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Search Dogs


Qualified search and rescue dogs have been used successfully for years to find bodies underwater.  They not only can help pinpoint the location where the body is resting on the bottom, but sometimes can even tell where the body actually entered the water.  A critical point is to use only qualified search and rescue dogs that have been trained with their handlers specifically for water searches.


To work with trained water search dogs you will need the following:

  • Boat (low gunnel and flat bottom)

  • Motor (electric motor if available and if conditions allow)

  • Boat operator

  • GPS (if available)

  • Surface buoys (marker buoys)

  • Dog and handler

  • Pooper scooper (just kidding)


After the dog and handler are in the boat, the boat operator carefully and very slowly grids off the search area (the slower the better).  This can be done by using a compass or visual references on each shore in order to make 10- to 20-foot passes during which the dog is allowed to sniff the water.

The handler watches the dog carefully, looking for signs that the dog is "alerting."  If and when the dog alerts, the boat operator then grids off that immediate area, making 1- to 3-foot passes to enable the dog and handler to pinpoint the location of the alert.  When the handler advises that the dog is again alerting, the precise location can then be marked by using GPS or a marker buoy.

The advantage of using GPS at this stage rather than a marker buoy is that GPS allows you to mark a location without leaving a visible cue.  A marker buoy (visible cue) placed in the water while a dog is still working distracts the dog by giving off a human scent, which can also confuse the dog.  So use of a marker buoy to mark an alert location is recommended only after all dogs have finished searching.

It's also a good idea to use more than one dog to search an area because:

1. It double-checks the alert locations.  If one dog has alerted at one or more locations, bring in another dog after the first dog has finished searching and see if the second dog alerts in the same location(s).

2. It prevents burnout.  Due to a dog's intensity and excitement during the search, dogs usually get burnout after 30 to 60 minutes of searching.


Problem areas include:

  • Sewage pipes, treatment plants, etc.

  • Areas with trash and other debris left by humans

  • Any area giving off human scent


Because of the possibility of scents causing confusion, it's important to have as few persons as possible in the boat (boat operator and dog handler).  Also, no one should be allowed to stand upwind on the shoreline, a position that can cause human scents to be carried over the water towards the searching dog.

After the area has been covered and the dogs have done their job, divers would set up search patterns and completely check the alerted areas.  Understand that the dogs might alert on several areas and all these might have to be searched properly and thoroughly.  For more information, contact your local canine search and rescue team.  They are usually more than happy to help.

The following are just a few of the many qualified groups that can point you in the right direction when it comes to search dogs:

National Search and Rescue Dog -


Directory International K-9 Search & Rescue Services


Dogs East -

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