How Dogs Save People After Explosions and Earthquakes

How Dogs Save People After Explosions and Earthquakes

Author WDF Staff


Dogs are awesome creatures and on top of that, they help in many search and rescue operations around the world. What does it take for a dog to become a Search and Rescue dog? How do dogs find people in the rubble? What is the best breed for S&R missions? Can dogs detect explosives?

These are just some of the questions we will try to answer here.

Search and rescue dogs are usually classified in two different types and those types are Air-sniffing and tracking (or trailing) dogs. The main difference between these two types is their search and rescue technique. Both of these two types can be further divided into two main categories - the scent-discriminating and non-scent-discriminating.

Air sniffing dogs

The first type of search and rescue dogs are the air sniffing kind and those dogs usually follow a general scent like humans or animals. These dogs generally work off-leash and can cover more ground. The air sniffing search and rescue dogs are mostly used to locate people after large accidents (like the one in Beirut) or after earthquakes.

Many breeds can be trained by professional search and rescue trainers to become air sniffing dogs but the ones that are most praised and used for these S&R techniques are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Belgian Shepherds.

military dog

Tracking (trailing dogs)

Trailing or tracking search and rescue dogs usually work on a leash and their main task is to lead their handler after a scent they track on the ground. Best tracking dogs are exactly like you would imagine them to be - a Hound-type dog that is sniffing the ground and being very quick and vocal. These dogs were mostly used to track missing people, escaped convicts, and their original job - hunting.

The best tracking dog breed in the world is the Bloodhound. It has the most sensitive nose in the whole animal kingdom and is known for its superior tracking and trailing ability. It is not easy to fool this breed, it can easily detect detours or “double-down” a person or an animal might take. The Bloodhound can be trained to track a specific scent or a broad range of scents.

tracking dog

Scent-discriminating search and rescue dogs

Scent-discriminating dog is a confusing term used by professionals and it means that a dog is trained to follow a specific scent after a scent sample has been presented to them. These dogs are usually taken to a scene where it was last confirmed that the scent was left, for example, if a scent-discriminating dog is tasked to find a specific missing person, that dog is taken to the scene where that person last was and start working from there.

Scent-discriminating dogs are often used for hunting and locating missing people. They are also used in locating missing pets, a service that is getting more and more popular as the world changes it views towards pets. These dogs can also be extremely good at detecting narcotics, explosives, or any kind of contraband.

Non-scent-discriminating dogs

The Non-scent-discriminating dogs are trained to follow a broad range of scents and are also extremely good at detecting forbidden chemicals, explosives, or drugs. Dogs that are trained to search using this technique are usually air sniffing dogs that are used for varieties of search and rescue missions. They can be pretty good at tracking a specific scent but not as nearly good as the scent-discriminating dogs that have been specifically trained for that purpose.

These dogs are taught to follow a human scent in general. The exact process is still being discovered and thoroughly researched, but it is believed that dogs are able to detect skin cells that are scent-carrying and fall off of a human body at the rate of 35.000-45.000 cells per minute. They can also detect human perspiration, human respiratory gases, or gases that are produced during the decomposition of a deceased human being.

lake tracking

Best search and rescue dog breeds

All dog breeds can be trained to have a certain degree of ability to perform search and rescue missions but some have a stronger instinct and ability to track and detect scent. Here is the list of the best and most used search and rescue dog breeds.

1. Coonhound

These dogs were specifically developed to be great hunters and they have an incredibly strong and sensitive sense of smell.

2. Beagle

The Beagle is not only a superb family pet, but it is also a superb hunting and tracking dog that performs admirably in different tracking and trailing missions. Beagles are a part of the Hound family of dog breeds and they have a very acute sense of smell.


3. German Shepherd

The German Shepherd doesn’t have the most sensitive sense of smell but it is a versatile dog breed that can learn quickly and perform many different tasks. They can detect humans with ease and it is no wonder it has been used by the police and the military for over a hundred years.

4. Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois has also been working with police and military for years. They are very intelligent and energetic and can detect and remember many different scents. They are used for protection, detection, and are one of the best working breeds in the world.

belgian malinois

5. Labrador Retriever

The Lab is often used as a law enforcement detection dog. They have a great sense of smell that is combined with great intelligence and character. They are working as police, customs, and military detection dogs and specialize in detecting narcotics, explosives, and forbidden substances.


6. Basset Hound

The Basset Hound is one of the best hunting dog breeds in the world and that is the main purpose they were created to do. They specialize in hunting and tracking small game but their tracking ability can easily be focused on search and rescue purposes.

basset hound

7. Bloodhound

The Bloodhounds tracking ability is legendary. These dogs have been used for centuries for their tracking abilities. They are the best in tracking animals as well as humans and were used all over the world for tracking missing people and escaped convicts. The Bloodhound has over 300 million scent sensors and receptors in their nose and that makes them a dog breed with the best sense of smell in the world.


World Dog Finder team