Search Dogs!

The following is a press release written in 1996.


Anyone participating in Search and Rescue knows the importance of the right equipment for the job. For members of German Shepherd Search Dogs of Washington State (GSSD) the right equipment includes a four-footed partner. Our canine friends bring a different level of skills and abilities to the search for lost or missing persons.

Originally formed in the 1960's as an offshoot of a German Shepherd breed club, German Shepherd Search Dogs has expanded their original charter to include dogs outside the original breed. All dogs in GSSD, regardless of breed, are hard working, physically fit, and friendly animals. Usually trained and raised from the time they are young puppies, they also share their handler's desire to help find lost people.

Many breeds of dogs are used in search and rescue throughout the country. GSSD qualified search teams can be found fielding Doberman Pinschers, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, and of course, German Shepherds. Other breeds are currently in training with their human partners. Search work isn't for every dog, however. Physical stamina and strength, trainability, socialization (both with people and other dogs) are just a few of the factors that make a good search dog.

How the Dogs and Handlers Work

The most important component of working with a search dog is teamwork. Both the handler and the dog offer skills that, when combined, result in an effective tool for finding the subject of a search. It's the handler's job to run the radio, know first aid, be able to navigate safely and accurately in wilderness and off trails, and be able to "read" their dog's behavior. The dog's task is to work confidently and quickly, covering terrain in areas that are difficult for people to get into. The dog must also be motivated enough to inform the human partner when he has located someone. A dog's detection ability (i.e. the nose!) is significantly better than the human partner's. In fact, it's possible for a dog to indicate the presence of a person up to a quarter mile away!

GSSD dogs work mainly as air scent dogs. This means that they don't take scent from an article of clothing to look for a specific person. When air scent dogs search, they will indicate the presence of any person in an area. Human scent is not only deposited on the ground as a person moves down a trail or through a forest -- it is constantly shed even when still. As a breeze or wind moves through an area, it carries scent particles that can then be detected by a search dog. When the dog detects these particles, they can be followed upwind to the source.

Types of Searches

GSSD participates in a wide variety of searches. These can be anywhere from the deepest wilderness to the heart of a city. In any weather, day or night, GSSD search teams are called to locations through Washington (and sometimes out of state). Traditional training focused mainly on wilderness type searches, where GSSD has been called to search for lost hikers, hunters or mushroom pickers. Increasingly, agencies have requested search dog services in urban and suburban areas to help locate missing young children or elderly family members. Whatever the situation, GSSD search teams are trained and ready to respond.

GSSD search teams also train for water and avalanche search.

Mission of GSSD

The purpose of German Shepherd Search Dogs is to provide, day and night, as a free public service, trained dog and handler teams for search and rescue at the request of any official agency, and to provide continuous training and education for members and their dogs to insure a competent and capable service.

More Information

GSSD training sessions are held twice a month in various locations in western Washington. In winter, avalanche workouts are held twice a month in mountainous areas. "Ready Searcher" status (capability of performing actual search duties) is contingent upon certification from GSSD's Operation Leaders that the handler has attained a proficient level of expertise in the skills of navigation, first aid, radio communications, and basic search dog handling. The dog must demonstrate skills in locating persons under many conditions and in varied terrain as well as being physically and mentally sound.

For more information about GSSD, contact GSSD Information

If you're outside of Western Washington, and need help finding more about nearby units, check the info at the SAR-DOGS list FAQ

Back to GSSD Info page


Last updated February 27, 1997
Copyright, German Shepherd Search Dogs of Washington State, 1997-1999
Seattle, WA, USA
Email -- webmaster@gssd.org