Are You Thinking About Hiring A Canine Search Team?
Owners should have a full understanding of what and how a Canine Search Team works in order to make an educated decision before hiring them to locate their missing dog. Owners are quick to believe these teams will immediately find their dog (walk-up finds) during the search and are disheartened when their dog is not immediately found. A large number of dogs that are found are not done so by solely using a tracking dog. In fact, there are also many occasions where using a tracking dog can actually be detrimental to the search. We at CT Dog Gone Recovery Volunteers (DGR) do support the use of Canine Search Teams under certain situations which will be described further in our article below. We wrote this article as an effort to educate our clients about tracking dogs so they can weigh the benefits and the detriments of using a tracker. While the decision on whether or not to hiring a Canine Search Team is solely up to the owner, we implore them to research them before hiring any Search Team.
In this context, a Canine Search Team consists of a handler and a dog whose mission is to locate a lost animal. The term Canine Search Team is also referred to as Tracking Dogs, Air Scenting dogs, and Trailing dogs. While there is a different definition for each of those terms, which describes on how they go about the search, the main intent is to locate a missing pet by following the lost animal’s scent. Scent here refers to the particular odor or smell of the animal.
A well-trained Tracking Dog will be able to determine the lost dog’s scent from all other scents. Tracking dogs are given an article of the particular scent to search for. They work by sniffing the ground for lost dog’s scent particles, which can be described as heavier-than-air particles that carry this dog’s particular odor. These particles will normally be close to the ground or on nearby foliage, so the tracking dog will be constantly sniffing the ground. Since these dogs only follow the cloud of scent that is on the ground or hovering above the ground, it is important to know where the path of the lost animal starts. If there are sightings of your dog, it is extremely important to get specific information so the tracking dog can find the scent trail.
Factors that can affect a tracking dog’s success trail include the local terrain and weather, as well as the age of the trail. Tracking dogs are most successful when the trail is freshly laid and when there is little or no wind. As the scent trail ages, these dogs can track well in woodlands and other areas that have few roads and little traffic. Shade, cooler temperatures, and moisture can keep scent particles viable for longer periods – perhaps up to 14 days or more. Hot temperatures, bright sunlight, strong winds, and lots of streets and roads can cause the scent particles to break down more quickly, making it more difficult for the tracking dog to work. The scent of other animals or people, however, should not affect the dog’s ability to follow a scent trail.
Tracking dogs are less effective in areas where the lost dog has been multiple times before. For instance, if you often walked a dog around a particular trail, and that is where your dog went missing, a tracking dog may find it difficult to discern one scent trail from another. While they are trained to find the freshest trail, having multiple laid paths can make it difficult (most times impossible) to determine which path is the freshest.
An air scenting dog is typically used in missing cat cases. These dogs are taught to locate missing cats or other animals by picking up the airborne (floating in the air) scent or odor of cats/animals that are floating in the air. They search for areas for a “scent cone” – an area where the scent is most intense. Often, these dogs are not trained to distinguish the scent of one cat/animal from that of another cat/animal. They will zero in on the scent cones of any cat/animal in the area. Obviously, if the dog searches out all cats in the area, it is possible that while the dog may find something, it doesn’t mean it will find your missing pet.
Factors that can affect the success of an air scenting dog include weather conditions such as wind speed, wind direction, temperature, the type of terrain, and the time of day. Air scenting dogs are most successful in the early morning or late afternoon. Scent cones are also easier to detect in windy conditions and on cool or even damp days. Unlike the tracking dog method, other animals, and/or people can contaminate the search area. Additionally, the presence of pollutants can play a role in contaminating the scent cone.
A Trailing Dog can be described as a combination of an Air Scenting Dog and a Tracking Dog. Trailing dogs are given a scent article and then are directed by its handler to locate a particular animal by following the article’s scent. At various times, the trailing dog may utilize tracking skills and air scenting skills to hone in on the subject’s scent.
Trailing dogs can track scents on hard pavements, streets, grass, water, and other common places. With a good article such as a blanket or toy containing only the scent of lost dog and having a location of the last sighting, a trailing dog should be able to track the path of the lost dog with ease.
Just like tracking dogs, factors that can hamper a trailing dog’s success include hot weather or windy conditions that can obliterate a scent trail. Other factors that can affect a trailing dog’s success include having a viable scent article and a location point where the missing dog was last seen. The scent of other animals or people should not affect the trailing dog’s ability to work.
There are occasions when it may be highly recommended to hire a Canine Search Team to come and look for your lost dog.
- If your pet is in critical need of medication, injured, or has a medical condition that can jeopardize its welfare.
- If there have been no sightings despite trying everything on DGR’s lost dog list.
- If you want to confirm a sighting or direction of travel after having no other sightings.
