Missing Pet Partnership Northeast Regional Training – Mystic, CT – May 2017
Missing Pet Partnership is holding a Northeast Regional Training on Saturday, May 20th through Wednesday, May 24th. This training is open to anyone interested in learning about lost pet recovery work whether or not they have completed a Missing Animal Response (MAR) Technician course.
2-Day Lost Pet Recovery Seminar (May 20th and 21st) – $100
This training will consist of a series of workshops, demos and panel discussions including:
Disaster Animal Response Work
Compassion Fatigue for Rescuers
Net Gun, Collarum, Snappy Snare and Net Demos
Complex/Unique Cases and Handling Difficult Owners
Bone, Scat and Track Identification
Managing Facebook Groups and Pages
Missy Trap, Enclosure and Drop Traps
Proper Search Dog Use and Scent Theory
Lost Pet Research and Recovery will be participating in several of the demos and running the workshop on Bone, Scat and Track Identification. This training will focus on identifying dog and cat remains and sign such as skulls, tracks and scat. There will also be some discussion on coyote behavior.
3-Day MAR K9 Boot Camp (May 22nd-24th) – $275 handler and one dog, $60 observer
This is a hands-on dog training for both MAR cat detection and MAR trailing dogs. Both new and experienced search dogs are welcome.
Kat Albrecht – author of Dog Detectives and founder of Missing Pet Partnership
The idea of using a tracking dog to find a lost dog is very compelling, but most people who pursue this option do not have a good understanding of how a tracking (or trailing) dog works. In some cases a tracking dog CAN provide useful information for locating a lost dog such as confirming sightings or establishing a direction of travel. However, very few lost dogs are actually found and captured during the search (i.e. a “walk-up find”), which is what most people are hoping for when they hire a tracking dog team.
What many people do not consider is that there are actually some cases when you should NOT try to use a tracking dog to find a lost dog. In these situations a tracking dog is not only a waste of money, but they can actually be detrimental to finding and catching the lost dog. The situations where you should not use a tracking dog to find a lost dog include most cases where there are multiple sightings of the lost dog in a general area, and the dog is running in fear from everyone. This most often occurs with newly adopted dogs and skittish lost dogs. However, even an otherwise friendly dog can enter what is known as “survival mode” (where they run from all people including those that they know) if they are lost in a frightening situation (such as a car crash) or if they are on the run for several days, especially if people attempt to chase or capture them. Sometimes these lost dogs will run for several miles (1-5 is common and 10 or more miles is not unheard of), but in most cases the lost dog will eventually settle down in a place where they feel safe. Generally this safe place is somewhere with food, water, shelter, and (very importantly) where people are not attempting to approach or catch them. In some cases the lost dog will actually circle around and come back to close to where they went missing.
If you you get multiple sighting (even 2-3) of the lost dog in a general area (hopefully less than 1 mile apart), then the lost dog has likely found a safe place to hide out. The last thing that you want to do in this situation is chase the dog out of his newly found haven. If you use a tracking dog, they may help you find out where your dog has been taking shelter and getting food, but in the process you may scare your dog out of the safe place. Likewise, it is a very bad idea to have human search teams go into this area and look for the lost dog, especially if it is a wooded area. Even if they see the dog, they are most likely going to scare him out of the area. In either of these situations, the lost dog may feel pressured to leave the area and find a new safe place, perhaps miles away.
In these types of cases, it is very important to leave the dog alone and encourage others to report sightings, but not to approach or attempt to catch the dog. Most of these dogs are ultimately caught using lure and capture techniques such as feeding stations, calming signals, surveillance cameras and/or humane traps. If your lost dogs fits this profile, you may still want professional advice and/or assistance in catching them from a trained pet detective. If your dog does not fit this profile, then read this accompanying article on Search Dogs to determine if a tracking dog team could help you find your missing dog.
Lost Pet Research & Recovery offers phone consultations throughout the United States and on-site services in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York. For more information, visit: Find a Lost Dog. If you are looking for on-site assistance outside of this area, then check the Missing Pet Partnership Pet Detective Directory.
Many people with a lost pet think that a search dog is the best method for finding their pet. However, most people tend to have unrealistic expectations and a lack of understanding of how a search dog works. I previously wrote an article on considerations for Using a Search Dog, and in this series of articles, I plan to go more in-depth on how search dogs are used to search for different types of lost pets starting with lost outdoor-access cats, specifically those lost from their home. An outdoor-access cat is defined as a cat that is allowed outside and unsupervised. These are the most difficult type of lost pets to find because of the number of possible scenarios for their disappearance and due to the nature of their scent trails.
