There are three general types of search dogs used by Alpha Search and Recovery.

Area Search / Air Scent

Area Search Canine Qiefer searching for a missing person at a training.
Area Search, sometimes called air scent dogs are used to locate any person in a given area. These dogs are trained to work off leash to locate any person that is not with the search team. Many times these dogs work somewhat independently and report back to the handler when a subject is located. Area search dogs work off lead and will either bark and hold when they find the missing person or return to the handler and refind the person, taking the handler to their location. Area search dogs are useful for covering large amounts of ground with old or no known trails left behind by a person and are also used during disasters to locate victims.


Trailing Canine Havok working an urban trail on a training scenario.
Trailing Canines are used to find a specific person. These canines use a scent article taken or left by the victim and follow the trail left by the victim. They generally are not tracking dogs, meaning they may not track the victim step for step, instead they use a combination of air and ground scenting to locate the victim. Trailing dogs work on leash and are typically associated with bloodhounds, but many other dogs are capable and great at trailing also. Trailing dogs are most effective in finding specific subjects with a known last location and are effective in both wilderness and urban areas.

Human Remains Detection

HRD Canine Chase working a water cadaver scenario.
Human Remains Detection canines are dogs that look for the scent left by human remains and human decomposition. These dogs are trained to find only human decomposition and to ignore animals. They are also able to locate drowning victims underwater and can give the location for divers to recover. These dogs are generally partnered up with law enforcement and can be used to help solve cases or to provide closure for families. Human remains detection dogs are used in wilderness, water, and disaster situations when recovery is needed.

Breeds of Search Dogs

Human Remains Detection (HRD) Canine Rocket working a training scenario.

The breed of search dogs used by Alpha Search and Recovery depends on handler preference and drive of the dog. Typical breeds used are working breeds, such as German Shepherd Dogs, Labradors, Dutch Shepherds, Belgium Malinois, Dobermans, Golden Retrievers, etc, but we do have many mixed breeds and other breeds that work. The important thing is that the dog has the desire to work and the qualities of a good search dog.

The main qualities needed in a good search dog are:

  • Temperament – non-aggressive, environmentally sound, not nervous
  • Drive – prey and hunt drives are needed – dog will search out toys (or food), will be focused and not distracted
  • Physical Capability – good physique and age, no breathing difficulties, physically capable to work for hours

Canine Training

Trailing Canine Ember on a mantrailing scenarioAlpha Search and Recovery trains multiple times a week as a team at various locations around the greater Houston areas. Each handler trains their own canine with the team helping to train and guide each handler in the proper techniques and theories of search dogs. Training is provided free of charge to team members, check out our how to join page for more information on joining the team and check out the calendar for training dates to come out and see us in action.