Rescue dog

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A rescue dog (also search dog ) is a specially trained house dog that has successfully passed a rescue dog test; this test sets i. d. Usually a successfully completed companion dog test is required. A rescue dog always works with his dog handler (the rescue dog handler , RHF) together in a team (the rescue dog team , RHT). An organized unit of several teams is called a rescue dog squadron (RHS), rescue dog train (RHZ), rapid action group rescue dogs (SEG-RH), biological location ( THW ) and specialist unit rescue dog location technology (RHOT) ( fire brigade ). The term search dog team is also common. Such units are trained, tested and deployed by various aid and rescue organizations such as ASB , Bundesverband Rettungshunde e. V. (BRH), Federal Association of Certified Rescue Dog Squadrons (BZRH), German Rescue Dog Association (DRV), German Red Cross , Johannitern , Maltese , Technical Relief Organization , but also with the fire brigade, the German Life Rescue Society (DLRG) and in private squadrons .

In Austria there are rescue dog squadrons of the Red Cross , the Austrian Workers' Samaritan Association , the Green Cross and the special organizations Austrian rescue dog brigade ÖRHB, the Austrian search dog squadron and the rescue dogs of Lower Austria . Some fire brigades and mountain rescue services also have rescue dogs.


Training at the Federal Air Defense School in Waldbröl

Although the dog has been a pet , helper and companion of humans for thousands of years , rescue dogs are quite a modern appearance. There are cases in history in which dogs have saved human lives, but these abilities were only used systematically in the 19th century.

In the hospice on the Great St. Bernhard , the monks bred their own dogs, the first St. Bernard dogs, from the middle of the 17th century . Their first task was to find the snow-covered path to the hospice. There are reports of various cases in which these dogs lost their way or led people to the monastery who were buried in the snow and thus saved their lives. The dog Barry alone is said to have saved the lives of over 40 people between 1800 and 1812.

The St. Bernard dogs were initially an exception. Only the war gave an impetus for further development. From 1885 on, the German army began to think about the use of dogs, initially as detectors or to transport ammunition . The animal painter Jean Bungartz also began training dogs in the medical service to help track down wounded soldiers. To this end, he founded the German Association for Medical Dogs in 1890 , which took over responsibility for training medical dogs on a voluntary basis. The costs for training and maintenance were borne by the army, but the implementation was entirely up to private individuals.

In 1903, Hauptmann im Generalstab , Berdez in Bern published the “Instructions for Dressage and Use of the Medical Dog” , which also contained a picture of the above. Animal painter and medical dog trainer Jean Bungartz is included.

There was no special support for the war dogs. In 1911 the War Ministry even ordered its complete abolition. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, the medical dog industry experienced a significant boom. While there were barely a dozen medical dogs at the beginning of the war, this number increased to over 4000 in the course of the war, and they were often recruited on a voluntary basis by private individuals and breeders.

In May 1915, the medical dog replacement depot Fangschleuse was built near Berlin. Its first director was Paul Böttger , an employee of Konrad Most . A year later, two more depots were opened. In total, over 30,000 dogs served as guards, notifiers or medical dogs. Less than 10% of them returned to their owners after the war.

During the war, the training methods were further developed and interest in continuing medical dog work was aroused. The entire dog industry in Germany took off, which was largely supported by private individuals, but the training of medical dogs remained with the military. However, there was a development towards civilian rescue dogs in Switzerland, where Ferdinand Schmutz began the systematic training of avalanche dogs in 1940.

In the Second World War, the need for dogs was significantly higher than in the First World War: over 200,000 dogs were used on all fronts, 25,000 of which died in the war on the German side alone. The need for dogs was so great that the owners of suitable animals were quickly expropriated by the Wehrmacht.

There were now essentially two types of dogs: the area search dog, which was supposed to track down wounded soldiers and the avalanche dog. In the final years of World War II, the rubble dog also developed. The development began by chance when it was noticed how dogs repeatedly tracked people under the rubble of bombed houses. From October 1944 onwards, several of these dogs were used to search the rubble, initially without any special training. From four dogs alone, 35 people were found alive.

After the Second World War, the idea of ​​the rubble dog spread outside of England and people started thinking about the systematic training of such dogs. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the Federal Air Protection Association (BLSV) initially took on the training of rescue dogs in cooperation with the Working Group of Breeding Clubs and Working Dog Associations (AZG). It was planned to assign a rescue dog to each self-protection platoon. When the BLSV was renamed and restructured as the Federal Association for Self-Protection (BVS) in 1968 , this meant the end of the self-protection trains and thus for the time being also for the rescue dogs.

