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17 Best Dog Breeds For Search & Rescue (with Pictures)

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on May 7, 2024 by Dogster Team

Red Golden Retriever

17 Best Dog Breeds For Search & Rescue (with Pictures)

Search and rescue dogs are a vital part of human society that provide a rapid response to a crisis or serve as valuable tools of the law.

Search and rescue dogs aren’t limited to a particular breed, but some species have more of the necessary characteristics that meet the high standards search and rescue dogs have to conform to. Whether searching for people trapped in urban disaster zones, diving to save those trapped underwater, or sniffing out drugs and bombs, these heroic pups have all the traits needed to be true saviors. Let’s take a look at the 17 best dog breeds for search and rescue.

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The 17 Best Dog Breeds for Search & Rescue

1. Labrador Retriever

Golden Labrador Retriever
Image by: Glass_Burin P, Shutterstock

Lovable, brave, and sweet-natured, this friendly-faced breed is the United States’ top pick for a search and rescue dog. The Labrador has a great temperament, lots of intelligence, and a pure willingness to help. The breed is commonly used in water rescue and disaster recovery: the most famous being those helping in the 9/11 tragedy.


2. Bloodhound

bloodhound dog lying on the ground
Image by: Degtyaryov Andrey, Shutterstock

These long-faced dogs have been used to track people since the Middle Ages, so it’s no surprise they make fantastic search and rescue dogs. Friendly, affectionate, and always willing to follow a scent for miles, these dogs use their incredible sense of smell (they have over 300 million scent receptors – more than any other breed) to sniff out missing people, drugs, and even corpses. Inspector Gadget is a seasoned search and rescue Bloodhound and has been awarded the American Kennel Club Humane Funds Award.


3. German Shepherd

Alaskan Shepherd (Alaskan Malamute and German Shepherd Mix)
Image Credit: Steve Heap, Shutterstock

Bred to be a working dog for herding sheep, the German Shepherd is a staple in modern search and rescue. Often deployed as the K9 unit of the police force, these dogs are used for protection and detection. The German Shepherd is both brave and fiercely loyal, and their intelligence and physical prowess allow them to be exemplary urban search and rescue dogs. Commonly deployed for cadaver searches, many German Shepherds were on ground zero on 9/11. Two famous German Shepherd search and rescue dogs that helped recover bodies were Apollo and Trakr.


4. Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever in a park_SasaStock_Shutterstock
Image Credit: SasaStock, Shutterstock

Friendly, and playful, but with a laser focus, the Golden Retriever is often seen acting as a guide dog for the blind. They are always happy to be around people and can use their keen noses to track on the ground and in the air locating survivors, cadavers, and explosives. Two brave Golden Retrievers, Riley and Bretagne, were both celebrated for their services in the 9/11 terrorist attack.


5. Border Collie

Male Border Collie
Image Credit: BIGANDT.COM, Shutterstock

Famous around the globe for its unmatched sheep herding skills, the Border Collie makes a masterful search and rescue dog. With endless energy and an unrelenting drive to work for a reward, Border Collies are extremely intelligent and quick-witted dogs, capable of puzzle-solving and extreme feats of endurance. The Border Collie Sage searched for cadavers at the Pentagon on 9/11 and helped search for survivors following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.


6. Australian Shepherd

Image Credit: Bärbel Bauer, Pixabay

Dedicated, intelligent, and agile, the Australian Shepherd has the endurance, drive, and keen nose to follow scent trails for miles. They’re playful and adaptive, making training a breeze for the sleek dogs. They use their speed and agility in search and rescue to locate and reach people trapped in rubble or snow. That is the case for Wylie: an avalanche rescue dog working in Idaho.


7. Belgian Malinois

Belgian-Shepherd-Malinois_shymar27_shutterstock
Credit: shymar27, Shutterstock

Belgian Malinois are famed for their steadfastness and intelligence, with their keen noses being perfect for scent detection and tracking. They are often eager to please and highly focused, making them the ideal dogs for search and rescue and police work. Belgian Malinois are often used as cadaver dogs, sniffing out the remains of humans recently deceased.


8. Basset Hound

Female Basset Hound
Image Credit: Ewa Studio, Shutterstock

The Basset Hound has 275 million scent receptors, which they definitely put to good use. As excellent trackers and scent dogs, the saggy-skinned pups are calm, loyal, and gentle with their people. The dogs can track people in great need of being found, such as people with Alzheimer’s who can get lost in the wilderness.


