Minnesota Search and Rescue Dog Association

A nonprofit organization

22 donors

Providing trained K9/Handler teams to public safety agencies to assist in the event of a missing person. Services are free of charge to requesting agencies.

What is MinnSARDA

An autistic child leaves the house unseen, a hunter or hiker goes missing, a patient from memory care wanders away, investigators get a new tip on a cold case. We provide specially trained dog/handler teams to assist public safety/law enforcement agencies in lost person searches - such as those described above. Established in 1981 as a 501(c)3 organization, MinnSARDA is the oldest canine search and rescue unit in the state of Minnesota. Our services are free of charge to requesting agencies.  We primarily serve the state of Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro area, but occasionally work in other states.  

Please consider supporting MinnSARDA with a tax deductible donation in any amount. Gas cards and gift certificates for outdoor outfitters are also appreciated.

How Are Teams Used?

Teams are trained to work in three main areas:  

  • Trailing/Tracking - The dog smells a "scent article" (something the lost person has touched) and follows scent on the ground. The K9 works on long line and harness, towing the handler behind. The handler must learn to "read" whether the dog is on the trail;
  • Air Scent - Dogs follow air currents on the wind to get to the missing person. Typically, these dogs work off-leash and quarter an area much like a hunting dog. They are able to quickly cover large areas;
  • Human Remains Detection (Cadaver Dogs) - These K9s are trained to locate and alert to the scent of human remains. They can work on land or search lakes or rivers from a boat.

About the Dogs

  • Can be pure-bred or mixed
  • Must be able to withstand Minnesota weather extremes  
  • Physically and mentally sound
  • Non-aggressive to people and other dogs
  • Confident/comfortable working in wilderness or urban settings
  • Able to learn scent work, obedience and appropriate behavior in public
  • Must be driven and focused enough to want to look for a complete stranger

We most often start with puppies or young dogs since it takes a year and a half to two years to get them trained and ready to attempt certification.  Typical retirement age is 8-10 years. Not all who begin training are able to successfully complete the requirements needed to become a certified SAR dog. When they are not working, our dogs are beloved members of our families.

The Handlers

Volunteer Handler requirements/skills:

  • Background check required; 
  • Training in scent theory and search strategy;
  • Navigation with map, compass and GPS;
  • Human and canine first aid (minimum CPR/1st Aid certified);
  • Radio communication;
  • Understanding of lost person behavior;
  • Crime scene preservation;
  • Positive dog training methods;
  • We train all year round in all types of weather and terrain since we never know where or when someone will get lost. Like the dogs, handlers must be able to withstand Minnesota's weather extremes. This includes ticks and rain in the spring, mosquitoes and poison ivy in the summer, burrs and mud in fall, and ice and freezing temperatures in the winter. We get dirty, stinky and wet. Both human and canine members must be physically able to hike long distances over a variety of terrain.  We put lots of miles on our boots!  
  • SAR involves a significant time commitment

Where You Come In

As a small unit, expenses do add up.  Unit members are unpaid volunteers and are financially responsible for all aspects of being a part of the unit. Teams train together most weekends year-round and on our own during the week. Significant travel is required. Field eligible teams must re-certify with an outside evaluator on an annual basis. Handlers must be first aid/CPR certified and must complete  additional certifications - such as NASAR's SAR Tech and NIMS testing. At minimum, dogs must pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen. Responding to call-outs may require that we take time away from paid jobs.  We are also responsible for purchasing any equipment we may need (such as GPS units, radios, appropriate all weather clothing, and various K9 gear). Of course, veterinary care for the dogs is critical to make sure they stay in top physical condition.  We spend our time, money and efforts on these things because we believe that well-trained dog/handler teams can be a valuable asset in a search for a missing loved one and we want to serve our communities.


Organization Data


Organization name

Minnesota Search and Rescue Dog Association

Tax id (EIN)



Animals Community Emergencies


7335 223rd Ave NW
Elk River, MN 55330

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