In Switzerland again, however, work with disaster dogs began in 1968. In 1972 the Swiss Association for Disaster Dogs issued a training manual. Little by little, the public became aware of rescue dogs and it was recognized that well-trained dogs and handlers are a valuable aid in locating missing and buried people, even in times of peace, for example in the event of fires, plane crashes, train accidents or earthquakes. In particular, the successful rescue dog missions during earthquakes in 1967 in Italy, 1977 in Romania and 1980 in Algeria increased trust in the dogs.

The responsible authorities in the Federal Republic of Germany nevertheless had a certain belief in technology and they believed that they could work much more effectively with expensive tracking devices than with dogs. It was again private individuals who then continued to work with rescue dogs (often as a continuation of their work in the BLSV / BVS). The responsibility for disaster control lay with the federal states and the various rescue dog squadrons, which had meanwhile set up independently, were free to join an aid organization, for example technical aid, fire brigade or various medical organizations. In addition, private associations for rescue dog work were founded.

From the Baden-Württemberg Rescue Dog Association , the Federal Association for Rescue Dogs e. V. emerged.

In Iran , where dogs are actually considered unclean for religious reasons, rescue dogs have been allowed since the Bam earthquake in 2003 and used by the Iranian Red Crescent .

Areas of application

THW search dogs

Due to the dog's well-developed sense of smell, it is possible to search a relatively large area in a sufficiently short time with relatively few personnel (= rescue dog teams).

In addition to the “classic” missions in the search for buried subjects, e.g. After earthquakes or avalanches, for example, rescue dogs are also used to search for individual missing persons.

Area search

When looking for space, the team must also look for missing people in rough terrain or in large forest areas and arrange medical help for them. The dogs are trained in such a way that they can browse an area for human weather. The dogs must indicate people who are sitting, crouching, lying or running. The dog has three display options in the area:

When barking, the rescue dog barks at the found person until his dog handler is with him. This has the advantage that the dog handler can follow the bell sounds.

When Bringseln the dog takes the person found a so-called Bringsel up, walks back to his handler and this leads to the person;

When referring freely , the dog does not have a gift, but shows a special behavior in the dog handler and leads back again. The return can be done on a leash, or the dog shuttles between the dog handler and the found person, or always walks a little towards the hiding person, waiting for the dog handler.

Typical missions include searching for missing children or confused elderly people. As a rule, however, rescue dog squadrons are not used in the event of a suspected crime (e.g. searching for a murder victim).

Dogs that search for an area may also have to disobey in order to follow a trail or report a victim that the dog handler does not expect.

Rubble search

Debris search dog during an exercise

The work as a rubble dog (also rubble dog) is one of the most difficult forms of rescue dog work; the catastrophe dog has to filter out the human scent from a multitude of other smells and find victims who may be buried under layers of rubble several meters thick; the dog then indicates what it has found by barking or scratching. To avoid mistakes, the search is repeated with a second dog if possible. Operations in disaster areas abroad require extremely high discipline and resilience on the part of the dog and handler; many excellent rescue dog teams are unsuitable for this job. Typical uses take place, for example, after gas explosions or in earthquake crisis areas .

Avalanche search

Avalanche dog at work

Avalanche search dog teams can search for people buried under the snow after an avalanche has passed. Despite the technical progress through devices such. B. Avalanche transceivers or RECCO are sometimes the only and (then) the best way to locate buried victims as quickly as possible. That is why avalanche dog teams in some places complete standby duty every day during the winter months so that in an emergency, 1–2 teams can be flown onto the avalanche cone immediately. This type of search work is very time-consuming and stressful for the dog and handler. Since he is one of the first to arrive at the site, the dog handler must have extensive knowledge of clarification, risk assessment and operational procedures. The dog must not allow itself to be distracted by other dogs, probing chains, avalanche transceiver search teams and other disturbing influences. Avalanche search dog teams in Germany are not organized in rescue dog teams, but mostly belong to the mountain rescue service and have specialized.

Water rescue

Newfoundland dog on a water rescue exercise

So-called "water dogs" such as Landseer are often used in water rescue , but many other breeds are also suitable. The dogs swim to the victim in a special harness and offer their help, the victim can then hold on to the harness and let himself be pulled. If the victim is passed out, the dog grabs the person's arm or hand and pulls them ashore. Another variation can be to bring a lifeguard who first cares for the person and then lets the dog bring him to the bank with him. However, this assumes that the team is on site, which limits the range of operations.