A Brief Overview of Scent & Types of Search Dogs
Our cats are constantly depositing scent wherever they go. Scent theory describes scent as small rafts of skin (i.e. clusters of skin cells) that are constantly being shed from the body and that are then being broken down by bacteria (Syrotuck 2000). Some scent is deposited with direct contact with the ground while additional scent flows off the top of the body through air currents and travels through the air before being deposited on the ground. Scent will be stronger in areas where a cat repeatedly walks such as on preferred travel routes throughout their territory or where they rest. Large concentrations of scent can also collect (i.e. scent pools) where a cat spends a period of time such as a sleeping spot or refuge such as under a porch.
There are several different types of search dogs that may be called by many different names: tracking dogs, trailing dogs, area detection dogs, air-scenting dogs, cat detection dogs or remains detection dogs to name a few. Scent-specific dogs (generally tracking or trailing dogs) are trained to follow the individual odor of a missing person or animal. This individual odor is composed of the skins rafts and personal bacteria of the individual and is catalyzed by body secretions of that individual (Syrotuck 2000). Tracking dogs are trained to follow the scent left by the actual tracks of the missing animal, while trailing dogs are trained to follow the greatest concentration of scent on the ground. Since scent is also deposited in air currents from the animal, this scent may travel several feet to over 100 feet from where the animal actually walked. Although there is technically a difference between tracking and trailing dogs, they are often both referred to as “tracking dogs” by the general public. For simplicity, I will also refer to tracks or trails interchangeably, but if you were to study scent theory, you would find that there can be a lot of variation between the two. Area detection dogs (e.g. air-scenting or cat detection dogs) are trained to search an area and locate the concentrated scent of any cat. Ideally this scent is “air scent” coming off of the actual lost cat, but the dogs may also indicate on a scent pool such as under a deck where the cat hid for a while. Both tracking/trailing dogs and area detection dogs are usually also trained to indicate on the scent of a deceased cat though some dogs are trained to specialize in just this task. Most people tend to assume that a tracking/trailing dog is superior to an area detection dog, but once you understand the challenges of tracking a lost outdoor-access cat, you may find that this is not always the case.
Challenges of Tracking a Lost Outdoor-Access Cat that Disappears from His Home Range
Outdoor-access cats usually have a home range where they regularly travel and rest. This may also be referred to as the cat’s territory though technically it is only truly a territory if the cat defends it from other non-resident cats. For more information on cat home range size, read this article. The following illustrations show a very simplified version of a cat’s home range and movements. The first series of pictures (Tracks 1-6) show a cat regularly traveling around his home range culminating in Track 7, which shows all his travels for that week.
If the cat then goes missing, you can now imagine how difficult it would be for a tracking or trailing dog to follow the scent trail of the missing cat. A well trained dog can differentiate between an older and newer trail and direction of travel, but this is made more difficult with the many regularly traveled trails that will have an accumulation of scent and trails going in both directions. The difficulty of locating the lost cat is often compounded by the lack of an uncontaminated scent article. The scent article is an item that will be presented to the search dog so that they know what scent trail to follow. Most cat owners have more than one cat or dogs in the home, and it can be very difficult to find an item that is unique to the missing cat (i.e. uncontaminated from other pet scents). If the scent article also contains scents of other cats/dogs that go outside, then the search dog may also follow the numerous additional trails left by these pets.
How Different Probabilities Influence the Effectiveness of the Search Dog
When an outdoor-access cat goes missing from their home, there are different probability categories (or scenarios) for what might have happened to the lost cat. These include: 1) Theft, 2) “Rescue” (i.e. when someone takes your cat because they think it is a stray), 3) Intentional Transport (e.g. a cat hating neighbor or angry ex-boyfriend kidnaps your cat and dumps him somewhere), 4) Unintentional Transport (e.g. your cat gets into the plumbers van), 5) Trapped (e.g. stuck in the neighbor’s shed), 6) Injury, Illness or Death (e.g. hiding because sick or injured or deceased due to illness or hit by car), 7) Wildlife Kill (i.e. victim of a predator attack), and 8) Displacement (e.g. chased out of their home range or otherwise leaves their home range). When an outdoor-access cat is lost away from home, this is a very different scenario and will be discussed in a future article. In some search probabilities, specifically theft, rescue, or any type of transport, the tracking/trailing dog has no chance of successfully finding the lost cat because the cat has been removed by a person and there isn’t a scent trail to follow. A search dog will also be unable to locate a cat outside if the cat is actually hiding or trapped inside the home, and this happens more frequently than people assume.
