The 10 Best Search and Rescue Dog Breeds

Written by Dana Mayor
Updated: September 16, 2022
Image Credit Noska Photo/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • SAR dogs are highly intelligent with sharp eyes and a keen sense of smell.
  • They also have to be energetic and good swimmers as well.
  • It takes months for them to become fully qualified to work with the military or the police.

Search and rescue dogs are the heroes of the canine world. Sometimes called SAR for “search and rescue,” these brave, loyal dogs work with law enforcement, first responders, and rescue teams.

All SAR dogs go through many months or years of training, especially dogs who work in the most difficult types of searches and rescues. These dogs do many important jobs, including:

  • Human remains detection
  • Water search for living people or cadavers
  • Avalanche search
  • Urban area search
  • Drug detection
  • Disaster search

The best breeds for search and rescue are intelligent, trainable dogs who have powerful scent and tracking abilities. Hounds, for instance, have an extremely keen sense of smell, and other breeds have powerful eyesight. All SAR dogs are eager to learn and willing to help their human partners do their jobs.

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Finding all these traits in a single dog is a tall order, and that’s why these dogs are the best of their kind. Here is our ranking of the best breeds of SAR dogs and interesting facts about each.

#10. Belgian Malinois

Search and rescue dogs - Belgian Malinois
Belgian Malinois young puppy in the park fields. Belgian Malinois have many talents that make them outstanding search and rescue dogs.

Fesus Robert/Shutterstock.com

These active, energetic dogs are ready to work long hours in searches. They are intelligent, highly trainable dogs who are popular with the military and police departments. Belgian Malinois have many talents that make them outstanding SAR dogs. They can find explosives, drugs, and other evidence. They can even be trained to sniff out cancer and other illnesses.

#9. Basset Hound

Basset Hound sitting on a table
With their short legs, basset hounds are ideal for scent tracking of small animals and anything that might be close to the ground and they make excellent search and rescue dogs.

Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

Like the bloodhound, the basset hound is built for scent work. With almost as many smell receptors as her larger colleague, she also has huge ears and a long nose. With their short legs, basset hounds are ideal for scent tracking of small animals and anything that might be close to the ground.

#8. St. Bernard

Saint Bernard search and rescue dogs
In the late 19th century Saint Bernards were deployed through the Alps to assist in mountain rescues. They are one of the most well-known search and rescue dogs.

iStock.com/bennymarty

Many people think of St. Bernards as the original search and rescue dogs. These huge, shaggy dogs first came to the Menthon Monastery as guard dogs in the 1600s. The monastery is on the summit of a mountain in Switzerland, and the monks frequently had to rescue stranded hikers. They began bringing the dogs with them, and the monks soon realized that these dogs excelled at finding missing people. Today, St. Bernards are among several dog breeds used in mountain rescues.

#7. Beagle

Search and rescue dogs - Beagle
Happy beagle dog having fun on then green grass. Beagles are suburb tracking dogs and make excellent search and rescue dogs.

eAlisa/Shutterstock.com

The smallest of the hounds, the beagle is a superb tracking dog because he can get close to the ground. Beagles have a curious, friendly temperament that makes them good at staying focused on their goal. Although you might think police dogs should be large, the small, friendly beagle has become a popular choice for police work.

#6. Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever (Canis familiaris) - black lab with ball in water
Labrador retrievers excel at some of the most difficult search and rescue tasks, including bomb detection, disaster recovery, and water recovery.

everydoghasastory/Shutterstock.com

These dogs are a triple threat that can swim, run and track. They rank high on every list of desirable dog traits, including intelligence, willingness to learn, and loyalty. Labrador retrievers excel at some of the most difficult SAR tasks, including bomb detection, disaster recovery, and water recovery. All retrievers, including goldens and Chesapeake bay retrievers, are good at search and rescue work.

#5. Newfoundland

Newfoundland dog pictured in front of colorful leaves
Newfoundlands are popular search and rescue dogs for the coast guards of England, France, and Italy.

Pandas/Shutterstock.com

Originally bred as fishing dogs, Newfoundlands can swim well in almost any water. Their thick, shaggy coats and webbed paws make them excellent swimmers. This trait has made them a popular SAR dog for the coast guards of England, France, and Italy. These gentle, brave dogs routinely rescue drowning swimmers and have even towed boats to shore.

#4. German Shepherd

Dog Facts for Kids
Beautiful German shepherd dog lay n the grass. The German Shepherd dog is one of the most intelligent and are also used as K9 dogs that assist the Police.

Callipso/Shutterstock.com

German shepherds have worked with their human handlers for centuries. These brave, loyal dogs are the most common breeds used by law enforcement and the military. German shepherds are highly trainable and obedient when given the right training. These dogs grow extremely attached to their human handlers and will go fearlessly into danger with them.

#3. Border Collie

Search and rescue dogs - Border Collie
Legendary as a sheepherder, the border collie also makes an excellent search and rescue dog.

Lelusy/Shutterstock.com

Legendary as a sheepherder, the border collie also makes an excellent SAR dog. A border collie enjoys nothing more than working hard for a reward. This intelligent dog enjoys a challenge, and it has the energy for SAR work. A border collie is a fast learner with a good temperament.

#2. Coonhound

Redbone Coonhound standing by a pond. Coonhounds will follow a scent trail with a single-minded purpose and make excellent search and rescue dogs.

Crystal Alba/Shutterstock.com

These lean, lanky dogs were bred for hunting, which means they’re capable of sustaining their energy for miles of running and searching. They have a powerful sense of smell and a long nose that can pick up any scent. Coonhounds will follow a scent trail with a single-minded purpose. They’re also intelligent, friendly and loyal companions.

#1. Bloodhound

bloodhound running through the grass
A bloodhound is one of the well-known search and rescue dogs. These dogs are highly energetic and willing to track a scent for miles.

Edoma/Shutterstock.com

With more than 300 million scent sensors, the aptly named bloodhound can find anything with his nose. Even this dog’s body is built for scent tracking. The bloodhound has a long head with large nostrils and enormous ears, which help the dog pick up any scents in the air. A bloodhound is highly energetic and willing to track a scent for miles.

Summary

NumberBreedSpecialty
#1BloodhoundScent tracking
#2CoonhoundScent tracking
#3Border collieRescue operations
#4German shepherdLaw enforcement
#5NewfoundlandCoast Guard support
#6Labrador retrieverBomb detection

Water recovery

Disaster recovery
#7BeagleTracking
#8St. BernardSearch and rescue
#9Basset houndTracking (small animals)
#10Belgian malinoisDetection of
explosives and
drugs

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About the Author

I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What breed of dog is best for search and rescue?

As these facts about SAR dogs show, the best breeds for this work are energetic, intelligent and brave. However, any dog can potentially be an excellent SAR dog if it has the right talents and gets the right training. Many SAR dogs are mixed breeds.

A good SAR dog also needs the right temperament. This work can be emotionally devastating for humans and their canine companions, which is why most dogs have a short SAR career before they retire.

What types of search dogs are there?

All SAR dogs get training in a specific type of search. They include:

• Detecting human remains
• Finding missing people
• Searching for dead and living people after earthquakes, fires or other disasters
• Searching the water for dead or living people
• Tracking fugitives by their scent
• Locating guns, bombs or drugs

What are search and rescue dogs called?

Many people call them SAR dogs. They are also known as the K-9 team, which is a pun on the word “canine” that’s commonly used by police departments and the military. You may also hear them called cadaver dogs, tracking dogs, air-scenting dogs or evidence dogs. As these facts show, these are all names for the same dog types.

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