9. St. Bernard

saint bernard dog with little kittens
Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock

These gentle giants are what first come to mind when you think of search and rescue dogs. While they don’t usually have the stereotypical barrel on their collars, the St. Bernard is the original avalanche rescue dog. They have thick muscles and even thicker coats that protect them from the fierce blizzards common to the region. Barry the St. Bernard was such a famous search and rescue dog in the 1800s that his body is preserved and still on display at the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland.


10. Beagle

beagle standing outdoor
Image by: Andrey_and_Lesya, Pixabay

This plucky puppy is instantly recognizable and has many talents as a working dog, including in drug detection and search and rescue. The Beagle has one of the best senses of smell of any dog (in the same league as that of the Bloodhound and the Basset Hound), so being able to track and locate missing people for miles is this sweet dog’s calling. A Beagle found a person trapped under rubble for 100 hours in the Haiti earthquake disaster of 2010.


11. Doberman Pinscher

Doberman Pinscher
Image Credit: patstatic, Pixabay

The loyal, tenacious, and bold Doberman looks mean but has a heart of gold. The sleek hound has a history in protection, but its intelligence and trainability have excellent uses in canine search and rescue teams. Dobermans excel in scent tracking and water work, often finding people or remains trapped in rubble or the water. Joe Pete, a Doberman from Michigan, has been awarded the Humane Fund Award for search and rescue.


12. Springer Spaniel

Welsh Springer Spaniel
Image by: dexter_cz, Shutterstock

Playful, obedient, and full of boundless energy, the Springer Spaniel is often seen donning a jacket in search of people or drugs. Initially bred for hunting, the hounds have endless endurance and will happily track and search for hours. The International Search and Rescue Team has recognized the bravery of a Springer Spaniel named Diesel, who traveled from the UK to New Zealand in 2011 after an earthquake struck Christchurch.


13. Newfoundland

Newfoundland in the river
Image Credit: rzoze19, shutterstock

Newfoundland dogs are arguably the best swimmers in the canine world and are elegant and acrobatic in the water despite their size. “Newfies” are sweet and gentle goliaths originally bred as working dogs to fishermen in their native island of Newfoundland. The dogs are renowned for their incredible strength, unwavering loyalty, and love of all people (particularly children), and their webbed feet make them unmatched for water search and rescue. Bilbo, a Newfoundland that lives in Cornwall, England, is a lifeguard that actively saves swimmers in distress.


14. Coonhound

Redbone Coonhound
Image by: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

The humble Coonhound was first bred for fox hunts in the colonial period. Coonhounds are known to be excellent trackers, following their quarry on land and up in trees. This level of intelligence and alertness, paired with their quick pace, make them brilliant at finding people, picking up their specific scent, and following the trail to its end.


15. Dalmatian

dalmatian standing on snow
Image Credit: Rebecca Scholz, Pixabay

As arguably one of the most recognizable dogs on the planet, Dalmatians are famous and have been everywhere from Disney movies to the stage of a rock band. The dogs are most often paired with the image of firefighters. Dalmatians are intelligent and playful, and while not commonly used in search and rescue today, in the past, they often took the front seat in protecting the fire coaches as they raced to put out a blaze.


16. Cattle Dog

red australian cattle dog
Image by: cynoclub, Shutterstock

Originating in Australia and sharing some genes with Dingoes, the Cattle Dog was bred for strength, agility, and endurance. It’s considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds and is a natural herder. The Cattle Dog is known for being a great air trail follower and rarely stops until the job is done.


17. Mixed Breeds

Dachshund Terrier mixed breed dog
Image Credit: kb-photodesign, Shutterstock

While all the above breeds are incredible search and rescue dogs, the mixed-breed hound is also exceptional. Often, mixed breeds have fewer medical problems than purebreds. Rip, a little mix-breed terrier, was a world-famous search and rescue dog in the Second World War.

Conclusion

Search and rescue dogs provide a vital service, and the outcomes of many terrible disasters, accidents, and other circumstances that endangered human life would be vastly different if it weren’t for the sensitive-nosed, iron-hearted, four-legged friends. No matter the breed, search and rescue dogs have to have the discipline, tenacity, and drive to want to work, and the breeds mentioned in this post all show the characteristics essential to a successful search and rescue pup.


Featured Image Credit: Hollysdogs, Shutterstock

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