SAR Dogs

The Search and Rescue Dogs Wakatipu (SRDW) is an active team which has followed previously operating New ZealandAlpine Search Dogs Inc. (established in Wanaka in 1988), now incorporated under the umbrella of LandSAR Wakatipu Group Queenstown (Queenstown branch of LandSAR). SARDW is a small group of dog handlers aiming to provide a volunteer search and rescue dog capability for various search situations. The team operates under international minimum standards, and train and evaluate to this level. The group also holds charitable body status and survives on sponsorship and donations. SRDW has access to Search Dog Teams qualified in Avalanche, Bush/Wilderness (Area Search and Tracking) and Urban Search. Having this resource available 24 hours a day may be the difference between life and death for a missing person. A dog’s nose is many times more sensitive to scent than a human’s nose. Dogs also cover large search areas more quickly and effectively than people. Once on a search site, dogs have proven to be an extremely useful and effective search tool. Our service is not, however, a substitute for being equipped and informed when travelling into the outdoors. Training a Search Dog team (dog and handler) is costly in terms of both time and money. In order to be certified as operational, handlers need to spend a large amount of time training their dogs, and also must attend courses on search methods, first aid and other areas depending on their search specialty provided by their local NZLSAR group. There are also equipment requirements. For example, an alpine search team requires a radio telephone, transceiver, shovel, probe and a host of other expensive items. Some of these costs have been met by sponsorship and the generosity of some local Queenstown retailers. The standards document set by NZLSAR is designed to deliver a set of standards for which local SAR organizations around NZ could feel confident to call in and deploy operational dog teams to the field. Prior to commencing any assessment to become operational, the handler must have the following:

  • Handlers must be members of their local SAR Organization.
  • Hold a current basic first aid certificate and have attended a track and clue course.
  • Have sufficient skills, knowledge and equipment to be able to sustain their own, their dogs and a lost subject’s life for a minimum of 48 hours.
  • Both dog and Handler to be comfortable in all aspects of travel including having been lifted or lowered by strop from a helicopter.
  • Handlers are expected to be able to liaise, plan and report aspects of the search to a Senior Adviser.

Everyone is involved with SARDW on a completely voluntary basis. Handlers and their dogs are available to respond to emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They rely on the goodwill of their employers to allow this response. The nature of our surroundings in the Southern Lakes means there are vast alpine and wilderness areas to get out and enjoy. The potential for people to get into difficulty also increases. Experiences such as the avalanche on 12 September 2000 near Treble Cone reinforce that there definitely is a need to maintain this valuable resource. We currently have available 2 near Operational Bush/Wilderness Search Dogs, 2 Operational Avalanche Search Dogs, 1 Novice Tracking Dog and 6 Volunteer members training in Search & Rescue Theory & Practice.


Brent MacDonald

Brent works in the ski industry on the Remarkable’s as “a grumpy old bugger” in the maintenance department. He has been involved with NZLSAR and Search dogs since 1995 approx (he says he can’t remember because getting old). He has had 3 operational dogs  and areas Brent is certified include Avalanche, Area search (air scent) and Tracking.

He is a Lead Assessor within the LandSAR Dogs unit.

Brent’s message: “I have been married for ages, hence grumpiness… Have a 5 year old daughter (Has Dad, Mum & Dog’s wrapped around little finger). My Driving principles: to provide an excellent resource to Search & Rescue and deliver that to a high standard.To pass on information to those who have an ability to work dogs.You can have any dog you like for search so long as it is a Lab and Black… (Just kidding gold ones are good to and Shepherds and Collies and all the others – as long as they can find someone.” 🙂 )

Read about Brent’s Award from April 2011


Vladka Kennett

Vladka is a Glenorchy resident (originally from the Czech Republic) and has been involved in LandSAR since 2006. With her black Labrador Jacques she is an operational Avalanche LandSAR dog handler. Back in the Czech Republic she was involved in the Police Dogs Training Unit. Vladka runs her travel business, ocassionally guides in Mt Aspiring NP and runs a B&B in Glenorchy.

She is the Wakatipu SAR Group’s Treasurer and has built this website which she looks after as a webmaster.

Within the LandSAR Dogs New Zealand group she’s got the National Camp Coordinator position.



Photogallery from the South Island LandSAR Dogs Training Camp Glenorchy 2012
Photogallery from the South Island LandSAR Dogs Trainign Camp Glenorchy 2011
Photos from the South Island LandSAR Dogs Training Camp Glenorchy – Februrary 2010
Article about the Canyon Swing Donation for SAR DOS Wakatipu – August 2009

An article about Airscenting Dogs in the FETCH! magazine (1/2010)
An article about NZ Avalanche Dogs in NZ Wilderness Magazine (10/2008)

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