Training a USAR Search Dog in NZ

USAR Search Dog Handlers

USAR Search Dog handlers in New Zealand are all volunteers. They come from all sorts of backgrounds. You don’t need to have a dog before you start - in some ways it is better not to have one. What we are really looking for is the people end of the lead, and what they bring. We will help the right people find the right dog.

The only “hard and fast” requirement is that you live within 2 hours driving distance of one of the NZ USAR (Task Force) bases in Auckland, Palmerston North or Christchurch.


In 2008, the USAR Search Dog Association developed and introduced a National Training Programme (NTP). This guides handlers and dogs in their training to achieve operational certification.

What all handlers share is basic fitness, the ability to work in a team, a good attitude, the desire to serve the wider community and a dedication to the development of NZ USAR Search Dogs.


Before you consider training as a USAR search dog handler we strongly suggest you ask yourself the following questions. They are designed to make you aware of the real time and commitment required.

  1. Do you have training in, or are you willing to get training in?

    • First Aid

    • Urban Search and Rescue

    • General Rescue

    • Incident Management

  2. Are you prepared to spend?

    • 6-7 hours/week training your dog

    • 18 months training a dog to operational level

    • time to take part in exercises and other events

  3. Are you a team player in all conditions?

    • day or night, wet or fine

    • happy to help out in other roles as required

    • have good communication skills

  4. Would you be able to?

    • work in tight and dirty spaces

    • undertake a regular physical competency test

    • undergo Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) psychological and suitability screening

  5. Once operational, would you?

    • be able to leave your work for up to a few weeks if a deployment was called

    • keep training to maintain your dog at operational level

    • commit to your operational status until the end of your dog’s working life

Where to from here…?

If you answered yes to most of these questions then please speak to us further.


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USAR Dogs NZ History

The USAR Search Dog Association held it inaugural meeting on the 2nd August 2003 in Wellington. Before this time there were a limited number of individuals and groups training disaster search dogs around the country ...

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NZ USAR Search Dog Association


Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Search Dogs are unique and incredibly valuable as a resource in the location of people trapped following the collapse of structures. The fast and effective location of trapped victims increases their chances of rescue and recovery. 

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