Common Challenges Of Rescue Training

common challenges of rescue training

Dogs have numerous functions in our lives. Certain dogs make good playmates. A few are caretakers. A few of them are assistance dogs. And it’s best to call certain pets heroes.

Heroic dogs that maximize their innate ability to assist others in need are the canines that participate in search and rescue operations. There are some challenges in rescue training. So, here let’s know the common challenges of rescue training.

Here’s a breakdown of the text about search and rescue dogs, focusing on the challenges of training and key takeaways:

Types of Search and Rescue Dog Missions

  • Air Scent: Dogs scan large areas, locating victims without a starting point.
  • Trailing/Tracking: Dogs follow a specific person’s scent trail.
  • Cadaver: Specialized in locating human remains, including those buried or underwater.
  • Disaster: Combines air scenting with training to navigate hazardous disaster sites.
  • Avalanche: Locates victims buried under the snow.
  • Water: Trained in detecting scents and indicating their findings in water.

Qualities of a Good Search and Rescue Dog

  • Natural Aptitude: While some dogs are naturally drawn to this work, not all are suitable.
  • Good Manners: Should be friendly towards people and other dogs, unaffected by loud noises.
  • Competence: Extensive training (2-3 years) is needed, starting the dog while young is ideal.
  • Personality: Intelligent, focused, responsive, playful/motivated.
  • Breed: Certain breeds (hounds, sporting dogs) excel, but a dog’s drive is more important than breed alone.

Best Dog Breeds For Search and Rescue

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Bloodhound
  • Saint Bernard
  • Coonhound
  • Basset Hound
  • Beagle
  • Belgian Malinois
  • German Shepherd

Common Challenges of Rescue Training

  • Choosing the Right Method: Some dogs learn sequentially, others generalize well. Finding the best training style for your dog is key.
  • Handler Frustration: Don’t compare your dog to others. Patience and persistence are essential.
  • Dog Won’t Lead: May show the find but not bring the handler to it. Could be due to improper training cues.
  • Chasing Wildlife: Indicates a strong prey drive that may need to be redirected to avoid distractions.
  • Lack of Confidence: Common in rescue dogs, especially with overwhelming new experiences. Build trust slowly.
  • Dog Ceases Working: Could be due to age-related decline, or issues with the work environment.
  • Dog Loses Scent: Weather, chemicals, or the dog’s own health can affect their scenting ability.
  • Handler Errors: Micromanaging or confusing commands can break the dog’s focus.

Key Takeaways

  • SAR dogs perform incredible, lifesaving work. Their success depends on the right combination of breed traits, personality, and meticulous training.
  • SAR training is challenging for both dog and handler. Understanding your dog’s learning style and addressing issues with patience is critical.
  • Not every dog is suited for SAR work. Recognizing your dog’s strengths and potential challenges early helps determine if it’s the right path for them.

Types of Search And Rescue Dogs:

Dogs can be used in search and rescue efforts in a variety of ways. Search dog teams can be most effectively used if these types are understood.

The dogs’ primary job categories are often classified as trailing, cadaver (land and water), airscent (or wilderness), and disaster. Below is a brief explanation of each of these categories.

Air Scent Dogs:

The term “air scent” typically describes search dogs that scour areas using air-scenting methods. When an air scent dog detects a person’s “hot” scent in the wind, it will follow and locate them, ignoring any scent from the ground. 

When the right circumstances are present, air scenting techniques can cover huge areas rapidly and generate high detection probability. They don’t require a smell trail, an article to work from, or a “last seen” beginning point, and time is not a concern.

Certain canines trained in smell discrimination can also distinguish between different people in the search area by pre-scenting an article belonging to a missing person. Dogs with smell tend to work off a lead. 

The majority have been taught to locate the victim, notify the handler when the victim has been located, and then bring the victim back to the handler. We refer to this as a refind.

Trailing/Tracking Dog:

Because temperature and wind can impact how scent spreads, trailing dogs are trained to track a specific human scent, which may or may not match the person’s journey.

