Mountain rescue dogs have been used for decades to search for lost people in the mountains.
They are trained from an early age to scent humans, listen perfectly, and respond to their handler no matter how challenging the task might be.
Also known as snow rescue dogs or avalanche dog breeds, mountain rescue dogs can detect human scent deep under snow or deep in caves, or any other hard-to-reach areas.
You may know that St. Bernard can find almost anyone under the snow, but did you know that six more snow rescue dog breeds can save humans’ in no time?
In this article, we have listed not only the best mountain rescue dogs but also included a full section on what makes a great mountain rescue dog.
Leonberger is a real-life giant size dog with profuse fur and high energy levels.
Leonberger is often seen as part of the mountain rescue team as they are powerful, and suitable for long working outdoor hours in a brutal climate.
As a mix between Newfoundland and St. Bernard, Leonberger is a big water and snow lover.
With up to 150 pounds (females tend to be lighter, up to 90 pounds), this giant, but a sensitive dog can easily pull a person his weight from the snow.
Leonberger or ‘lion shepherd’ in French is a working dog who responds well to training and experienced handler.
This dog breed barely survived World War II. In fact, this large breed nearly became extinct because, at the time, only 25 Leonbergers existed, and only five of them were of breeding quality, making this breed even today one of the rarest.
Good to know about Leonberger: This giant dog isn’t suitable for apartment living and first time dog owners
2. German Shepherd
German Shepherd is one of the best-known working dogs.
This breed is not only active, smart, and highly trainable, but they are huge people lovers as well.
Ever since the ‘search and rescue’ term was formed, German Shepherds have been around.
They are great when it comes to finding a human scent (their command is usually ‘find it’) in the most challenging areas.
This is why German Shepherds are often the first choice for police and military dogs.
They don’t have many smell sensors like hunters and hounds do, but they can scent out a victor with ease.
This is one of the many reasons why they have been working with police and the military for centuries, and why they can be seen as mountain dogs.
Large in size and a strong urge for duties, German Shepherds aren’t the dogs that strangers can trick into coming with them.
They will protect their family members no matter how old they are, for them – family and duty come first.
Good to know about German Shepherd: This breed tend to shed a lot, so always have the right grooming tools on hand
3. Siberian Husky
Siberian Husky is a perfect dog for a winter lifestyle. They are more than comfortable in temperatures down to around -12°C.
In fact, they are such big lovers of cold weather that they will ignore your call to come inside the house, for as long as they find it enjoyable.
Siberian Husky is a working breed that can easily pull sleds, which is something that they do even today. They love being busy and surrounded by people.
This is the main reason why they aren’t scared of strangers and why many actually do manage to steal them – they will willingly walk with someone they see for the first time in their life.
They love mountain living, and they have problems sniffing people out and taking them to safety.
Due to their endurance, love toward people, and affection toward cold climates, Huskies are often seen patrolling the mountains for lost humans. They can search for hours as they love being active and outdoors.
When treated right, they are loyal and warm family members.
Good to know about Siberian Husky: Huskies blow their coat twice a year, in spring and autumn, when they shed enormously
4. St. Bernard
St. Bernard is not only a popular snow rescue dog but it is considered to be one of the finest avalanche dog breeds (if not the finest).
St. Bernard is a large dog with a strong coat and undercoat to keep him warm and safe.
Originally, this dog was bred to find victims of avalanches in the Swiss Alps. This breed never goes alone on a mission, but in a pair.
When they find a victim, one will stay to keep the victim warm with their thick fur, while the other ran back for help. This is the true meaning of teamwork.
Their history is well-documented and dates back to 1050. Bernards are true to their heritage because they are friendly and love attention.
Like with any other breeds, it’s crucial to socialize this breed early and provide proper training, especially if your St. Bernard spends every second of his time inside.
These lovable giants are great with children, and amazing when it comes to keeping everyone safe and happy, but they tend to have a mind of their own if they are not trained well.
Overall, Saint Bernard is shy, sweet, and very affectionate.
Good to know about St. Bernard: These dogs need company, as they are prone to separation anxiety
5. Australian Shepherd
Australian Shepherd is a perfect breed when it comes to an active lifestyle.
This breed is an excellent choice for owners who hike frequently, run often, and cycle many times per week.
Australian Shepherds are very active and aren’t the best choice for first time dog owners.
They are like fluff bombs, which makes them the perfect mountain companion.
This is one of the most intelligent breeds, and can easily memorize around 100 commands, as long as you work with the breed carefully and with dedication for many years.
They are smart, agile, and easy on their feet. Plus, their endurance is above the average – they can spend hours outside being active, which isn’t something that any dog breed can do easily.
These active dogs can be easily trained to find people buried by an avalanche.
Collies are super fast and speed is one of the primary factors when it comes to saving a person buried under a mass of snow.
Australian Shepherds enjoy and can handle cold weather, but they cannot live outside.
Good to know about Australian Shepherd: This is a highly active dog breed that is not suitable for first time dog owners
6. Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs are often described as gentle giants.
They are large, but they are sensitive and gentle with people, children, and other pets.