Main article: Mantrailing

Mantrailing is a specialty of the rescue dog industry. In contrast to the tracking dog, the dog does not follow ground injuries, but the individual smell of a certain person. The search begins at the last suspected location of the person before they disappeared. At this point of departure, the mantrailer is offered a scented item (e.g. laundry worn by the missing person). The mantrailer then follows the trail, whether in the big city or in the country. Mantrailing is currently becoming increasingly popular in Germany, but there are hardly any experienced trainers in Germany and only a few dogs are used in an emergency.

Search for bodies

This subject is also not an original rescue dog work (rescue = restoring and stabilizing the vital functions of a living being). The search for bodies is generally intended to be a purely forensic activity. This means that the search for the corpse is only used to investigate criminal offenses. But this is not correct. All relatives of a victim have the right to bury them and the right to say goodbye. Also in the case of suicides , in which the use of rescue dogs would probably come too late (to save), the use of corpse search dogs is certainly useful. The search for bodies also serves to protect health in disaster areas, since the risk of epidemics increases with every corpse that is not found. The search for bodies in Germany is only carried out by the police and very few private individuals.

Water location

Water detection boat with rescue dogs in action (BRH Schleswig-Holstein)

Divers and rescue workers are faced with the same difficulties again and again when someone drowns: with relatively few personnel available, an area must be searched that - if at all - can usually only be described very vaguely by eyewitnesses. In addition, they only have a limited amount of time to work underwater.

The water location (water search) is a form of the corpse search and is therefore not directly part of the rescue dog work. By swimming or from a boat, water locator dogs look for a human odor emerging from the water. Locating depths of 50 and more meters have already been described. It is in the nature of things that water detection teams cannot be deployed in the first few minutes after an accident (alarm and approach time), which is why they are usually found dead.


Basically every healthy, people-friendly and open-minded dog is suitable for work as a rescue dog. The following special requirements apply:

Requirements for the rescue dog handler

  • High expenditure of time : the rescue dog handler has to invest a lot of free time and commitment; Rescue dog work is therefore only conditionally suitable for regular workers. The education and regular training alone can take up to 12 hours per week. Depending on the association, participation in rescue operations is voluntary to a certain extent, but i. d. Usually as undesirable to have yourself and your dog trained and then not take part in missions.
  • Requirement : The rescue dog handler must be interested in a meaningful task that he performs together with his dog; Rescue dog work is primarily a mostly voluntary aid and rescue activity, not a dog sport to keep the animal busy.
  • Physical and mental requirements : The rescue dog handler must be physically as well as mentally fit and willing to perform; Unfortunately, this excludes very young and very old dog handlers to a certain extent. The dog owner must also have a high sense of responsibility for his work.
  • Age : The prerequisite for participating in a rescue dog train is to be of legal age, i.e. to be 18 years of age. Taking into account the typical training duration of a rescue dog team (approx. Two years), active members are usually accepted from the age of 16.

Requirements for the dog

  • Age : The dog should ideally be 6–12 months old when training begins. (maximum about two years)
  • Beings : Economists expect the so-called canine creature strength ; the animal must not show any aggression or extreme anxiety towards humans or animals.
  • Physical requirements : The dog should be of medium size and not too heavy.
  • Dog breeds : The typical rescue dog does not exist. In principle, all motivated and high-performing, open-minded and not too heavy dogs are suitable if they have physical health, agility, strong nerves, eagerness to learn as well as friendliness towards people and their fellow dogs. Working dog breeds are most commonly used, but this is not a mandatory requirement. Very small (e.g. Yorkshire terriers ) or very large breeds (e.g. Great Danes ) are not typical rescue dogs, but the breed or body size is not an explicit exclusion criterion for most dog teams. For example, the Samoyed Nordic dog breed, which is considered difficult to train, can successfully be used as a rescue dog under a consistent rescue dog handler .

Requirements for assignments abroad

UN-OCHA , the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is responsible for coordinating task forces for missions abroad in the event of earthquakes . The task forces are logistically independent (search, rescue, rescue, medicine, logistics) and are trained and checked according to the guidelines of the UN-OCHA. Fundamental to this are the INSARAG guidelines of the International Search And Rescue Advisory Group of the United Nations , which certifies the official aid teams.

