Search and Rescue

Splash’s Story

A collie is trained as a search and rescue dog.Splash is a Smooth Coat Collie, was born June 28, 2000 at Kings Valley Collies. Her sire is Champion Marnus Golden Ruler, 2000 winner of the Collie Club of America Stud Dog Class. Her dam is Kings Valley Rhyme & Reason.

Splash was purchased for her working ability, intelligence, confidence, drive, correct conformation and temperament. She is an active dog with a sweet, friendly nature and loves to wiggle into (and out of) tight places, play hide and seek, and meet new people.

Splash began training in September 2000. She is training in Wilderness Air Scent. She is handled by RJ Rapelje.

Read more about Splash in her diary.

Selecting a Potential SAR Dog

Reprinted with permission from RJ & Nik Rapelje, Search Dog Network, Inc.

There is no fool-proof method for selecting a dog to use for SAR. The only way to tell if a dog has the ability to do SAR work is to train it, do your best, and see what develops. Dogs are individuals. That said, there are certain traits which predispose a dog to being good at SAR. Not every SAR dog necessarily has all of these characteristics, but these are the traits you’ll find in most good SAR dogs.

If you’re looking for a dog to train for SAR, it only makes sense to “stack the deck in your favor”, and choose the dog with the best aptitude and the most potential. I’m not an expert in the field, but I have done extensive research, and in my search for a new puppy to train for SAR, this is what I found.


Most SAR dogs are social and friendly by nature. A SAR dog will be working with people, and it should be comfortable in the presence of strangers. Socialization is an important part of SAR training, but the dog should not have any pre-existing conditions (such as a history of abuse) that would prevent it from being well-socialized.

The best-trained, best-working dog is no use if it cannot be trusted with people. A SAR dog should be amiable, comfortable working around people, and have a pleasant personality. A SAR should not be inclined to bite, or be vicious or aggresive towards people, dogs or other animals. It cannot be extremely shy or fearful.


A SAR dog is a working dog, and it needs many of the applicable traits. The dog should want to work and have a strong desire to please its handler. This is often referred to as a strong play/work/prey drive or instinct. The dog should reliable, confident, outgoing, energetic (but not hyper) and stable. Most of these traits are found in other working dogs, such as hunting, herding, and agility. In fact, most good SAR dogs are generally good working dogs, and probably would do equally well in other working disciplines.


A trait that can be difficult to predict is the dog’s ability to focus in spite of distraction. Because puppy’s are, by nature, easily distracted and have short attention spans, this trait can be difficult to evaluate. A SAR dog must be able to stick to the job of finding the lost person without being distracted by wandering game, other searchers, other dogs and various other potential distractors. Because of this, a SAR dog must be able to concentrate and stay with a task without needing constant correction by its handler. While focus does improve dramatically with age and training, and easily-distracted dog will be exasperating to train and work.


Not all dogs have to be geniuses, but the dog must be reasonably intelligent. Besides learning the skills of air scenting and finding a “victim,” a SAR dog will also have to have excellent social manners and a wide repertoire of knowledge. In addition, a SAR dog will often have to work without constant direction from its handler. There are many different types of intelligence (for example, some dogs are better at problem-solving), and a good trainer will be able to use each type. Of course, an extremely intelligent dog can be more difficult to train, because the handler has to stay “on his toes” to keep the dog from getting bored!


The dog’s health and body structure are extremely important. SAR is physically stressful work, and the dog must be able to do the physical work without pain or injury. It is important that a SAR dog be free of any major health problems.

Certain breeds are prone to hip (OFA), eye, skin, hearing and other problems; be sure and have these checked by a reputable vet before purchasing a puppy. Do your research on any breed and bloodlines you are considering — breed associations are very helpful for this.

Physical Traits

In general, a SAR dog should be athletic, agile, and have good endurance. Pug-nosed dogs often have difficulty with scenting. The specific physical traits of your dog will vary according to what type of SAR work you plan on doing. Consider the physical location of where you will be working. Coat is an important factor – a Colorado avalanche dog will do better with a long, thick coat to keep warm, while a dog who works in hot and brushy conditions will be better off with a short, smooth coat that does not tangle in brush and burs. The dog’s size and weight should also be taken into consideration. For example, urban disaster dogs tend to be smaller and more agile breeds, such as border collies, so they can maneuver easily in tight places, while most wilderness dogs are slightly larger breeds, such as German Shepherds and retrievers. A SAR dog does not neccessarily have to be able to win a beauty pageant or a conformation championship, but it should have sound, structurally correct conformation. Generally, the dog should be well-balanced.

Personal Preference

As much as possible, get a dog that you genuinely like. You will be living and working with this dog for the next several years. Your SAR dog will be an important part of your life, so it should be a dog that you enjoy being with.