Bernese dogs are so habituated to working and living with people, that they are officially named one of the calmest dog breeds ever.
Bred in the mountains of Switzerland, they enjoy spending time outdoors in the winter, especially in the snow.
They might have difficulties during the summer, which is why you should be careful about walks, provide enough water, and avoid overheating, which can lead to heatstroke in dogs.
Bernese are strong enough to pull small carts and pull out a human under the snow.
As a thick-coated breed, Bernese can spend hours outside being active.
Due to their natural traits and calmness, Bernese are even today present in the mountain rescue teams.
All in all, Bernese Mountain Dog is a popular avalanche rescue breed that enjoys it when there is a job to be done.
Good to know about Bernese Mountain Dog: This large breed has a short life span of 6 to 10 years
7. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retriever is found on almost every list of the top dogs for different activities and traits.
Not only the Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular and beloved breeds in the world, but it’s one of the best dogs to have with you when hiking or skiing.
Plus, this is the breed you want to see saving you when needed because they will give their best to bring you out in the safe.
They are calm by nature, extremely friendly, and highly intelligent.
On top of that, they can scent just as good as German Shepherd. They are often used in police forces and also bomb and drug work.
Labrador Retrievers are perfect water dogs, they could spend hours just water-chilling during the hot summer days. They have webbed toes, specially designed to facilitate fast swimming.
They are strong and fast, which is why they should be trained right, or they could develop issues with their back legs, and joints. Labs can reach 12 miles an hour in just three seconds.
Good to know about Labrador Retriever: They come in three colors black, yellow and chocolate; yellow Labrador Retrievers are also White Labrador Retrievers
What Breed Of Dog Makes A Good Mountain Rescue Dog?
Saint Bernard dogs are big and strong dogs, which is why they’re mostly used as avalanche dogs.
Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherd dogs are also frequently trained as effective search and rescue dogs.
Dogs for such jobs aren’t ever chosen randomly, but due to their traits.
Primarily, they are selected as rescue dogs thanks to their great sense of smell and ability to hunt. In this case, the prey drive is important.
A great search and rescue dog should have the following traits:
- To be physically fit
- To have an agile body
- Have great stamina
- Can adapt easily to cold conditions (and too hot conditions, also)
- To be fearless
- To have strong legs for digging, jumping, or climbing
How Long Does It Take To Train A Search And Rescue Dog?
It takes years to create one good search and rescue dog.
For example, dogs that specialize in avalanche situations can be trained for two to three years. Once the training is complete, they keep on training every day.
So, once the training is complete, handlers must continue to train their dogs to keep their skills up.
They are taught skills such as:
- Barking to indicate they’ve found something
- Running between their handler’s skis to protect their paws from other skiers
Mountain Rescue Dogs – The Bottom Line
Rescue and search dogs are used globally for different actions. No matter where they are located Alaska or Switzerland, the training methods are identical.
In mountain areas, it’s common to see dogs on trails, or next trails observing. Mountain rescue dogs are trained for years to reach a certain level of expertise to save lives.
Dogs are a great addition to search and rescue forces; after all, they are in it with all of their heart. Most dogs have a keen sense of smell, and that trait is put to good use.
Compared to humans, dogs have a spectacular sense of smell. They have about 220 million olfactory receptors (odor sensors), and we only have about five million, so the difference is huge.
Still, some dog breeds have better sniffers than others, and no one cannot deny it.
For example, Hounds are knowns as the top sniffers, while some may surprise you like Shiba Inu.
The best rescue dogs have to be social, dedicated, passionate about their work, enjoy work and playtime, and understand the team’s role.
They shouldn’t be scared by loud noises or crowds, and they should be easy to train.
Bottom line: If you love to ski or ride a snowboard, and you see a dog on the trail, pet him because he might be the one saving your life. Simply said, any trail is much safer with dogs on it.
Frequently Asked Questions On Mountain Rescue Dogs
1. What Kind Of Dog Rescues People In The Snow?
Saint Bernard is the breed that is most used as mountain rescue dogs.
These strong dogs are one of the best avalanche dogs due to their coat thickness, strength, and scent skills.
Next to Saint Bernard’s, another commonly used avalanche dog breed is Newfoundland.
2. What Is An Avalanche Dog?
An avalanche dog is a dog that is specially trained to find a person buried in the snow. Their main job is to scent the person and give the signal to the rescue patrol.
3. How Deep Can An Avalanche Dog Smell?
Avalanche dogs are trained to catch a scent up to 15 feet under the snow.
This applies to certain breeds that are highly trained, although the general rule is that dogs can smell between 10 to 15 feet down.
4. What Dogs Are Considered Mountain Dogs?
Mountain dogs are dogs who are large in size, have thick coats, love spending time outdoors, and enjoy work.
Most popular mountain dogs, such as Bernese Mountain Dog, are originally from Switzerland and the Swiss Alps and they have roots in the Roman mastiffs.
5. What Is The Mountain Rescue Dog?
The most popular mountain rescue dog is Saint Bernard. This is a powerful dog with great endurance and love toward the harsh climate.
Saint Bernards are considered to be the best mountain rescue dog breed and are followed by German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers.