Mountain rescue personnel with search dogs are members of the Search and Rescue Dogs Association (SARDA Lake District) and are available to support searches undertaken by all Lake District mountain rescue teams.
It is normal for dog and handler to search for missing persons at night and in foul conditions. The advantages of using dogs are never in doubt, especially in large complex areas such as the Great Moss or Crinkle Crags. The dogs are trained to find people by air scent. They indicate their find by barking at the casualty and, if the handler is some distance away (and they usually are!), will return to the handler bark (to indicate a find) and then return to the casualty and continue indicating.
The dogs (and handlers) undergo rigorous assessment before being graded as a 'call-out' team. LAMRT has two graded SARDA search dogs at present and a number of others at various stages of training. Each is owned, trained and worked by a LAMRT team member. All are Border Collies, bought as 6-10 week pups from local farms. Each dog took about 2 years, from buying the dog as a puppy, to final grading and inclusion on the SARDA call-out list. The dog teams work closely with team members on the hill and with the team base operators and any successful search relies heavily on team work, which is a major strength in all MR teams.
Searches often involve more than one team. For instance, a person lost on a walk between Scafell and Langdale could end up in areas covered by three teams. As this type of search is a regular occurrence (see call outs on this website), SARDA dogs from Langdale, Keswick and Wasdale are immediately deployed by teams in their respective areas, whilst the remaining SARDA dogs are called and deployed to cover the gaps.
One important task on a search is to get MR personnel to check out hotels and huts because it is not uncommon to spend a cold wet night searching the fells only to find out that the 'casualties' had spent the night nicely tucked up in a another B&B, having failed to inform anyone of their change in plans or route and oblivious of the fact that 30-50 people may be searching the fells.