Arson & Search & Rescue Dogs

Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF)

In the late 1980s, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) led the way in reintroducing dogs to the active roles in the fire service by training the first accelerant-detecting canine. A yellow Labrador named Nellie was the first dog trained as part of a pilot program in 1984. Nellie's performance was validated by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. In 1986, ATF established the National Canine Accelerant Detection Program. Mattie, the first "operational" canine was deployed that September. Both dogs were acquired from guide dog programs.


Canines can pinpoint traces that escape electronic detection. Mechanical hydrocarbon detectors are sensitive to gasoline components in parts per million (ppm). The smallest amount detectable by dogs is.01 microliters or 100% of the time. Also, a canine can differentiate between products of combustions and similar chemical gases found at fire scenes from true accelerants which mechanical detectors cannot. Canines are more adaptable and more accurate than mechanical equipment. 

This accuracy can help pinpoint the location of accelerants in a shorter time, thereby reducing the field time of investigators searching and processing a fire scene. The use of canines can reduce the number of samples that need to be collected and tested. It is also documented that samples submitted from canine teams for laboratory analysis result in a positive test for ignitable liquids over 90% of the time, compared to 30% for the investigators alone.

American Rescue Association (ARDA)

Bill and Jean Syrotuck created the American Rescue Association (ARDA), which is the oldest group of its type, in 1972. The organization brought together various rescue dog groups that had formed at the state level and gave them a forum to trade training techniques and information. In this way, the ARDA was able to help train and to provide capable search and rescue dogs to those who needed them. Similar organizations have popped up in Europe and across the world, where search dogs are most readily needed and seen. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also started training and putting to use rescue dogs in first response roles in disasters, everything from tornados in Oklahoma to the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

Search & Rescue 

Despite all the technological and scientific advances, such as GPS, satellite images, and robots, dogs are still one of the best tools of any search and rescue (SAR) team. While the victims of a disaster undergo an almost eternal nightmare hoping that somebody finds him, SAR dogs are just playing a fun game. These game obsessed dogs live to play the "fetch the human" game. Their reward is a funny tug'o war game. Being alive is the victim's reward. 

SAR dogs are capable of saving hundreds of human lives because of their powerful sense of smell, their exceptional hearing, rigorous training, and the amazing bond between them and their handlers. However, not everything is joy in the world of search and rescue dogs. Although these canine specialists are trained by means of games and rewards, they could be retired before time because of physical fatigue and damages caused during their noble task.


Although any healthy dog has well-developed senses of smell and hearing, a search and rescue dog must fulfill some additional requirements. SAR dogs must be agile and resistant enough to deal with typical difficulties of search and rescue activities. On the other hand, these dogs must not be so big that its size makes the recuse task even more difficult. A very big dog can become an additional difficulty when the team has to rappel down buildings or mountainsides or while traveling in small helicopters or boats.

Working Conditions

In addition, SAR dogs must be exceptionally motivated to search for long periods under the most unfavorable conditions. SAR dogs must be perfectly socialized to people and other animals. In addition, they must be accustomed to work or play under stressful situations such as among crowds of people, when other animals are present, and while there are strange and loud noises. Air scent dogs don't follow a victim's path. Instead, they smell the air seeking a human scent. 

These dogs are used to find people buried under rubble, people buried in landslides, etc.