The victim’s last-known location is where the dog is started on the trail (PLS). When humans move across an area, their scent is left behind on the ground, which trailing canines will follow.

When taught, a trailing dog may detect differences in trail quality and follow a person’s path across hills and through marshes, even if they passed by several days prior. Dogs can even follow their owners around in cars thanks to the fragrance that escapes through the vents or blows out the window.

Cadaver/Human Remains Detection:

The remains of victims who have passed away are found using cadavers or HRD dogs. When trained, cadaver dogs can locate full bodies (even buried or submerged ones), decomposing bodies, body fragments (including blood, tissues, hair, and bones), or skeletal remains.

Disaster :

Airscent work is a subset of disaster work. It combines the dog’s capacity to detect a person with the unique training required to work in disaster settings, including collapsed buildings, mudslides, earthquakes, and floods.

For the handler to send the dog onto rubble piles to conduct closer searches, the disaster-trained dog and handler invest a great deal of time in teaching the dog’s direction and control.

Extra training is provided for the dog and handler to search on hazardous and unstable surfaces. A national program for canines trained and certified in disaster relief is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Avalanche Dogs:

It is quite difficult to locate victims of an avalanche or even those who fall into a tree well or snow cave with an unaided eye. Trained to sniff out human scents emerging from the snow, avalanche dogs will search until they locate the victim.

The significance of avalanche dogs can be understood from the fact that they can cover a greater area faster than several human searches.

Water Dogs:

Water dogs are bred to detect scents in the water and to notify their handlers upon detecting them. Scent in water rises to the surface in a manner like to that of snow. In cases of drowning, cadaver dogs also trained as water dogs may be helpful.

Qualities Of a Good Search and Rescue Dog:

All dogs have rightfully been dubbed “man’s best friend,” but search and rescue (SAR) dogs take the title to a whole new level. Their highly skilled abilities can frequently mean the difference between life and death, particularly in situations involving large numbers of casualties, natural disasters, and the search for missing individuals.

Natural for Rescue Work

While some canines are naturally good at finding humans, not all dogs—like people—are good candidates for employment related to search and rescue (SAR).

A good rescue dog must be well-mannered towards both people and other dogs, and it must be immune to abrupt or loud noises. To a dog, SAR work is not seen as work, but as a game they love to play.

An avalanche search dog’s task is to find human scent beneath the snow after an avalanche. Every human continuously releases tiny particles that smell like them. Millions of these particles take to the air, and the wind can carry them great distances.


Trainers for search and rescue (SAR) typically start training canines early on. A search dog may require two to three years to thoroughly train, so it is preferable to begin training the dog at a young age. This enables the trainer to choose the ideal breed of dog and raise a well-rounded canine.

While most dogs retire by the time they are ten years old, older dogs can still be trained, it is important to carefully assess if they have any concerns or issues that would prevent them from performing in a search and rescue capacity.

The activities of a search dog’s daily life impact its capacity for search and rescue. A dog in training is unlikely to be motivated to work if they can play with children, other dogs, or people anytime they want, as it will already be receiving all it needs for free.

Personality Qualities and Breed Specifics:

For dogs, participating in search and rescue operations is a fulfilling experience. It’s physically and mentally demanding, but most of all, it’s a lot of fun. One of the most crucial elements in determining whether a dog will be suitable for rescue work is its temperament; the other is the traits derived from its breeding.

The dog needs to be intelligent, confident, focused, listen well, and respond to the handler. It is crucial to recognize these characteristics at an early age.

A search dog’s high ball/play drive is crucial. A dog who is passionate about playing and can focus on fetching and playing ball for extended periods would be ideal. A SAR dog can be of any breed, but most of them have a sporting or herding heritage.

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Best Dog Breeds For Search and Rescue:

Introduction Compared to us humans, most dogs have an extremely keen sense of smell. We only have about five million olfactory receptors, or odor sensors, compared to about 220 million. Still, certain dog breeds are more adept at sniffing than others. The best sniffers are hounds, but sporting dogs are also quite adept.

