Jarlaths dog Hugo

Deployment of SARDA Dog Teams

  • Voluntary Service Available Countrywide
  • Our qualified Search Dog teams are on call via the Gardai, Irish Mountain Rescue or Coastguard agencies
  • SARDA dog handlers and their dogs reside in various places in Ireland and usually work within a couple of hours travel from their home
  • Our dog teams are willing to assist in searches anywhere in Ireland, however, depending on the location, it may take a few hours for them to arrive
  • Dog teams will respond at no cost to any Search and Rescue agency to provide search dog services



Gardai are first point of contact for the public (112/999 as usual).

Where a missing person search incident occurs agencies contact SARDA through the SARDA coordinator, MRI (Mountain Rescue Ireland), or Mobile.

Any other state service (e.g. Fire Service) may call on SARDA Dog teams through the Gardaí.



During an actual search the SARDA dog teams are directed by the Search and Rescue agency responsible for operational control of the incident and work in close cooperation with all state and voluntary services involved. They search areas as defined by the overall search coordinator. Through the Gardai, the Irish Coast Guard and the Irish Air Corps, dog teams may be flown to distant search sites, however, the handlers usually provide their own transportation.

Operational Considerations


Area coverage

On arrival each dog/handler team is usually assigned a segment of the search area to cover systematically. Handlers work their dogs into the wind or cover the area in a way that provides dogs with the best scenting opportunity. Handlers map out the area they have covered and report their probability of detection (POD) to the overall search coordinator on completing their assignments.


Terrain coverage

Search dogs will quickly search large areas of ground and can reach areas inaccessible to humans. They are extremely effective in the very situations where human sight is most limited: in the dark, in dense woods or heavy brush, in debris and even under snow cover.


Weather conditions

The dogs can work anytime, day or night, in all kinds of weather, but prefer not to work during the heat of mid-day in the summer months. This is because the scent often rises straight up and is very difficult to detect, and of course the dogs work better in cooler temperatures. The effect of hot conditions on dogs’ scenting capabilities can be likened to the effect of foggy conditions on a human’s visual capability. For a dog the heat makes scenting difficult and furthermore the heat saps their energy.



Since the dogs use their noses not their eyes, they can search effectively when other visual resources are hampered by dark or foggy conditions. In fact, the air currents are usually more favourable at night and dog’s scenting capability is maximised.



The dog teams will work as long as is required, with regular brief rest periods in between. The temperature, the handler and dog’s endurance, the type of terrain etc, can all affect how long they work. As an example, qualified dog teams have been known to work for 33 hours in search operations spread out over 2.5days!


Scent contamination of area

Other people who have been in the area and have since left will have little effect on the dog’s effectiveness (e.g. previous search teams), but since the dogs detect any human scent they will find any person who is currently in the area. The dog is merely rewarded and sent off to find anyone else who’s in the area.