The "Typical" Search Dog

First off, there is really no such thing as a "typical" search dog. but in general, the successful search dog has the physical health and robustness to perform the task asked of them, the drive and focus to persevere in the face of obstacles, and the behavior to be a reliable working dog.

The Breed

Pattison searches for scent in a rail car.

The simple truth is that many breeds can be trained for at least some aspect of search and rescue work. As soon as someone emphatically states "that breed won't work," someone else will come along with a working example to refute the statement. In addition to the more common Labs, Bloodhounds, GSDs and Malinois, I've worked with or know of Norwegian Elkhounds, Rotties, Blue Heelers, Vislas, Standard Poodles, Dachshunds, Jack Russell Terriers, Mutts and many others.

With that disclaimer firmly in place, it's generally accepted that the scent-oriented working and hunting breeds are most commonly used in SAR work. They typically have the size and strength most handlers look for in a SAR dog, especially for rough-terrain and/or collapsed structure work. Also, they usually have bigger and boxier snouts, which as a result have more scent receptors and turbinates. This means they can gather more scent than a pug-nosed breed.

Smaller breeds can often excel in those disciplines where physical size and strength are less of a factor, such as water cadaver work (i.e. from a boat) or building searches. In fact, under these circumstances the smaller size can even be an advantage. When BSARD member Ed Jagodzinski (then with another team) worked the aftermath of a Kentucky flood in 1997, he was able to pick Grace up and put her through open windows and the like when other means of ingress were not available.

Finally, pure-breds are more commonly used than mixes and mutts. This is not because they are inherently superior, but just because their genetic history is usually better known and documented, allowing the handler a more reliable expectation of health and temperament.

Keep an open mind about any breed being considered for search and rescue, but also be realistic about limitations and expectations.

The Personality

The personality of the dog is critical to their performance as a SAR dog. In general, what one looks for in a search dog is:

The Gender

Bailey and Eika say girls are better, but Pattison and Scout insist boys are better. Since they all perform with a great degree of proficiency and probability of detection, we're wisely leaving this question unanswered.

See Also