A rescue dog, more properly known as a search and rescue (SAR) dog, is a dog trained to find people who are lost or trapped under debris. Rescue dogs and their handlers can be found working all over the world, in a wide range of environments from collapsed buildings to avalanche sites. In many regions, volunteer organizations offer SAR dog services to their communities, with some volunteers committing to travel long distances as needed; the use of a volunteer network ensures that search and rescue dogs will always be available.
Any dog breed can work as a search and rescue dog, although some breeds such as bloodhounds, Labradors, and other hunting dogs tend to be preferred. The most important trait in a rescue dog is a good attitude, with most dogs beginning their training very young so that they learn to be extremely calm, well behaved, friendly dogs before they begin to acquire the tools of the trade needed to become a rescue dog. A good rescue dog has keen eyesight, a good sense of smell, sharp hearing, endurance, and patience, as he or she may have to work a wide area for hours before anything turns up.
There are a number of different kinds of rescue dogs, all trained to perform specific tasks. Air scent dogs, for example, rely on their sense of smell to find people who are lost in the woods or at other locations. Trailing and tracking dogs actively follow a scent trail to find people, while water dogs are trained to identify drowning victims under water. Avalanche dogs can find people buried under mounds of snow, and they are often very busy during the winter in mountainous areas.
Training a rescue dog is hard work. The entire training process usually takes around two years, as both the dog and his or her handler need to learn a wide assortment of skills. Handlers learn things like first aid, wilderness survival, and wilderness navigation, while the dogs learn to find people with minimal information.
For both a rescue dog and its handler, the work can be very rewarding, but it can also be stressful and sometimes depressing. Especially when rescue dogs are used at disaster sites, the dogs sometimes become emotionally stressed when they are unable to find living victims. In a few instances, rescue dog handlers have actually planted assistants at the sites of disasters so that their dogs can “find” someone to rescue so that they feel better about their work.