While some may surprise you, others are simply plain obvious. Still, canines used for search and rescue missions need to be more than just sniffers. The finest rescue dogs must be intelligent and simple to train, like work and play, not be afraid of loud noises or crowds, and be gregarious but also devoted. The best dogs for search and rescue missions are listed here.

Labrador Retriever:

Almost all lists of the best dogs for various hobbies and qualities include this breed. They possess bravery, intelligence, and a scent that rivals that of a German Shepherd, in addition to their excellent temperament and friendliness. Police departments frequently use labradors for bomb, narcotics, and arson investigations.


With more than 300 million smell receptors, the Bloodhound has the most of any dog! Despite having a similar build to the Basset, they are designed with a long head, large nostrils, and long ears to help them detect scents. They are also bright, obedient, and simple to train. They also have a day-long vigor that never quits.

Saint Bernard:

In the Swiss Alps, these large furballs were frequently utilized to locate avalanche victims. When a Saint Bernard couple came across a victim, one of them would stay to keep the person warm with their thick fur while the other went back to get assistance.


Although these puppy dogs were designed for hunting, they are also excellent at search and rescue thanks to their keen sense of smell.

Coonhounds come in a variety of varieties, but they’re all excellent centers that are bred for speed and endurance as well as quick learning and obedience. You’ll have an excellent sniffer on your hands whether you own a Redbone or Bluetick Coonhound!

Basset Hound:

With only 275 million scent receptors, the Basset Hound has fewer smell receptors than the Bloodhound. However, these puppies can enter the scenting area more easily because they are lower to the ground than their cousin. This breed is also renowned for being intelligent, kind, and simple to teach.


The Beagle, the smallest dog, has shorter ears than the Basset but is still just as short and has as many smell sensors. Their endurance and will to please make them excellent at search and rescue. Their noses are excellent; they have a 90% success rate in detecting contraband.

Belgian Malinois:

The Belgian Malinois is another breed that is employed by the police and military. They have been used to locate bombs, narcotics, and even disease because of their excellent scenting abilities. These dogs have an abundance of energy and are incredibly intelligent and quick to pick up new skills.

German Shepherd:

Even though they don’t have as many smell receptors as hounds and hunters, German Shepherds have been used by the military and law enforcement for ages and are quite adept at scenting out victims. They are among the smartest, most devoted dogs you will ever meet, and they are capable of learning whatever you set your mind to.

Common Challenges Of Rescue Training:

If a dog has the proper temperament and training, they can become excellent Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs. But there is a wide spectrum of training techniques employed with these dogs, from gentle to harsh. 

We will discuss the two main schools of thought that impact SAR dog training in this blog post, as well as how to select the best approach for your dog.

Classifying Dogs:

Regardless of breed, there are two basic categories of dogs: legalistic dogs and generalizing dogs. Whereas legalistic dogs must be taught each scenario independently and take longer to generalize, generalizing dogs can adapt what they have learned to new circumstances. 

With the right training, either breed of dog can be dependable; the only distinction is the length of time needed for training.

Not Able To Manage Training:

Micromanaging a dog is one of the worst blunders handlers make, as it can impair the dog’s capacity for thought and decision-making. Although handlers may educate their dogs to think they can identify scents and know everything the dogs know, SAR dogs must be able to solve problems on their own. This can lead to the handler giving the wrong message to the dog.

To let a dog solve difficulties on its own, like when it might trample a scent trail, requires patience. If the dog is corrected in this scenario, it can be believed that the handler is aware of the scent’s whereabouts when, in fact, it may have drifted to another location. 

To help the dog learn how to cope with wind, weather, and terrain, it is preferable to let the dog lose the smell and then find it again.

Not Choosing the Right Method:

In the end, the effectiveness of SAR dog training depends on the particular dog and the training technique that suits them the best. The head trainer or handler needs to have a lot of experience training dogs and know which approach would work best for the particular breed and traits of the dog.

As an illustration, whilst some Labrador retrievers may have a strong hunting drive, others may not. In the same way, two English setters might not be especially “birdy,” whereas one might be. It’s crucial to train your dog in a way that suits their requirements.

