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Search and rescue dogs are the absolute cream of the crop when it comes to canines. These fearless pooches are called on when the stakes are at their highest and lives hang in the balance.
Performing search and rescue is a dangerous and difficult job. The dogs that do this task must be rock-solid, trustworthy, dependable animals with impressive athleticism, intelligence, and work ethic.
There’s no list of eligible dog breeds for search and rescue. Any dogs that meet the requirements and pass the training and examinations can work in search and rescue.
So, can Rottweilers do search and rescue?
Yes, Rottweilers can do search and rescue, and they’re one of the breeds best suited for this work since they possess all the necessary traits like strength, a calm disposition, and impressive intelligence. Moreover, they’re highly trainable dogs with the stamina to work all day, which are vital characteristics for a search and rescue dog.
Even though there aren’t exactly rules about what breeds can become search and rescue dogs, there are certain qualities that are necessary for these dogs to possess, which we’ll discuss momentarily.
We’ll also determine how many of those traits Rottweilers typically display, and touch on how you can get started in search and rescue with your Rottie.
What Does It Take to Be a Good Search and Rescue Dog?
As mentioned, there are no rules about what breeds can become search and rescue dogs. Rather, any dog that meets the requirements and can pass the necessary tests is eligible to become a search and rescue canine.
But what traits do search and rescue dogs need?
The IRO is a worldwide organization that saves lives with the help of search and rescue dogs. More importantly, they’re a certifying body that creates the tests and training that search and rescue dogs must pass to prove their competence.
Remember, the jobs that search and rescue dogs perform are high stakes and time-sensitive. These dogs must remain calm in stressful situations while still performing their job to a very high level.
SAR dogs, short for search and rescue, have to search for missing people that are often buried.
Accuracy is essential, as workers can’t waste time digging through rubble in the wrong area when lives hang in the balance. This means that SAR dogs must have a keen sense of smell to seek out humans hidden in the debris.
SAR dogs track scents in one of three ways.
Air-scent dogs can cover large areas quickly, searching for airborne scents. Tracking dogs will seek and follow scents on the ground, and trailing dogs will follow scent trails left behind by missing people.
Aside from an incredible sense of smell and a calm disposition in high-stress situations, SAR dogs also must be in peak physical condition.
Often, these dogs are in dangerous areas with hard-to-manage terrain. They must be agile and sure-footed enough to be able to traverse such areas.
Furthermore, these dogs must possess outrageous work ethic and stamina to continue performing their SAR tasks for many hours at a time. Sometimes, rescue efforts require multiple days of all-day work, and not every canine is capable.
Intelligence and Training
It takes a ton of training to prepare a SAR dog. These dogs are valuable assets that can’t be replaced, so it’s essential that they’re built to withstand such conditions and have the wherewithal to think quickly when situations change in an instant, which is likely to happen in the conditions that SAR dogs work in.
SAR dogs are performing dangerous and focused jobs. Naturally, this requires highly intelligent animals that can be trained to perform such jobs, which can be quite difficult for a dog.
Intelligence is vital, but without the proper training, even the smartest dog won’t perform well. That’s why SAR dogs must also undergo substantial training to help prepare them for the jobs they’ll be performing in the real world.
This means that SAR dogs must learn to follow every command, remaining completely calm and focused, even when there’s a ton of exciting activity going on around them and their handler, you, is nowhere to be seen.
Standards for Search and Rescue Dogs
There are three levels of training tests that SAR dogs must complete to demonstrate their advanced training and abilities. Once they’ve performed these basic tests, prospective SAR dogs must then pass a practical test that mimics the work they’ll do in the field.
Basic Obedience Training
The first level that a SAR dog must pass is basic obedience training. For this, your Rottie must demonstrate that it can follow basic commands and walks properly on a loose leash.
SAR dogs need more than just basic obedience. Level two testing requires your Rottweiler to obey basic commands consistently, even in a stressful situation.
During this test, your Rottie will be in the care of another handler among a group of search dogs. Your Rottweiler must demonstrate that they can perform all basic commands when you are out of sight, at least 30 feet away.
Advanced Abilities Demonstrations
SAR dogs must be advanced both mentally and physically. During level three testing, your Rottie will get a chance to show just how adept they are.
For this phase, prospective SAR dogs must complete an obstacle course to test their navigation skills.
Additionally, your Rottie must remain calm while riding in a boat or being lifted 10 feet in the air in the bucket of a tractor.
After demonstrating that they possess all the necessary abilities and traits in the classroom, your Rottie will have to prove that they can do the same in the real world with a practical test.
For this test, a SAR dog will have to accurately follow a scent and locate an item within a given time frame while traveling across an urban area.
After passing this exam, a dog is finally eligible for search and rescue work.
Can Rottweilers Do Search and Rescue?
As we’ve disclosed, quite a bit of training is required to turn a pooch from a pup to a certified search and rescue dog.
Of course, not every dog is going to pass these requisite tests. The question is: do Rotties have the natural abilities necessary for this kind of work?
The answer is a definitive yes.
In fact, Rottweilers have been successfully performing search and rescue operations for many years!
As mentioned, SAR dogs need to have athletic bodies with exceptional stamina to work all day in dangerous conditions that require agility and strength.
Rottweilers are incredibly strong dogs with stamina that’s hard to match in the canine world. These dogs have long been used for hard work, all the way back to the days of the ancient Romans when Rottweilers were used for guarding livestock.
Despite their large stature and rapid growth, Rottweilers are surprisingly agile canines that excel in agility sports. Thanks to their muscular physiques, Rotties are obviously strong, but their impressive agility is less obvious.
Need visual proof of how agile Rottweilers are? Check out this video showing a Rottie named Wizard crushing an agility course at a dog show.
