Search & Rescue Dogs

Currently, we have one operational air scented search dog called Merryn in WCSAR. Our neighbouring team’s of East Cornwall and Dartmoor Rescue Group also have fully-trained dogs and handlers ready to deploy. All of the dogs are MRSDE graded and on-call and ready to deploy within their own operational area, but also further afield when required.

Dog handlers are firstly Mountain Rescue team members but they provide an additional and valuable resource for the team when it comes to searching for missing persons.

What is MRSDE?

MRSDE is the Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England which is affiliated to Mountain Rescue, England and Wales.

To be considered for training as a dog handler, an individual must have been on the callout list of a recognised Mountain Rescue or Search & Rescue Team for a minimum of one year, have the support of their team, and have been a dogsbody on national and local training courses. MRSDE’s aim is to teach the handler ‘how to train dogs to become search dogs’, and not to teach the handler search and rescue skills. They do not train the general public to become dog handlers.

It generally takes about two years to train a dog to callout standard and assessment takes place in winter conditions over three days in the Lake District, Snowdonia or Brecon.

More information can be found on the MRSDE website at

The Search And Rescue Dog Association was formed in Scotland in 1965. Hamish MacInnes, team leader of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team had attended an International Red Cross Search Dog course in Switzerland where avalanche search dogs were being trained and assessed.

He saw the potential for using dogs to search for lost walkers and climbers within the UK and, on his return to the UK, Hamish started training his two German Shepherds, Rangi and Tiki.

In Dec 1964 a training course with Mountain Rescue members from throughout the UK was held in Glencoe. Encouraged by this course, and the potential shown by the dogs, a meeting was held in May 1965 and the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) was formed and initially covered the whole of the UK.

By 1971 it had become devolved into Scottish, English and Welsh associations. Further developments led to the modern day, with the present formation of Associations: England, Lake District, Ireland North, Ireland South, Scotland, Southern Scotland, Wales, South Wales, and Isle of Man.

The National Search And Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) was formed to represent the associations at a national level with other National Authorities.

Search dogs are trained to ‘Air Scent’ so, as a general rule, they do not track the missing person, but react to wind borne human scent.

When deployed skillfully by an experienced handler, the dog should find a person in its search area, as long as it is searching downwind of a casualty or items of clothing or belongings, which have human scent on them.

A dog can cover large areas of ground, including difficult terrain and woodland in the search and is very sensitive to any human scent it finds. It will immediately follow a scent to its source. It will then ‘indicate’ to its handler, usually by barking, to let them know it’s made a ‘find’. It is not unusual for a dog to pick up a scent from a missing person, 500metres or more away.

It matters not whether it’s dark or very poor visibility, the dog can search just as well as if it were a clear day. However, if there is no wind or it is storm force, the human scent will not carry as far and the handler will compensate for this by shortening the sweeps of the area. This will take more time to search an area, but get a higher ‘Probability of Detection’ (POD).

There are no definite ‘POD’ figures for search dogs, however, of the dogsbodies deployed in assessments, in excess of 96% are found.

Dogsbodies are highly valued people in the development of the search dog. They go out on the hill and hide for the dogs to find on training and assessments courses.

From the very start of the dogs’ training, the dogsbodies are involved. When working with the puppies, dogsbodies help to get the dog socialised with strangers and encourage the dog to bark on command which, is how our dogs indicate that they have found a human or object bearing human scent.

Dogsbodies play an integral part in the search dogs’ training programme, regardless of weather conditions or the season. Their assistance and personal safety is paramount to MRSDE so they are equipped with the best of kit and are well briefed.

New dogsbodies are always welcome and are mentored at first. They are encouraged to start with the young puppy dogs in their socialising stage. Then move on through the different training stages.

If you feel that you would like to be a dogsbody and you are over 18 years old, contact us to find out when our next training session is.