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Should We Catch this Dog?

I originally wrote this article as a response to a similarly titled article Should We Catch the Dog? by Mark Johnson, DVM, of Global Wildlife Resources.  The article and ensuing discussion were about whether we should always catch feral/roaming dogs or whether it is sometimes in the dog’s best interest to leave them free.  This is a rarely asked question and may not often be feasible, but it is an interesting discussion nonetheless.  I would suggest also checking out Mark’s article and the reader comments if this is an issue that you are facing.

I run a business where I help people find their missing cats and dogs, and sometimes this involves catching a frightened lost dog. It is actually surprising, especially to the panic-stricken and bewildered owner, how often a beloved pet dog will run in fear even from their owner once lost and in an unfamiliar environment. This is commonly referred to as the dog being in “survival mode,” and I have worked several cases (and heard of many more) where a lost dog acted feral until it was captured. Some revert to their normal friendly selves while still in the trap as soon as they see their owner, while others need to be brought home to relax in a familiar environment before acting friendly and social again. I have also seen similar behavior in lost or stray dogs where the owner was not present. While loose, they acted extremely fearful and untrusting of people, but once trapped and brought indoors, they turned out to be friendly, well-socialized dogs.

Lost dog at pre-baited trap in Vermont.
Lost dog at pre-baited trap in Vermont.

One such case stands out in my mind.  I received a call from a Tennessee rescue group that had lost a foster dog in Vermont.  He was a pug mix and had slipped his leash and run away upon arrival at his foster home.  I was not contacted until one month after he went missing, but I located him within three weeks using 30 large florescent posters put up over a six-mile radius from where he went missing.  It turned out that he was living near a small town about four miles from where he escaped, and a local woman had been putting out food for him but couldn’t get anywhere near him.  We used a humane trap baited with food and blankets mailed up from his original foster mom in Tennessee.  He appeared subdued, but not outwardly friendly once trapped.  However, when we carried the trap into the house and let him out, he transformed into a different dog.  He ran from person to person and jumped into laps and appeared ecstatic to be back in a home after seven long weeks living in the woods. Here’s example of a similar story where the dog was loose for years before being caught: Ghost Dog Finally Makes It Home.

Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.
Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.

On the other hand, I worked another case where the outcome was very different. I was assisting another lost pet tracker in a case where the lost dog was a former street dog from the south, and he escaped upon arrival at his new home in New England. He was actually caught a few weeks later, but then again escaped his new owners within one week. Even when indoors at his new home, this dog was extremely fearful of people and had a reported history of biting in fear. It took several months and many trapping attempts before he was finally captured, and despite being on his own living in the snow and cold, the Animal Control Officer thought he looked remarkably healthy. In a very unfortunate series of events, the dog ended up seriously biting someone shortly after his capture. Now he is being held indefinitely by animal control, his new owners did not reclaim him (for complicated reasons so please don’t judge), and his future is uncertain.  I don’t think there really was the option to leave him running loose where he was, but the outcome was really disheartening.  (Update: I originally wrote this article in 2014.  This dog lived for 1 ½ years as a foster dog before passing away due to an illness.  He was described as a productive shelter volunteer that helped evaluate and befriend new shelter dogs, and no additional incidents of biting are known.)

The real question is probably not whether this dog should have been captured once lost in New England, but whether it was in his best interest to be caught down south in the first place and transported up here as an adoptable dog. I don’t know enough about these programs to provide a critical argument, but it does raise some interesting questions.  Do feral or severely under-socialized dogs that are rescued down south and then transported up north really benefit from the situation?  It is not uncommon for these dogs to run off shortly after being adopted, and if found and caught, they remain at a high risk of taking off again at the first opportunity.  Are there other options for these dogs besides killing them or adopting them out?  Are trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs for dogs ever a viable option in the United States?

Obviously this is a complicated issue that would need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  Personally, I think in some cases (if the option exists) that an extremely fearful or feral dog might be better off left alone to live on their own similar to TNR colonies of feral cats. However, I would caution people that it is not possible to assess the temperament of a loose dog until it has been trapped and allowed to feel safe indoors. Unfortunately, this leads to the quandary that in order to determine if you should catch a dog, especially one where the owners cannot be located and you don’t know the dog’s history, you really need to catch the dog first.

