Header image  
member of the American Rescue Dog Association
line decor
home : about : volunteer opportunities : funding : upcoming events : members : photo gallery : suggested reading : sar related links : contact information
line decor


The Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association (VSRDA) is the Southeast's oldest air scenting wilderness search dog unit. VSRDA is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at no charge to the requesting agency. VSRDA is a member of the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA), the National Association for Search and Rescue (NASAR), and the Commonwealth of Virginia Search and Rescue Council (VASARCO).

VSRDA is a highly skilled volunteer canine search and rescue unit that utilizes specially trained dogs to locate missing persons in wilderness, disaster, human remains and water search and rescue/recovery missions. Each dog/handler team trains for a minimum of one year before becoming operational to insure a professional level of performance.

Each handler is certified in Advanced First Aid or as an Emergency Medical Technician. Handlers are also required to qualify in areas such as; land navigation, wilderness survival, search strategy and tactics, missing person behavior, and terrain analysis.


  1. Wilderness - All operational unit members have the necessary training to locate missing persons in wilderness situations. All canines are trained in this discipline. Handler training includes advanced skills in such areas as emergency first aid, land navigation, and grid searching.
  2. Disaster - Specific unit members and their canines have had specialized training in disaster response. These members have received their training from and are volunteer members of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team and can be deployed immediately on all natural or manmade disaster searches.
  3. Human Remains Detection - Specific unit members and their canines have had specialized training in the location of human remains and related criminal evidence.
  4. Water Recovery - In 1979, VSRDA pioneered the use of canines for water recovery. Specific unit members and their canines are trained to locate subjects that are either partially or totally submerged. VSRDA can respond to requests involving any body of water including lakes and seashore.


The proper use of search dogs in search problems can drastically reduce the number of personnel and hours required on a search and increase the probability of detection of the missing subject. Typically, between three and five dog/handler teams are assigned to a search. The search area is divided into large sectors and each dog/handler team is assigned a separate sector. One dog/handler team can typically cover up to one square mile per day and has proven as effective as 100 grid searchers. This system provides the best possible coverage of a search area, however, factors such as terrain, natural barriers, and weather can affect the rate of coverage.

All VSRDA search dogs are trained to air scent. Air scenting search dogs are trained to seek the unique scent that is produced by the bacterial activity on human skin cells. As these cells are shed from the body and released into the environment, they become airborne. The trained search dog has been taught to detect this scent in the air and will "work" the air currents back and forth until the subject is located. Once the dog has located the scent source it returns to the handler and leads him to the subject.

Air scenting dogs are extremely versatile. They can be used at any time during a search, including during or after rain or snow and at night. They can work after other searchers have been through the area and can be deployed days or weeks after a subject has been reported missing.



home   about  |  volunteer opportunities  |   funding  |  upcoming events  |  members

  photo gallerysuggested reading  |  sar related links  |  contact information