What we do

Always on Call

The National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA) is an umbrella organisation representing Search Dog Associations in the UK, Isle of Man and Eire. NSARDA holds the standards by which search dogs are trained and qualified.

All of the NSARDA Associations are voluntary organisations that are called upon by the emergency services to assist in searching for, finding and rescuing vulnerable missing people.

People go missing in all types of terrain including the mountains and moorlands as well as lowland rural and urban areas. In fact people go missing almost anywhere you can imagine.

NSARDA Search Dogs are used to search for the many different types of missing people such as hill walkers, climbers, the elderly and confused persons that may be suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, those that are despondent, children, and sometimes victims of crime.
You will find NSARDA qualified dogs and handlers working with both Mountain Rescue and Lowland Rescue Teams or directly for the Police and other emergency services.

The Aims of NSARDA

• Provide a single voice for Search & Rescue Dog organisations
• Raise public awareness of Search & Rescue Dogs
• Raise and maintain capabilities and standards of search dogs
• Raise money to fund delivery of our free-to-all-service
• Foster responsible dog ownership

Our History

In 1964 Hamish MacInnes, leader of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team, attended an International Red Cross Search Dog course in Switzerland. They were training and assessing avalanche search dogs and he immediately saw the potential for using dogs to search for lost walkers and climbers in the UK.

As things developed, NSARDA covered the whole of the UK, before it became devolved into Scottish, English and Welsh Associations in 1971. Further developments led to the modern day, with the current formation of regional associations.

Our Volunteers

Our Volunteers have to be ready for anything. They never know what they may find, particularly as for many of the missing people it may already be too late. They give up their own time at all hours for people they’ve never met, showing an extraordinary level of commitment.

What They Do

Search dogs are trained and qualified to find missing people by various means, including air scenting and trailing. Air scenting dogs work on both land and water. These are very efficient methods of searching larges areas of land, bodies of water and routes. In ideal conditions a dog can pick up human scent from around 500 metres. It is calculated that a dog is equivalent to about 20 human searches in good conditions and many more in poor weather.

The Training

Before making the call out list, our incredible dogs and their handlers typically train for between 2 and 3 years, before undergoing an intensive 3-day assessment. They are re-assessed after 12 months and every 3 years to ensure they remain competent. All NSARDA qualified dogs are on 24 hour standby, all around the country, 365 days a year.

Fundamental to the training are “dog’s bodies”, a core of NSARDA helpers who hide and wait to be found by the dogs. This familiarises the dogs with the finding of an unknown human scent.

Search Paths

Air scenting dogs
Using their natural hunting instinct, the dogs catch scent on the wind and track it to its source.

Scent discrimination/Trailing dogs
These dogs are trained to distinguish one scent from another. They are given a piece of the missing person’s clothing and follow the scent from their last known location.

Drowned victim search dogs
These dogs stand at the front of the boat and pick up human scent emanating from the surface of the water.


Dog teams are quickly deployed to search areas where they can begin to search quickly. This may involve 4×4 vehicles or helicopters, particularly to remote or difficult to access areas. NSARDA dog teams are often found working with Mountain Rescue or Lowland Rescue teams.

The Dog Team

A Search Dog Team usually comprises the Handler, the Dog and a Support or Navigator. Each member of the team is highly trained and qualified to perform their tasks. In essence the dog handler needs to ensure coverage of the area and to place the dogs nose in all the right places. The dog will range the area and follow the directions of the handler using their nose to locate human scent. The support / navigator will make sure the team covers the entire search area in order to complete their given search tasking. If a missing person is found the dog team will call in additional resources and provide initial first aid care until they arrive when an extraction can take place.