6 Avalance Rescue Dog Breeds

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Depending on who you ask, there are 195 to 350 dog breeds in the world. Even sticking to the smaller number, it still is a huge number of different breeds.

Some of those breeds are smaller, other bigger.

Some are ideal lap dogs; others need constant challenges and are a perfect fit as a working dog.

But which are the best avalanche rescue dog breeds to find and dig out a person who was caught in an avalanche and buried?

By Ene Sepp.

Ene has worked at ski resorts in Estonia and New Zealand. Currently she works as a ski patroller in Colorado and although she does not have an avy dog, she loves to help with the training and be around the pups! You can follow her on goodreads.

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Let’s start with what is an avalanche?

The short explanation is that avalanche is a large mass of snow that flows down a slope.

It is a powerful sight, but getting caught by an avalanche is the worst nightmare for everyone enjoying outdoor activities.

Once buried, it is important to get you out as soon as possible and trained avalanche rescue dogs can be the best help.

Avalanche dogs work by detecting human scents.

They can locate fully buried human way faster than any of the technology we have invented or even a group of professional rescuers.

To perform as needed, the dog must be properly trained.

Having visited and worked at different ski areas, there are definitely some breeds that you notice more often then the others, so is there a reason?

Is every dog breed suitable for that demanding work?

Saint Bernard – classical breed, but not for modern needs

Thinking about avalanche dogs, Saint Bernard is the number one breed that comes to mind.

They are built suitable for colder weather and have the strength to perform various tasks.

At the same time, you most likely would not find a Saint Bernard working as an avalanche dog.

Why is that?

Their bigger build means it is a lot harder to transport the dog to the accident site and out.

Most of the avalanche dogs I have met, are capable of riding on the handler’s shoulders and sitting in front of them on a snowmobile.

I myself have shared snowmobile with avalanche dogs.

In no way it would be possible with a dog as big as Saint Bernard!

With a dog as big as Saint Bernard, that just can’t happen.

On top of that, although they do have strength, they lack the agility other breeds have.

All in all, they can be a great breed to have as a family dog and look great in wintery scenery but not a good choice for avalanche rescues.

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Golden Retriever – as great as you can expect

Golden Retrievers were bred to be retriever dogs for hunters. Nowadays their traits great for hunting can be used in the world of search and rescue.

Think about their great sense of smell and their strong instinct to retrieve.

They are eager to please their owner, easy to train and overall, very affectionate, and gentle natured.

There is probably no big ski area that would not have at least one Golden Retriever avalanche rescue dog.

Labrador Retriever – popular for a reason

Labrador Retriever avy dogs are close to my heart.

It was a wonderful Labrador Retriever named Ralph who rescued my when I volunteered to be buried in a dog hole for the very first time while working at a ski resort in New Zealand.

And it definitely wasn’t by chance that Ralph is a Labrador Retriever.

Beside Golden Retrievers, this is the breed you can expect to see moving around the mountain, ready to be deployed to save victims from the snow.

This is no wonder as Labrador Retrievers are overall one of the most popular breeds in the world. All that thanks to their traits and genetics.

Their nature is calm, friendly and they are very intelligent.

Because of that, training the dog and keeping them ready for deployment is a lot easier compared to some other breeds.

German Shepherd – not just for police

German Shepherds are some of the most well-known working dogs.

You encounter them working with the police, border control, military, and other similar fields.

When it comes to avalanche rescue, they might not be as common as Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers.

German Shepherds tend to be known as less affectionate dogs than the two above mentioned breeds.

It does not mean they are unfriendly, but they might need a bit more skillful training to achieve the needed levels.

At the same time, they are great working dogs.

German Shepherds have strong work drive, they are very intelligent, physically in good shape and extremely loyal.

Australian shepherd – newcomer who will not leave anytime soon

Beside the more traditional dog breeds one might notice more and more herding dogs like Australian Shepherd.

If hunting dog breeds make sense, how is it that herding dogs also end up in avalanche rescue world?

To be fair, for avalanche rescue dogs, their task is extremely similar to hunting.

Herding itself is a different form of hunting making herding dogs a good choice. They have naturally strong work drive, are used to work along other dogs and they have all the energy in the world! 

Herding dogs have naturally strong work drive, they are used to work along other dogs and they have all the energy in the world!

With endurance above average, they are ready even for long deployments in more remote areas.

Mutt – a little bit of everything

More than a pure bloodline, a suitable candidate for avalanche rescue dog must be physically fit, have good stamina and agility, have the drive to work and cannot be aggressive to other people nor other dogs.

Their fur cover is also no less important as the working conditions during the winter do mean low temperatures and howling chilly wind.

If a dog meets the above criteria, then the breed is no longer important.

Avalanche pups are usually chosen quite young and experienced handlers know what to look for.

Alpha pup of the litter is not the best, so is not a skittish and too shy puppy.

But it is good to know that mixed breeds are welcomed, and they can perform great thanks to good genetics from different breeds.

Photo by Agata.