– Danielle Robertson, Lost Pet Research & Recovery


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When NOT to Use a Tracking Dog to Find a Lost Dog

Running Dog - Morgue FileThe 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.

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Wireless Wildlife Cameras and Trap Alarms

Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.
Lost dog caught on wireless wildlife camera entering an enclosure trap.

Humane cage traps and enclosure traps are effective methods for catching escaped indoor-only cats, outdoor-access cats lost away from home and skittish lost dogs.  However, monitoring a trap is often very labor intensive, especially when set away from your home.  Checking the trap frequently (such as every four hours in good weather) is important not only for the well-being of any trapped animal, but also because any time that a non-target animal is caught in the trap is a missed opportunity for catching your own missing pet.  For this reason I recommend the use of wireless wildlife cameras or trap alarms.  These will alert you when an animal is caught in the trap and you can either release the non-target animal or bring your lost pet home quickly.

Wireless Wildlife Cameras

Regular wildlife cameras (a.k.a. trail cameras) save their pictures to an SD card in the camera that you then need to retrieve to view the photos. There are now a variety of wireless trail cameras available.  These cameras will send a picture to your phone or email (almost) every time one is taken by the camera.  Some of them require an AT & T or TMobile account, but most now allow you to purchase a pre-paid phone card such as the Go Phone plan from AT & T for only $10/month.  Be warned that you may need to talk to several sales associates before you find one that understands what you need to purchase to make the camera work, and don’t let them convince you that you need to purchase a plan that includes minutes.  In order for these to work, the camera must be set up somewhere with cell phone coverage.  A signal booster may be used in areas with weak signals.

When the camera is directed at a trap, you will start receiving photos via email or text as soon as an animal is caught in the trap.  These work well both with humane cage-type traps and larger enclosure traps.  These can also help you monitor a trap at night.  If you have a smart phone, you can set it up so that the incoming message alert wakes you up and/or you could set you alarm to go off every 2-4 hours to check for any new photos.

Covert Special Ops Code Black

Check out this review from  This is the one wireless trail camera that I have used, and it worked quite well.

HCO UWay and Panda Wireless Cameras

Moultrie Game Cameras

Moultrie offers a pay as you go wireless service for several of their cameras.  You also need to purchase the Moultrie Spy Game Management System.  For more information, visit the Moultrie website.

Here is a review of the Moultrie I35, which is the cheapest model compatible with the Spy Game Management System.

SpyPoint Tiny-W2

This camera does not require a monthly subscription plan.  However, it is only able to transmit up to 250 feet, where it stores a copy of the pictures on a separate device (the “black box”).  This would work best if you are trapping around your home and could place the black box in your home.  If trapping away from home, you could still put one of these cameras at the trap and then check the pictures from a distance without disturbing the trapping site.

Other Wireless and Cellular Cameras

I am continuing to research other cameras, but most of them appear very expensive.

Build Your Own

If you are tech savvy, then you might consider building your own wireless trail camera.  Check out these instructions from

Trap Alarms for Trapping Lost Pets Around Your Home

If your lost dog or cat is close to your home (as is often the case with escaped indoor-only cats), you may be able to use one of these cheaper motion alarms.  Some people even use a basic audio or video baby monitor set close to the trap.  These type of alarms can be quite useful when trapping at night (when most lost indoor-only cats are active) because they are loud enough to wake you up when an animal is caught in the trap.

These are the trap alarms that I use most frequently.

Driveway Alarm

There are various cheap versions of driveway alarms. I used to use Driveway Patrol, but it is no longer manufactured.

This driveway alarm has a short detection range, so it can only be used if you are trapping immediately around your home.  The specifications say that it works up to 400 feet, but I have found that some only work to 50 feet.  I have found that you do get what you pay for with these alarms, and they may not last for more than a year.  You may be able to find something similar to this alarm at a hardware store such as Harbor Freight Tools.

