the person who needs help because it is a playful test behind which there is always a prize which they await impatiently.


There are no pre-established dog breeds for search and rescue dog training. The most common are: The German shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, The golden retriever, and the Border Collie.

These breeds are known for having an exquisite sense of smell, while also being responsible, agile, and strong. All these characteristics make then ideal candidates for rescue dogs.

Phases of canine training in search and rescue

Search and rescue dogs always train because they have to keep their physical condition and their skills always at the highest level to be able to intervene. Still, that first basic training includes the following stages:


Before beginning their specific training, these animals must be socialized by living with people. For example, in a family, and also with other animals.

It is about getting to know them while they enjoy their first games and get used to all kinds of situations: city traffic, noise, smells from the fields or the seashore the more they experience, the better.

Socialization will continue with your coach. In emergencies, dog and person form a single rescue team, and trust between the two is essential.

Obedience and agility

Physical exercise is a fundamental part of canine training in search and rescue. As we have mentioned, the objective is for the dog to be able to face, without hesitation, any difficulty to reach a perhaps injured person.

Different materials are needed for dog training and even bridges, ramps, slippery surfaces, ditches, which must be jumped with patience and affection; you will become a dedicated “athlete.”

Besides, the animal will learn the orders, facilitating a total understanding with its trainer (and, in the future, with the human part of the rescue team).

Search, find, and brand.

With specific exercises, the dog will achieve the three objectives: smell and detect the human trace in the air, follow his trail, and reach a person.

To achieve it, in training, open cages are initially used in which a person remains to be rescued. Situations get complicated little by little, so the human smell is more difficult to perceive (for example, hiding someone in a hole).

The last stage is to train the dog in a chained search: to locate several people at the same time. Quite a feat that will save lives!

These are the main phases of training a search and rescue dog. As we have seen, it is a demanding training in which socialization has a fundamental significance for dog training.


In many situations, dogs can be the difference between life and death; having your dog trained for search and rescue might not be an easy task.

Not only must the dog meet certain characteristics, but also it will need to endure along. Therefore, if you are considering having your dog train, please consult with an experienced dog handler.

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