The first documented cases of dogs used for SAR were the dogs at Mount St. Bernard Hospice, St. Gothard, and other Alpine passes. By 1899 in Europe, military ambulance dogs were used to search for wounded soldiers as well as missing persons during peace time.
Based on the work performed by these early pioneers, people in the United States developed the Red Cross dog, also known as the casualty dog, for use during the Second World War. Today, much of the SAR dog training performed in the United States is based on the methods used to train military dogs.
It wasn't until the late 1960s and early 1970s that SAR dogs came into non-military use in the United States. In the early years, dogs were used primarily for finding lost people in wilderness areas. This is still their primary use today. Only after the Mexico City disaster, the earthquakes in California, and the Oklahoma City bombing was it generally recognized that the SAR dog has a real value in urban situations.
Several factors have influenced the development and training of SAR dogs in the United States:
- The majority of SAR dog and handler teams are volunteers
- Americans love technology
- Standards ensuring proficiency vary in different areas of the country
Because of these factors, the evolution of SAR dogs in the United States has been slower than that of their cousins in Europe. But that is now changing, and it is changing rapidly.