9 Best Search and Rescue Dog Breeds (With Pictures)

Search and rescue dogs can make excellent characters for touching and action-packed movies, but the truth is that these canine heroes work hard every day to aid in crises. 

And just as some dogs are more well-suited for hunting or emotional support, others are equipped with minds and bodies qualified for jobs in search and rescue

best search and rescue dog breeds
9 Best Search and Rescue Dog Breeds

Which breeds best handle these high-stress, fast-paced environments? Keep reading to see the 9 best search and rescue dogs. 

What Does a Search and Rescue Dog Do?

Search and rescue dogs are like the emergency response professionals of the animal world. These four-legged heroes aid various types of emergency response personnel in different kinds of search and rescue situations.

dog sits beside the police officer
A dog sits beside the K-9 police officer.

Some of these situations can include:

  • Water search and rescue
  • Human remains search
  • Drug search
  • Avalanche search
  • Disaster search

You may see search and rescue dogs work alongside police officers, military personnel, rescue teams, and first responders. 

What Makes a Good Search and Rescue Dog?

It takes much more than your average good boy to be a successful search and rescue dog. In serious and potentially dangerous situations, professionals need dogs they can rely on to be a help and not a hindrance. 

Golden Retriever runs so fast
A Golden Retriever takes a lot of training and a healthy diet to run so fast!

Breeds that possess some or all of these traits can make excellent search and rescue dogs: 

  • Sharp and accurate sense of smell
  • Reliable focus
  • Excellent sight
  • High levels of energy
  • Fantastic obedience, intelligence, and trainability 
  • Speed and endurance 
  • Strong swimming capabilities 
  • Loyalty to trainers and handlers

Dogs with low energy, little drive, and high stubbornness typically don’t make good search and rescue companions. 

9 Best Search and Rescue Dog Breeds

Search and rescue dogs, also known as SAR dogs, must be highly trainable, have excellent focus, and have extreme loyalty to their handlers. Only a handful of dog breeds are qualified in these areas, and 9 of them are listed here. 

German Shepherd 

German Shepherds are favorites among families, but they’re also incredible working dogs. This breed has been used not only as a SAR dog, but as a police dog, military dog, seeing-eye dog, and emotional support animal.

train German Shepherd
Owner trains her train German Shepherd.


The German Shepherd breed is very intelligent and a natural hard worker. With consistent training, this dog will form strong loyalty to its handler. And its muscular body makes it handy in all kinds of emergencies. 

Speed, confidence, grace, and courage make this breed the complete SAR package. 

Golden Retriever 

By American Kennel Club standards, the Golden Retriever ranks number three in breed popularity. And while these beautiful pups make some of the best family pets, their intelligence and history as working and hunting dogs qualify them for SAR work.

service dog
A service and rescue dog.

A great search and rescue dog must have excellent obedience skills to stay on task and be effective. Goldens are known for their innate loyalty, strong need to please, and impressive intelligence. 

The dog’s muscular body makes it willing and able to serve. It’s great on land and in the water, with strong swimming abilities, so there are no limits to its heroic capabilities. 

Belgian Malinois 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more hardworking dog breed than the Belgian Malinois. Often mistaken for a German Shepherd, the confident and stunning breed boasts many similar physical characteristics. 

Belgian Malinois with militaries
Belgian Malinois guards together with the militaries in a presidential event.

A member of the herding group, Belgian Malinois dogs have naturally high energy levels. Their muscular bodies are graceful and elegant yet powerful, and their minds are brilliant. 

Malinois do best with strict training regiments, making them a great choice for SAR jobs that require focus and eagerness. In fact, this breed is happiest and most well-behaved when it has a job to do. 

St. Bernard 

There’s a reason why most of us picture the large breed St. Bernard geared up with a red cross rescue bag. It’s because these gentle giants from the working group are well-suited for life in search and rescue.

a giant saint bernard dogs
A giant Saint Bernard dog

St. Bernard’s are large, strong, and powerful, making them ideal for seemingly impossible missions. But despite their impressive size, they’re also incredibly friendly and compassionate. Their intelligence and affection for family members also make them fantastic nanny dogs. 

Eager to please, St. Bernards are highly responsive to training. Plus, they do well in cold weather, so they’re a great choice for winter search and rescue excursions. 

Basset Hounds 

Basset Hounds may look goofy and aloof on the outside, but these hounds are some of the best in the business when it comes to tracking scents. Not only are their sniffers top-notch, but their short legs pair with their long ears well, allowing their ears to sweep the ground and kick up scents.

Basset Hound fluffy ears
Cute Basset Hound sits with fluffy ears.

The Basset Hound may not move as quickly as other breeds, but it possesses high levels of endurance and that is enough to qualify them as one the best search and rescue dogs. Plus, you can’t mistake its ringing howl that alerts its handlers to its findings. 

Despite a bit of stubbornness, Basset Hounds are unmistakably loyal and know how to get the job done. 

Labrador Retriever 

Like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers are a popular and easy choice as SAR dogs. This lovable and outgoing breed is a friend to all. It has high energy levels and loves to please its master

Labrador Retriever catching a ball
A Labrador Retriever catching a ball outdoors.

Labs are not only athletic but enthusiastic and intelligent. These traits make them a joy to train. They love all kinds of challenges – both on the land and in the water where they can show off their impressive swimming skills

Labs also have great physical strength. You can count on them to pull someone out of a sticky situation. The dog’s loyalty kicks in often as it is eager to showcase its devoted nature. 

Border Collie 

Historically, the Border Collie is best known for its work as a sheepherder dog. A high-energy breed, this dog craves work. The most well-behaved Border Collies are ones who get plenty of training, exercise, and tasks to complete. 

Border Collie follows owner
Border Collie follows owner in the field.

That makes them ideal for SAR work.

Border Collies are very athletic dogs and fast runners. They’ll impress you with their speed and agility, both of which can come in handy during search and rescue missions. This highly trainable breed is easy to work with and does well with positive reinforcement. 

Border Collies are very loyal companions and co-workers who love the ones they know and are wary of the ones they don’t. But in the SAR business, that’s a good attitude to work with. 


Bloodhounds aren’t nearly as scary as their name makes them out to be. In fact, Bloodhounds are quite friendly and easy-going. 

Bloodhound sitting
Bloodhound can serve as a search and rescue dog!

The large breed is known for its wrinkled face and droopy ears, but did you know it’s also famous for its sniffer? This type of dog can follow any scent. In many instances, it will become so fixated on finding a scent that it won’t let up until it hits the mark.

Bloodhounds are experts in search and rescue missions. They can be a bit of a challenge to train in obedience skills, but their noses never miss. 


There are a few different types of Coonhounds, such as the Redbone Coonhound and the Bluetick Coonhound. But any one of these hunting dogs would make excellent search and rescue workers. 

Bluetick Coonhound with a red collar.
Bluetick Coonhound standing with a red collar.

Coonhounds are high-energy dogs that will roam fields and forests for hours on end. They have a master-level sense of smell, allowing them to track down practically any scent. Their high level of focus pairs well with this trait. 

Additionally, Coonhounds are very smart. They’re easily trained and draw from a strong sense of loyalty to accomplish tasks. But when all is said and done, they’re just as friendly as your average Retriever. 

Plus, they are top-notch swimmers. 

Final Thoughts

Despite all of these breeds coming with the best innate qualifications, it still takes several months or even years of training for them to become official SAR dogs. Even then, not every pup will graduate from the course. 

But these nine breeds are some of the best search and rescue dogs out there to put their potential to good use and work hard to save people and solve crimes.