Chamberlain Wireless Motion Alert

This alarm is supposed to work for up to 1/2 mile, so it should have a reliable range of at least half that.  In the city I have found that it may only work for a few hundred feet.  You can also purchase additional Add-on Sensors to use with one receiver.  Here is a video of my dog entering a trap that is armed with a motion alarm.

In this case, I attached the alarm to a piece of wood and angled it downward.  This way the alarm should not go off when an animal walks around the outside of the trap.  For the video, I placed the alarm receiver next to the video camera, so you could hear when it beeped, but normally the receiver would be in the house with you and the trapped animal wouldn’t hear it.  Though a bit more pricey, I find these alarms much more reliable than the Driveway Patrol.

SpyPoint Wireless Motion Detector

SpyPoint also sells some good quality trail cameras including at least one wireless camera.

GPS Trap Alarms

There are also commercially available GPS enabled trap alarms that don’t have the range limitations of these wireless models.  However, they are probably prohibitively expensive for most people since they start around $500.  These, like GPS locators and wireless cameras, also require a monthly subscription plan.   A few models are the:

Lost Pet Research & Recovery Online Instructions

This information is taken from my Online Lost Pet Recovery Instructions.  They also include more detailed instructions on using surveillance (e.g. wildlife cameras) and traps to catch lost dogs and cats.  Access to these password protected instructions is currently available for only $20 and can be purchased from the Lost Pet Research Store.

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Drop Net Trap Designs

A drop net consists of a large net, which is often hung from poles, and suspended over a baited target area.  The trap must be monitored and when the target animal is under the net, it is either manually or remotely triggered, and drops on the animal.  Drop nets were first used to capture game birds and are now widely used by wildlife biologists to catch deer and other ungulates.  They have also been used to try and capture extremely trap-shy lost or stray dogs.

Here is a video of a drop net available from Wildlife Their drop net uses a radio-controlled electromagnetic trigger, and a 25′ x 25′ drop net costs $3,950.  They do also offer rentals, but prices are not provided.

Commercial drop net costs are prohibitive to most pet detectives, rescue workers, and owners who might need one to capture a trap-shy lost or stray dog.  However, I was able to find several drop net trap designs in scientific research journals that are relatively inexpensive and might not be that hard to build.

Manual Trigger Drop Net Designs

Deer drop nets where originally built with an explosive tripping mechanism (Ramsey 1968), and some more recent drop nets use radio-controlled release of electromagnets.  However, I wanted to start by looking at some simple manually triggered drop nets, which might be easier to build for the average person.  Honestly, I found most of the instructions at least somewhat confusing, and I may attempt to contact the researchers for more detailed instructions.  However, these instructions should at least provide useful brainstorming ideas for designing your own drop net.

Here’s a comparison of three manually triggered drop net designs.

A comparison of manually triggered drop net designs

Lopez, R.R., N.J. Silvy, J.D. Sebesta, S.D. Higgs, M.W. Salazar.  1998.  A Portable Drop Net for Capturing Urban DeerProceedings Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 52: 206-209.

Lopez et al.’s (1998) drop net design is the least expensive and easiest to set up.  The trap frame is portable and constructed of chain link fence top rail tubing with welded corner posts.  The net is 5.2 m x 5.2 m, which is held up by tension using a perimeter rope and washers.  The trigger mechanism is a piece of bailing twine tied to a pull-pin and washer mechanism.  For construction directions, see Lopez et al.’s (1998) Methods.

Lopez et al. 1998. A Portable Drop Net for Capturing Urban Deer. Proc. Annu. Conf. Southeast. Assoc. Fish and Wildl. Agencies 52: 206-209

D’Eon, R. G., G. Pavan, and P. Lindgren.  2003. A Small Drop-Net versus Clover Trap for Capturing Mule Deer in Southeastern British Columbia.  Northwest Science 77(2): 178-181.

D’Eon et al.’s (2003) design has the advantage that it can be constructed and set up by a single person.  The trap is meant to be suspended 1-2 m from the ground between two large trees.  The net is 6.1 m x 6.1 m with four sections of galvanized pipe attached to either end for weight.   A 60 m release cord is used to trigger the net by pivoting two additional sections of galvanized pipe.  For design instructions, see D’Eon et al.’s (2003) Methods.

