Search and Rescue Dogs, and their handlers, are almost always volunteers who work with the police and search and rescue agencies. They train, equip, and maintain themselves and must be certified by organizations such as the North American Search Dog Network (NASDN). The NASDN also coordinates the contact of its members when they are needed. These dog and handler teams, more accurately referred to as units, are called to action at a moments notice. They often must travel immediately upon their notice to get to the scene in time. Many of these units were summoned after the Pentagon and World Trade Centers were attached to search the ruble for survivors, and then for the dead. These units search around the clock with only short breaks. To keep up the spirit of the dogs, the handlers would often have a rescuer hide and be joyfully found by the exasperated dog to end its shift on a happy note.

Search and rescue dogs come in two general types. There is the type that works off leash and tracks the air born scent. This type is best for open and rugged terrain. There is also the tracking type that keeps its nose to the ground and senses the trail left behind. Beyond these two types, there are dogs that specialize in wilderness or urban environments. Some specialize in cadaver search or victim search.