Handlers may Become Frustrated:

It might be discouraging for handlers to see other dogs pick up skills more quickly than their own, but it’s vital to remember that every dog and handler combination is different, and some pairings may require more time to become proficient. Addressing such issues might be aided by a professional dog trainer.

The Dog Refuses to Lead the Handler:

When a dog finds a hidden person but won’t bring the handler to them, this is a regular problem during SAR training. Both scent-specific and air-scenting dogs may experience this, which is frequently the result of early training errors.

It’s possible that the handler unintentionally gave the dog the impression that their work was done since they already knew where the hiding person was. This could occur if the dog is directed to “show me” by the handler, who gets too excited when they discover the hiding person and gestures towards them.

The Dog Chases Critters or Game:

Dogs that quit their SAR jobs to go after wildlife can be a serious issue. This could occur for several reasons, such as the dog’s strong hunting/prey chase impulse, lack of desire to locate humans, or prior encouragement to pursue the game. You must start training your dog early to avoid this issue.

Lack of Confidence:

I notice in rescue dogs a lack of confidence quite frequently. This is a coping method that not all owners may notice, especially at first because the dog may be experiencing the emotional roller coaster that comes with a new home and surroundings.

Dogs will frequently go for walks on their first, possibly even second, day in their new homes, and they may get a new visitor within the first week. Your rescue may become reactive to other dogs and house guests if they are exposed to too many new things and engage in too many interactions too quickly. They may bark at insignificant noises and occasionally halt and lie down while out on walks.

Dogs undergo significant changes when they move out of kennels or foster homes and into new homes. They might have been accustomed to the sounds and smells of other dogs, as well as a predetermined schedule and feeding schedule.

Giving a rescue dog some time to settle in their new home during their initial days is the finest thing you can do as their new owner. Make everything as easy to understand as you can. To encourage sniffing and activate the seeking system in your dog, feed them from a snuffle mat or use Freework. This will help to release dopamine and reduce anxiety.

The Dog Stops Working:

Seeing a once-high-achieving SAR dog begin to falter in their work is upsetting. Age is one of the most frequent causes since a dog’s senses can gradually deteriorate with age.

Most big dogs, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers, have an excellent working life until they are about eight years old, depending on the breed.

The Dog Loses the Scent:

Scent loss is a prevalent issue, particularly in dogs that are scent-specific. It can be difficult to resolve if your dog displays excitement, endurance, and drive but loses smell after a short distance. Temperature and other weather factors might alter the scent, making it harder for the dog to detect.

For instance, when it’s cool or freezing outside, an exercised person emits more heat and scent; nevertheless, the dog finds it more difficult to detect the scent when the person is hidden in warm weather or behind a waterproof covering.

Chemicals can also momentarily impair a dog’s ability to smell, which makes it more difficult for them to identify a fainter aroma. Dogs that are albinos or short-nosed breeds like Boston terriers and pugs may also have trouble smelling scents.

Another reason a dog could appear to lose the scent is handler error. The handler may provide confusing new commands to follow a different smell if they don’t trust the dog. While she’s working, talking to the dog can potentially divert her attention and make her confused.


SAR dog training can be a difficult procedure, requiring careful consideration of the best training approach depending on the breed and unique qualities of the dog. The handler’s prior dog training expertise and comprehension of the demands of the particular dog are critical components of SAR dog training effectiveness.

Based on the dog’s prey drive, there are two primary schools of thought in search and rescue dog training: sticking with the smell source or going back to the handler to guide the dog to the scent source again.

Additionally, there are two varieties of dogs: legalistic dogs and generalizing dogs, which need various approaches to training. By teaching the dog the ins and outs of search scenarios, letting the dog solve difficulties on its own, and refraining from micromanaging the dog, training issues can be avoided.

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Aapt Dubey
Aapt Dubey

Aapt Dubey, a devoted canine enthusiast and experienced dog Owner, brings boundless passion to our team. With a heart full of love for our four-legged friends, Aapt is dedicated to sharing insights on dog care, behavior, and training to make every pup's life happier and healthier at

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