Figure 1. D'Eon et al. 2003. A Small Drop-Net versus Clover Traps for Capturing Mule Deer in Southeastern British Columbia. Northwest Science 77(2): 178-181.

D’Eon et al.’s (2003) success rate (75%) was considerably lower than the other two designs.  However, they only attempted to catch four deer, and the first one escaped when they suspended the net 2 m above the ground.  When they moved the net to 1 m above the ground, they caught three additional deer in two trapping attempts.

Jedrzejewski, W. and J.F. Kamler.  2004.  From the Field: modified drop-net for capturing ungulatesWildlife Society Bulletin 32(4): 1305-1308.

Jedrzejewski and Kamler’s (2004) drop net design is more labor intensive to set up and costs significantly more than the other designs (though even this net is far cheaper than the commercially available ones).  However, this net is also three to four times the size of the other nets since it was being used to capture the much larger red deer.  Modifications of the net set up and trigger mechanism could probably be used on a much smaller net though the success rate would most likely decrease.

Jedrzejewski, W. and J.F. Kamler. 2004. From the Field: modified drop-net for capturing ungulates. Wildlife Society Bulletin 32(4): 1305-1308.

This drop net was built on a semi-permanent frame constructed of wooden poles sunk into the ground and braced with metal cables to support the weight of the net.  A pulley was attached to the cable at the top of each wooden pole.  Nylon ropes were then attached to the net near each pole, and the ropes were run through the nearest pulley.  All the ropes were tied to a single metal ring at the trigger mechanism with ropes on the far end coming across the top of the net.  The trigger mechanism is simply a hook through a metal ring, which releases when another rope is pulled.  This might sound complicated, but it will make a lot more sense when you look at the diagrams.  For complete instructions, see Jedrzejewski and Kamler’s (2004) Trap description and construction. 

Jedrzejewski, W. and J.F. Kamler. 2004. From the Field: modified drop-net for capturing ungulates. Wildlife Society Bulletin 32(4): 1305-1308.

Remote Trigger Drop Net Designs

For the more tech savvy people out there, a remote controlled drop net is another option.  Lockowandt (1993) wrote a paper on how to build “An Electromagnetic Trigger for Drop-Nets.” Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a copy of this paper available on the internet, but you could get a copy from your local University (like I did). Lockowandt (1993) estimated that the electromagnetic trigger system cost $980 and it took three days to build. Missing Pet Partnership was able to get instructions on building an electromagnetic drop net from their local Fish & Wildlife Agency.  See their case on Catching Sophie.

A somewhat different remote net trap was designed by Dematteis et al. (2010). This net trap is also activated by remote radio-controlled electromagnets, but it is an up-net rather than a drop net. With an up-net, the sides of the net enclosure lie on the ground, and when the net is triggered, the sides of the net are raised up creating an enclosure trap. Dematteis et al. (2010) reports that the up-net had a 96.2% (50/52) success rate when used to capture chamois (a goat-antelope species native to mountains in Europe) in their study. The estimated cost of their up-net enclosure trap was $4,617, making it cost prohibitive to duplicate. However, modifications of their design could be used to create a smaller, less expensive net trap.

If anyone has already built a small portable drop net that might be used to help capture skittish lost dogs, I would love to hear about it, especially if you are willing to share you designs with others.

Literature Researched

D’Eon, R. G., G. Pavan, and P. Lindgren.  2003. A Small Drop-Net versus Clover Trap for Capturing Mule Deer in Southeastern British Columbia.  Northwest Science 77(2): 178-181.

Dematteis, A., M. Giovo, F. Rostagno, O. Giordano, D. Finn, A. Menzano, P. Tizzani, G. Ficetto, L. Rossi, and P.G. Menguz.  2010.  Radio-controlled up-net enclosure to capture free-ranging Alpine chamois Rupicapra rupicapra.  European Journal of Wildlife Research 56: 535-539.

Jedrzejewski, W. and J.F. Kamler.  2004.  From the Field: modified drop-net for capturing ungulatesWildlife Society Bulletin 32(4): 1305-1308.

Lockowandt, S.P.E.  1993.  An Electromagnetic Trigger for Drop-Nets.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 21: 140-142.

