We are really keen to recruit the right people, and we have streamlined our training pathway to make things easier for applicant handlers. Levels are as follows:  Applicant – Trainee – Novice – Operational – Advanced Operational – Trainer – Assessor.

Applicant SAR dogs and handlers require specific attributes before they ever start training. It costs thousands of dollars in not only time and money but also the resources of SARDA and the time and energy of the trainers and assessors.

If you meet our prerequisites please contact us.  We will discuss our requirements with you and then may ask you to attend a camp without a dog to watch and learn whether this is for you or not. If you decide it is for you and the assessor trainers think you have what it takes, we can start you on your applicant pathway, and once this part is completed you can be accepted on our training program.

We do not train your dog for you. You and your dog are a team, and handlers must be prepared to put in the time to train their own dog. It generally takes 2-3 years to train a search dog. To be considered, handlers need an obvious affinity with dogs and be able to work well as a member of a team, plus have the relevant alpine requirements.

Dog age, breed, selection, where you live and your alpine experience are some of the most important things!
If you think you have what it takes to train a search dog, please contact us.

what we look for in our dogs

– Is it the correct weight, active and healthy?
– Is it obedient and trustworthy off lead in all situations?
– Is it non aggressive to other dogs?
– Does the dog have a high play drive and retrieve?
– Does it bring toys / sticks to you to play? (the training is based on a play reward)
– Is it a working breed? Working breeds tend to have trainable attributes.
– Does it like people and willingly approach strangers with a good attitude? If it doesn’t like strangers or is shy why would it want to find someone lost?
– Does the dog chase other animals, eg cats, possums livestock etc. Search dogs are ONLY allowed to follow human scent.
– Does the dog perve… that is, become distracted by the scent of other dogs and continually cock its leg to mark its territory? (some dominant bitches also do this).

what we look for in our handlers

Must be a good team fit for Search and Rescue Avalanche Dogs
– good communication
– perseverance
– determination to achieve
– integrity
– honest about own abilities
– professional approach
– respectful of the organisation and process
– always doing the right thing even when no one is watching
– work as part of a team for the best team outcome

Must have affinity with dogs and be able to:
– elicit play with a dog using a toy
– demonstrate a high-energy reward in public
– use vocal pitch and volume to excite dog
– use tactile actions to excite/reward dog
– maintain consistent levels of reward


 These competencies are to be assessed by a SARDA Avalanche Assessor or nominated representative prior to the prospective handler being accepted as an entry level applicant.
– Response time is critical ‐ therefore during the winter season, teams must be located no more than 30 mins from high risk avalanche areas or live in
close proximity of a helicopter base likely to be involved in a rescue operation (as described in the region’s avalanche response plans).
– Preference is for teams to be located at ski areas.
– Employed in the ski industry, or an associated industry such as guiding, or a strong connection to skiing, touring and snow as a sport and/or endorsed by a NZ ski field, alpine ski or mountain guiding organisation.
– Applicant must display a suitable level of proficiency in back country travel
– Knows the dynamics of an avalanche rescue and the roles and reasons for whatever is undertaken.
– Have completed or (in exceptional circumstances) willing to complete an ASC 2 within the first year of membership. (Our SARDA Standards specify minimum standards of ASC 2 for any handler to be assessed).
Further application of skills. An ongoing expectation of those with ASC 2 or those not employed in the alpine industry as guides or ski patrollers.  This ensures that those with the minimum standards are observed by professionals regularly.  Their skills are measured against ITO (Industry Training Organisation) unit standards, these are part of the NZQA framework.