Rotties have a long history of making great working dogs. For instance, they’ve been used for hunting and farm work, and they’re known to be excellent guard dogs.
One of the reasons that Rotties have always made such great working dogs is that they’re incredibly intelligent and highly trainable, which are both essential traits for a SAR dog.
Rottweilers are so smart that according to researchers, they’re the ninth smartest of all dog breeds!
Combine that above-average intelligence with their ease of training and top-notch athleticism and you’ve got a recipe for a great search and rescue dog.
But we still haven’t touched on one of the most important traits that every search and rescue dog must have, which is an extraordinary sense of smell!
Thankfully, Rotties have that covered as well. Rottweilers are naturally gifted in the olfactory department.
Dogs already vastly outpower humans in the scent department with estimates placing their sense of smell 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than our own. Humans have around five million scent receptors compared to the approximately 220 million scent receptors that dogs average.
That’s a pretty big variance, but even the low end of that estimate makes dogs far better at tracing scents than humans.
Rottweilers are probably towards the higher end of that estimate though, as evidenced by this video showing an untrained Rottie easily searching for and finding its ball in a thick field of high grass and weeds. Just imagine what a dog like this could do with some proper training!
So, yes, Rottweilers can definitely do search and rescue, and they’re actually one of the better breeds for such work.
What Disqualifies a Dog from Search and Rescue Work?
As we’ve discussed, Rottweilers are clearly a great fit for search and rescue work.
However, despite their positive qualities, some Rotties exhibit traits that aren’t ideal for SAR dogs.
For example, SAR dogs must be in practically perfect health. Any type of medical condition will disqualify a dog from working in search and rescue, including dysplasia of any kind.
Even a very mild case of hip dysplasia will bar a Rottie from working in SAR, which is unfortunate since Rottweilers tend to be highly susceptible to such joint issues.
Additionally, SAR dogs have very specific weight requirements to meet. SAR dogs must weigh between 30 and 100 pounds. Dogs heavier than 100 pounds might be too heavy for a handler to lift or catch in an emergency situation, which is why they’re not used for search and rescue.
Rottweilers can sometimes weigh as much as 135 pounds, so the largest of Rottie specimens will almost certainly be disqualified for SAR work.
A History of Search and Rescue Rotties
Even though some Rotties will be disqualified from SAR work because of physical limitations or medical issues, many others could potentially excel at search and rescue.
Luckily, we don’t have to take Rotties’ abilities at search and rescue as conjecture. Many Rottweilers have already proven their prowess in the field, rescuing real people from life-or-death situations.
Rottweilers have even been used in some high-profile rescues.
When terrorists bombed the twin towers on 9/11/2001, Rottweilers were some of the first rescue and recovery responders on the scene, helping to locate and rescue many victims buried in the rubble.
Sharon Ward is a handler of search and rescue dogs with an extensive history of working with Rottweilers, and she has some Rotties that have been successfully performing search and rescue operations for many years.
One time, she and her Rotties even found a pair of naked men that had been washed down a river and were stranded!
As you can see, even though many Rotties aren’t able to complete SAR work because of their size or physical limitations, there are still plenty of Rotties out there saving lives as hard-working search and rescue dogs, proving that the breed has exactly what it takes to excel in this dangerous and life-saving career.
What Breeds Are Best for Search and Rescue?
Rottweilers can certainly make great search and rescue dogs, but as we’ve clarified, there aren’t any specific rules about what breeds are eligible for service.
Despite their qualifications, Rotties aren’t the single best breed for search and rescue.
As it turns out, there are quite a few breeds commonly named as top picks for search and rescue.
Rottweilers are still among the best breeds for SAR work, but the following breeds are also commonly employed for SAR work as well.
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Australian Shepherds
- Basset Hound
- Saint Bernard
- Border Collies
- Golden Retrievers
- Belgian Malinois
How to Get Your Rottweiler Started with Search and Rescue
Rottweilers are excellent candidates for search and rescue work. That said, no dog is ready to perform SAR operations without extensive training.
If you’re hoping that your Rottie can participate in SAR operations, then they’ll need to start undergoing training specific to search and rescue.
There are several programs you can enter a Rottie in to qualify them for SAR work. While some programs only last for a few days, others may take 8-10 months to complete.
The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation offers SAR programs to train your Rottweiler to become a full-fledged search and rescue dog.
Similarly, the IRO also offers search and rescue training programs that Rottweilers can enter.
Once you and your pooch pass the certification exam, you’ll be eligible to begin participating in search and rescue operations. Every three years, you and your dog must once again pass the national certification exam to prove your continued competence.
In addition to the national certification exam, handlers must also maintain recent certifications like CPR and first aid. Plus, you must be able to demonstrate essential skills such as the use of a compass and the ability to read maps.
To become a certified SAR handler and canine pair, you’ll need to be approved by the FEMA Urban Search & Rescue force.
Other certifications can also aid you in your SAR quest, including the National Association of Search and Rescue certification for the handler.
You can also join SAR teams through groups like the Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States or SARDUS that can be extremely helpful when it comes to learning about the life of a SAR dog and handler and what it takes to be part of that world.
German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are the most commonly used breeds for search and rescue work, but as we’ve demonstrated, Rottweilers should definitely be in the conversation of best dog breeds for SAR.
Rotties are incredibly smart, hard-working, and have the sort of physical prowess necessary for search and rescue. However, they’re often a bit too heavy for handlers to lift and are susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia, which would disqualify them for SAR work.
Even so, many Rottweilers are excellent candidates for search and rescue, exhibiting precisely the blend of physical and mental abilities necessary for finding and saving humans from dangerous and potentially deadly situations.