Search Dog Handler Volunteer

Regardless of the discipline, handlers must be a good team fit for LandSAR Dogs, have an affinity with dogs and understand how animals learn through reward based training methodologies. The dogs are chosen for their drive and hunting abilities.

To be an Avalanche Search Dog Handler there are further pre-requisites to joining, as found on their website. These include the appropriate skills and qualifications to be able to operate in an alpine environment, such as the MSC backcountry avalanche course. In the winter months, you will also need to live within 30 mins of high-risk avalanche areas or live within close proximity to a helicopter base.

Wilderness Search Dog Handlers are part of their local Land Search and Rescue group and attend training like all field members, however on top of their normal SAR commitments, handlers put in as many hours a week as required under their own initiative to keep their dog progressing through the training pathway and maintaining operational status.

Wilderness Search Dog Handlers often work within a Land Search and Rescue field team, therefore their requirements and fitness levels are the same as a field team member, although the dog handler should be of such a skill level they are competent by themselves in the bush and equipped to stay overnight.

Commitment & Training

Search Dogs have an entry and training pathway, which can be found on their website. This is a good thing to check out before you buy a pup. Handlers have no more than 3 years to complete their training once accepted onto the pathway, this is also age dependant on the dog, and the handlers skill level. Once operational and search dog teams pass the operational standard in their discipline, all dog teams will be reassessed annually by both NZ LandSAR Dog Assessors and NZ Police Dog Assessors.

There are four national training camps (2 per island) and two national assessment camps (1 per island) held annually. There is also targeted training camps held regionally throughout the country.

For more information visit the Land Search and Rescue Dogs website


Role Description

This team is the official Search Dog group in New Zealand. It consists of two disciplines: avalanche and wilderness searching. Avalanche dogs use airborne scent to locate people trapped in or under the snow. Wilderness dogs are trained both in tracking scent on the ground where people have walked and area searching, where the dog uses the airborne scent to locate the missing party. Wilderness dog teams are also certified in locating articles (hats, gloves, wallets, backpacks etc).

Search Dog Teams can be deployed nationally and need to be ready to deploy in all conditions and terrain, responding to ‘call outs’ from NZ Police SAR Co-ordinators and Land SAR IMT.

Register your Interest


Make sure you discuss joining SAR with your employer before signing up. Some work places allow special leave for SAR operations, others may require you to use your own leave. Discuss the process for notifying your boss when you are called out on a search.

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Land Search and Rescue acknowledges the huge commitment made by the whānau of our volunteers. Without family support, many of our volunteers would be unable to dedicate their time. Please share this information with your whānau.

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Ready to play your part?

Get in touch with your local Land Search & Rescue group…

Register your Interest

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