A tracking or trailing dog might be able to locate a missing cat within their home range (or just outside of it) if the cat is trapped somewhere outside, hiding and injured (such as from a severe cat fight or hit by a car) or deceased (such as hit by a car or killed by a predator). An area detection dog can also be used to successfully locate a cat under most of these circumstances. The picture below shows examples of where a cat might be located in each scenario.
Keep in mind that this is a very simplified scenario, and most cats will have a larger home range (usually 3 yards or more in each direction) which contains many more scent trails for the tracking/trailing dog to work through. In neighborhoods where the houses are close together and fenced, a tracking/trailing dog will have a much more difficult time because he will be unable to follow the trails made by the cat since cats frequently climb under or over fences from yard to yard. In these cases, an area search dog may be more effective to quickly check each yard for any sign of your cat.
Additional Challenges of Locating the Displaced Cat
One of the more common scenarios for a lost outdoor-access cat is that the cat has become displaced from his home range. This may occur if he is new to the area and becomes lost or if he is scared out of his territory (such as by fireworks, construction, a loose dog, or another cat) and either becomes lost or is afraid to come back. As much as we cat lover’s want to deny it, some “lost” cats will also choose to leave their homes when there is a significant change in the household such as a new baby, puppy or roommate. Some cats are more sensitive than others and may leave due to a change in routine (such as a prolonged injury or illness of their owner) or even a small change in circumstances (such as a remodeled living room or change in brand of cat food). In either case, the lost cat has left his home range and there may only be one scent trail leading to his new location. The photo below shows an example of this scenario where the lost cat traveled to the neighbor’s home and got in a fight with their new cat and was chased across the busy road.
When a lost cat is displaced from their home range, it can be challenging for a tracking/trailing dog to work through all the scent trails and scent pools to find the one most recent track that leads away from their home. This is made more difficult the longer the cat has been missing because the scent deposited throughout the home range might be an accumulation of years of scent while the trail leading out of the home range is only a single scent trail. How long scent survives is a whole other discussion that I will blog about in a future article. There has been some research that accumulated scent pools/trails may be viable for up to six months (Phillips 2006) while there is considerable debate on whether a single scent trail lasts for only 12 hours, a week or two, or even a month or more. Personally I am skeptical of those who proclaim to track scents more than a month old.
If the search dog does successfully find the displaced cat’s scent trail, it is unlikely that they will actually locate the lost cat during the search. These are referred to as “walk-up” finds and they usually only occur in less than 20% of searches and rates of only 5% or less are not uncommon. Unless the lost cat is stationary (e.g. hiding, trapped, severely sick or injured or deceased), it is unlikely that the search dog will be able to find the exact location of the cat. A cat that is being searched for by a dog will likely feel hunted and will evade the search dog team. In fact, a well trained search dog team will likely stop the track for your lost cat if the search dog indicates that the scent is very fresh and the cat is likely nearby. Using a search dog in this situation can provide some very useful information including where your cat went after leaving their home range and the area that they are currently hiding out. This information can help you determine where to put up additional posters, distribute flyers, and perhaps set up a wildlife camera and/or humane trap. Sadly, many people put all their hope (and often money) into hiring a tracking/trailing dog and then do not follow-up with the necessary search tactics after the search dog leaves.
Pet Detective Kat Albrecht is the founder of Missing Pet Partnership, the CEO of “K9 Pet Trackers,” and the author of the book “Dog Detectives: Train Your Dog to Find Lost Pets.” Since 1997, Kat has trained and certified many “MAR” (missing animal response) dogs and has trained over 200 “pet detectives” worldwide. Through her “MAR K9 Boot Camp” Kat evaluates and trains beginner through advanced dogs in K9 pet detective (MAR) work. This boot camp will be held over a 3-day period and consists of the following: Day 1 = evaluations (for dogs not already evaluated), sign offs for certification preparation, and private lessons Day 2 = lost cat search scenarios / lost dog search scenarios Day 3 = 30 minute private lesson with Kat. Students are encouraged to observe other handlers and dogs in training and also to work closely with training partners to help each other work on training assignments suggested by Kat. Both handlers and observers (without search dogs) are welcome.
This training is not yet scheduled, but it is planned for the spring or summer of 2015. The cost for this 3-day training for “Handlers” with a search dog is $350.00 (cost for handler with 2 search dogs is $550.00. Space is limited to just 15 participating handlers / dogs. Cost for “Observers” (without dogs) is $175.00 and there is no limit on observers. For more information on the training, visit K9 Pet Trackers or email Kat Albrecht at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have attended this boot camp with my own search dog, Dante. I would recommend attending whether or not you have a potential search dog yet, and I would be happy to answer any questions. Just fill out a Contact Form.