These guidelines (see above) are the same for all units worldwide and are regularly checked. Authorized units from the Federal Republic of Germany are:

  • USAR GERMANY - Urban Search And Rescue Germany - Task Force Germany Deutsche Erdbebenrettung e. V.
  • ISAR GERMANY - International Search And Rescue Germany e. V.
  • THW SEEBA - Technical Relief Organization Germany (Federal Agency)
  • BRH - Federal Association of Rescue Dogs V.

Almost all European countries provide at least one of these UN-accredited complete units (UN-OCHA-INSARAG task forces), the currently accredited international units can be queried via the UN. The "Guidelines" are intended to ensure the most effective help possible - help to avoid wasting any donations, to protect team members from being overwhelmed (as part of the duty of care ) and to avoid disaster tourism.


Rescue dogs have to learn to cope with difficult surfaces.

Trial training

The rescue dog training usually begins with a so-called trial training, during which the trainer and team get to know each other; The dog handler can check here whether he and his animal are suitable for work as a rescue dog team. Some clubs offer special chargeable courses with around five appointments, with other relays the new team takes part in regular training. Usually the structure of the training and the training system are explained separately.

Basic training

The training itself contains a range of training content for dogs and owners:

The basic training of the dog includes the following focal points:

  • Off-road mobility : walking on smooth and moving surfaces such as rubble, rubble, sheet metal, gratings, compost heaps, glass, etc.
  • Equipment work : Horizontal and inclined walking on ladders, crawling through pipes, crossing a seesaw, etc.
  • Obedience work : walking on a leash and free, “sitting”, “sitting down, standing, carrying the dog”, reliably calling the dog, laying down while distracted, sending it ahead, etc.
  • Display exercises : barking, calling, pointing back, scratching.
  • Search work : area search and rubble search .
Rope protection for humans and dogs

The training to become a rescue dog handler includes the following focal points:

  • Working in and with the relay requires a strong team spirit, balance, good physical condition, readiness for action in an emergency and regular training with the dog in order to keep the performance at the required high level.
  • Medical service training
  • First aid on humans and dogs
  • Organization and tactics
  • Map and compass science
  • Statics, rubble and salvage
  • Basic knowledge of cynology
  • Assessment of the situation
  • Radiotelephony
  • Search technique of the dog
  • Security in action

Probationary period

The probationary period is usually six months; it serves both so that the prospective rescue dog handler can once again make clear the considerable amount of time required for the training and the training rescue dog team can get an impression of the new dog handler and dog.

After the trial period has expired, the dog and handler must take an aptitude test. If both parts of the team pass the test, the dog handler is accepted into the rescue dog team. Depending on the training institution, he or she undertakes to be more or less binding to be available with his dog for use by the rescue dog team. Already during the training period, assignments as helpers are possible.


See also


  • Angela Wegmann, Wilfried Heines: Search and Help. Dogs save lives. A manual for the training and use of the rescue dog. Kynos-Verlag , Mürlenbach 1989, ISBN 3-924008-47-7 .
  • Andrea Freiin von Buddenbrock: The dog in the rescue service. A manual for training and use. Kynos-Verlag, Mürlenbach 2003, ISBN 3-933228-74-3 , p. 128: Independent problem solving and "intelligent disobedience" , ( table of contents ).
  • Urs Ochsenbein: The dog training according to Urs Ochsenbein. From everyday companions to service and rescue dogs. Special edition, 1st edition. With a contribution and an afterword by Claude Hockenjos. Müller Rüschlikon, Cham 2004, ISBN 3-275-01498-6 .
  • Regine Hartl: The free reference in rescue dog training. Training of the successful area search team in free reference. Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-4376-1 .
  • Julia Lorenz: "Such bewundt!" The medical dog system in Germany until 1918 , in: Ralf Vollmuth , Peter Mees (ed.): Military medicine and medical service in the First World War . Beta Verlag Bonn 2018, ISBN 978-3-927603-70-7 , pp. 255-268.

Web links

Commons : Search and rescue dogs  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rescue dog organizations and rescue dog units ,, accessed on February 15, 2014.
  2. "Instructions for training and using the medical dog " (Library: - Jentverlag, Bern 1903; PDF; 323 kB).
  3. Thomas Erdbrink: Iran-Iraq Earthquake Kills More Than 400. In: The New York Times . November 13, 2017, accessed November 13, 2017 .
  4. Themen-Show.DE: lifesaver Dog: As quickly find a rescue dog a missing person (area search). August 3, 2018, accessed August 3, 2018 .
  5. INSARAG ( Memento from December 26, 2010 in the Internet Archive ).
  6. INSARAG Guidelines and Methodology ( Memento from July 28, 2011 in the Internet Archive ).