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Search and Rescue Dogs – Top Breeds For S.A.R.

Search and Rescue dogs have a very important job.  Their job is to locate and save lives. SAR dogs are trained from a young age for this job.  There are many different types of Search and Rescue dogs.

Have you ever wondered which dogs make the best for search and rescue? These dog breeds come from the herding, working and sporting groups. Read on the find out what these heroic dogs are used for, and which breeds are best suited for this very important role of search and rescue.

What is a Search And Rescue Dog Used For?

A Search and Rescue dog also known as SAR dogs is a dog that locates and saves lives by using their sense of smell.  They are used in events like tracking in the wilderness, mass fatalities recovery, and searching for and finding missing persons.  We’ll get into more detail in just a bit.

The handler of these dogs and the dogs themselves are highly trained and extremely reliable.  These dogs work in a small team and most commonly on foot.

Types of SAR Dogs

Air Scent Dogs

An air scent dog uses their scent abilities to locate a missing person.  Scent search dogs typically are from the working, sporting and herding breeds.  These dogs are normally medium to large size dogs and are strong and able to work outdoors for long periods of time, and cover a lot of ground.   They are also able to work in severe weather conditions.

They are trained to find children that have gone missing, hunters who have lost their way, persons who have been buried under the snow because of avalanches, buildings that have collapsed, people with Alzheimers or people who have gone missing in water like lakes, rivers or even creeks. 

These dogs also assist the police with homicide cases where they will help detectives find murder victims.  The victims of homicide may be hidden underground. So, therefore, these dogs will be used to track them using their scent.

Air Scent dogs work outside. So they must not be bothered by things like other animals, loud cars or other noises and other people.  They go through a tough training course to keep them focused on the task at hand. Therefore, these dogs are required to respond to their handler and obey them. The handler and SAR dog must have a strong bond and trust each other 100% because they are partners and lives depend on them. 

As part of their training, they will go through early socialization, so that they will not be aggressive towards other animals or people.  

Tracking or Trailing Search and Rescue Dogs

Search and Rescue dogs that are trackers or trailers will keep their noses to the ground.  They are trained to follow the scent of people who may have lost epithelial cells (skin cells, cells on the surface of the body) that have reached the ground or landed in plants, flowers, rocks, tree stumps, and branches.

These dogs can work on all kinds of different terrains.  The tracking dog is not looking for something, in fact, they follow.  In order for this dog to do its job, it needs to start with a person’s scent from an area that has not been compromised on contaminated.  By contaminated, I mean that no one has gone through your area yet.

We know that tracking is time-sensitive.  For example, if a person goes missing from a hiking trail or some with Alzheimer’s gets lost,  the tracking dog is sent to the place where the person was last seen. They are to pick up the scent as fast as they can before other law enforcement or volunteers reach the area and confuse the dog with all the new scents.  This can really have a negative effect on the reach the rescue efforts.

Dog Breed Used For Search And Rescue

  • Blood Hound 
  • Basset Hound 
  • Coonhound
  • Beagle
  • St. Bernard 
  • German Shephard
  • Belgian Malinois


Bloodhound resting in the grass.  Bloodhounds make great search and rescue dogs.
Bloodhound resting in the grass. Bloodhounds make great search and rescue dogs.

The Bloodhound takes the prize because they have over 300 million scent sensors. These dogs were built for search and rescue and they date back to the Middle Ages. Bloodhounds can go on for days without getting tired.

Not only are these dogs a great search and rescue dog they are also extremely gentle, calm and great with all children. In addition to being great family dogs, they are also very smart and easy to train.

Basset Hound

A Basset hound at work.  These dogs are low to the ground and can pick up a scent faster than taller SAR dogs.
A Basset hound at work. These dogs are low to the ground and can pick up a scent faster than taller SAR dogs.

The Basset Hound has around 275 million scent sensors. However, they are much lower to the ground than their cousin the bloodhound That being said, being much lower to the ground allows them to get into smaller scenting locations.

This sweet dog gets along with other animals and children. They are also easy to train and very easy going and laid back.


Coonhound sitting in the back yard.  These hounds are good search and rescue dogs.
Coonhound sitting in the backyard. All types of Coonhounds are good search and rescue dogs.

Although Coonhounds were originally bred for hunting, they have an amazing sense of smell. There are many Coonhound breeds, however, every single one of them makes for great search and rescue dogs. They are scary fast and have the endurance to keep them going forever.

Coonhounds are very affectionate, alert, happy and laid back. They get along with other animals and good with children, so, therefore, they make great family dogs


A beagle at work on trailing a scent.  Beagle are another dog breed bred for search and rescue.
A Beagle at working on trailing a scent. Beagles are another great breed for the role of search and rescue.

These guys are the smallest of the search and rescue dogs. However, they have a large number of scent receptors. They love to please and have great endurance which makes them great for search and rescue.

The Beagle is gentle with children and very tolerant. They love companionship, so having another dog around would be very beneficial for this dog.

St. Bernard

St. Bernard in the street.  This breed is excellent at locating people.
St. Bernard in the street. This large dog breed can locate people who have been buried under snow.

The giant St. Bernard was bred for finding people that were buried under avalanches in the Swiss Alps. These dogs would work in pairs to find these victims. Once located one would stay and keep the person warm, and the other would go for help.

St. Bernards are friendly and easy-going. They are loyal to their family and always looking to please. However, they can be stubborn from time to time.

German Shepherd

German Shepherd waiting for a command.  This dog breed is very intelligent and makes great police dogs, as well as SAR dogs.
German Shepherd waiting for a command. This dog breed is very intelligent and makes great police dogs, as well as SAR dogs.

This dog breed has worked with military and police services. They are one of the top intelligent dog breeds out there. They are not equipped with a lot of smell sensors, however, they can still smell a victim out without much trouble. This dog really has it all. Serving and protecting, guard dog, family dog, search and rescue, even used in contraband. What can’t this magnificent dog do?

This breed is a loyal and faithful guard dog, so, therefore, it will protect its family no matter what.

Belgian Malinois

A Belgian Malinois waiting for a command.
A Belgian Malinois waiting for a command from its handler.

The Belgian Malinois is not only a great search and rescue dog. These dogs are good at locating drugs, explosive and cancer. This breed is extremely smart and therefore learns very quickly.

Belgian Malinois do not trust strangers, so, therefore, makes them a great watch and guard dog for you and your family.


We have gone over the types of Search and Rescue dogs, as well as give you a list of breeds that are good at this job. As you can see there are many different breeds that fit well in the role of a SAR dog. It is a relief to know that there is a group of dogs out there that are highly trained for search and rescue. What can’t dogs do?


Are Search and Rescue Dogs Service Dogs?

SAR dogs are considered to be a service dog. They are there to serve and protect and therefore a service dog. A SAR dog is used to help locate people who are missing, or who may have died, so therefore these dogs need to be brought in for recovery.

What Makes A Good Rescue Dog?

These dogs must carry certain characteristics. These would be, outgoing, high self-esteem and friendly in other words they should be able to react positively with humans and other animals. They should be well trained to ignore any distractions, get along with people and other animals, especially dogs because they may have to work with other dogs and handlers in the field.

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