Search Dog Handler Volunteer

Search Dogs are an amazing Search and Rescue asset. As part of a Search Dog team handlers utilise their dogs enhanced sense of smell to locate the missing persons scent, either through tracking or air scenting.

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 Search and Rescue commitments, handlers put in many hours a week to keep their dog progressing through the training pathway or maintain operational status.

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 and Training

Training a search dog is a 2–3 year process, and a big commitment for everyone who undertakes this journey. If you are already a Land Search and Rescue field team member it is important to contact New Zealand Land Search and Rescue dogs before purchasing a dog, as your training as a handler starts before your puppies.

Once operational all dog teams are reassessed annually by both New Zealand Land Search and Rescue dogs Assessors and NZ Police Dog Assessors.

There are 4 national training camps (2 per island) and two national assessment camps (1 per island) held annually. There are also targeted training camps held regionally throughout the country.


Role Description

This team is the official New Zealand Land Search and Rescue Dogs inc. Land Search and Rescue 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. Search 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 Search and Rescue IMT.

Find out more


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…

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