The percentage of a well-trained Search Dog walking up to your lost dog during a search is quite low, perhaps as low as 5-15%. The chances of a walk-up find increase if the lost dog is trapped, seriously injured, or deceased. Granted, having a fresh scent trail is the ideal scenario to work a Search Dog. However, there still is no guarantee a Canine Search Team will be able to instantly walk-up to your missing dog. Many other factors in play, such as lost dog behavior, can explain why Canine Search Teams are unable to instantly walk up to a missing dog. Other uncontrollable factors, such as the contamination of the search area either due to the weather, pollutants, people and other animals, can destroy a viable scent trail. Additionally, the length of time the dog has been missing can also reduce the ability of a Canine Rescue Dog to pick up a reliable scent trail or scent cone.
Occasionally, a canine search team can be detrimental to the search. When there are multiple sightings of your dog within an area and your dog is scared and avoiding people, it generally means that your dog has found a “safe zone” where many of its basic needs (safety/shelter) set up with posters, trail cameras with feeding stations, among other strategies to find and catch your missing dog.
Finding reputable Search Teams can be difficult. There are only a few well-trained, scent specific, reputable Trailing Dog Teams across the country. It may take a long time to find one available that will come to your location and search for your dog. Additionally, reputable teams can be expensive and you need to understand what types of services you are getting for your money. Be prepared to pay $500 and upwards for a team to locate and catch your dog.
Sadly, there are also Canine Search teams claiming to be “professionals” who feed off the vulnerability of the lost dog owner. These companies can sound credible, but it is important that you do your research before you hire any of them. Check for references, not only of the found dogs but on dogs where a search is still in process. Don’t just rely on online reviews.
You can ask your Dog Gone Recovery Volunteers for a list of dog tracking vendors used in CT or you can research pet trackers by visiting Missing Pet Animal Response National Pet Detective Directory page.
If you search for Canine Search Teams online, you can find several that offer their services for a fee and may also be mentioned on Missing Animal Response Directory page as well as their Testimonials page. All pet detectives listed on Missing Pet Partnership’s site have successfully completely Missing Animal Response 10-week MAR (Missing Animal Response) training course, demonstrating their desire to invest in being fully trained for this line of work.
- Cold calls warning you that the welfare of your dog is at risk without their services.
- Claims that the tracking dogs can track a scent over a month old.
- Claims they are the best and only way to find your pet.
- Canine Search Teams that do not want you searching for your pet until they do their search first.
- Disparaging of low-cost or volunteer services that the paid service is also offering.
- Canine Search Teams that act unprofessionally, and discredit other searchers and lost dog owners.
- Canine Search Teams that don’t allow you to join them while searching for your dog.
- Canine Search Teams that tell you that they will have to keep coming back to “confirm” a scent.
- Canine Search Teams who want to use a search and rescue dog for humans in their search for your lost dog.
- Canine Search Teams who guarantee that they will find your missing dog.
- Hidden fees such as for trapping or cameras.
- Payments only accepted by cash or wire transfer.
Reputable Canine Search Teams should ask you a series of questions to determine if a tracking dog is actually the correct tool for your particular situation. Many trackers will ask you to do your due diligence first. DGR has a series of steps we recommend when your dog goes missing such as large effective posters placing them around intersections in the area to generate sightings. Many reputable trackers will not come out until these steps are completed as they know many dogs are quickly found with these first steps of action.
The Canine Search Team should ask you how long and in what type of area is the dog missing. As we mentioned, weather and terrain influence the strength of the scent.
The Canine Search Team should make sure you have a good scent article of your missing dog that has not been contaminated by other pets in your house.
The Canine Search Team should find out if you have a good scent article of your missing dog. Is it only of your dog or several dogs in the house? If you have a scent item with the lost dog’s scent seal it in a plastic bag for the trackers to use while scenting the dogs.
The Canine Search Team should also ask you if your dog has gone missing from an area where it frequently visits.
The Canine Search Team should inform you that hiring them isn’t a magic pill and “poof” your dog will be found. They should explain that there is still plenty of work that you still have to do. When the team locates an area where your dog has been, and they have not had a walk-up find of your lost dog, they should recommend that you will need to put up posters in this new location and tell you that you will need to monitor/screen for sightings. They should explain how to use luring and calming signals and should discuss the possibility of your need to set up a feeding station and a humane dog trap. The Canine Search Team should explain why all the work that you will be doing is extremely important so that valuable time is not lost in the search.
- Do you have a clear idea of the services being offered and the total cost of the services that you will receive?
- Is there a contract for you to review and sign?
- Will they take credit cards?
Never send cash or wire transfer money.
A reputable tracker should be able to give you an accurate assessment of the situation before you hire them.
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“This article was reviewed and edited by Missing Animal Response Founder Kat Albrecht, trainer of police bloodhounds, cadaver search dogs, and pet detection dogs since 1996. Kat is also the author of Dog Detectives: Train Your Dog to Find Lost Pets. For more info on Kat’s training and pet memorial retreats visit www.katalbrecht.com.”