Lopez, R.R., N.J. Silvy, J.D. Sebesta, S.D. Higgs, M.W. Salazar.  1998.  A Portable Drop Net for Capturing Urban DeerProceedings Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 52: 206-209.

Ramsey, C. W.  1968.  A Drop-Net Deer Trap.  Journal of Wildlife Management 32(1): 187-190.

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Deer Traps to Catch Skittish Lost Dogs?

Most people are probably not even aware that there are such a thing as deer traps, but wildlife biologists use a variety of traps to capture deer including box traps, Clover traps (a netted-box trap), drop nets, and drive nets..  Deer, like many trap-shy dogs, are generally not comfortable entering enclosed spaces, so the design of some of these traps might be useful for capturing shy dogs as well.  These are mostly just ideas at this point since I don’t yet have experience using these traps and some may not prove to be practical.  However, I wanted to share the variety of trap designs available in scientific research journals.  In this article, I’m going to focus on Clover traps and box traps, and next I’ll look at designs for net traps.

Clover Trap

The Clover trap is what first caught my attention when I was trying to think of a way to improve dog enclosure traps.  The Clover trap, which is named after its designer, is a netted-box trap.  Here is a demo video of a Clover trap.  You really only need to watch the first 2 minutes of the video, and I would not suggest wrestling any trapped dogs to subdue them.

Clover Trap
Close up of guillotine door mechanism

I do think this trap would require some modifications to securely trap a dog, but it does offer some interesting possibilities.  The netting makes the trap appear much more open than the traditional wire cage trap.  On the downside you probably would need to supervise the trap closely because a dog could likely chew through the netting.  The trip-wire mechanism might also need to be modified.  However, a very useful feature of this trap is that it doesn’t require the dog to duck under the door to enter the trap.  Many dogs (even non-trap-shy dogs) are somewhat leery of the overhanging door on many cage traps.  The Clover trap has a netted guillotine door that rolls up at the top of the trap.

Enclosure Trap designed by On Track Pet Tracking (

This type of netted-guillotine door might also be modified to attach to a larger dog enclosure trap like this one.  This enclosure trap is meant to be monitored and manually triggered when the dog enters, so chewing through the netting wouldn’t be a concern.  This particular trap uses a large wire-fence door, which makes the trap very comfortable to enter, but the door takes up more space within the trap and is slower to close than a guillotine door.  Here’s a video of my dog being caught in the trap.  Other enclosure traps often use a solid guillotine door, which can be intimidating for the dog to walk under.

For design instructions for the Clover Trap see VerCauteren’s (1999) research paper.  Clover traps can also be bought from online suppliers such as Wildlife (sold as parts or as complete traps).

Stephenson Box Trap

Stephenson box trap

The original deer box trap is the Stephenson box trap, which is basically a large wooden box with two guillotine type doors so it looks like a tunnel.  While it is an enclosed space, the sheer size of the trap (approximately 10 ft L x 4 ft W x 9 ft H) might make them comfortable for many dogs to enter.  These traps would be useful in a location where constant monitoring is not possible since they are very secure and offer some protection from adverse weather.  Anderson and Nielsen (2002) provide an updated design and instructions for anyone who might be interested in exploring this option further.

Literature Researched

Anderson, R. G. and C. K. Nielsen.  2002.  Modified Stephenson trap for capturing deer.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 30(2): 606-608.

Clover, M.R.  1954.  A portable deer trap and catch-net.  California Fish & Game 40: 367-373.

Thompson, M.J.K., R.E. Henderson, R.O. Lemke, and B.A. Sterling.  1989.  Evaluation of a collapsible clover trap for elk.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 17: 287-290.

VerCauteren, K., J. Beringer, and S. Hygnstrom.  1997.  Use of netted-cage traps in population management and research of urban white-tailed deerGreat Plains Wildlife Damage Control Workshop Proceedings.  Paper 380.

VerCauteren, K., J. Beringer, and S.Hygnstrom.  1999.  Use of netted cage traps for capturing white-tailed deerUSDA National Wildlife Research Center – Staff Publications. Paper 833.

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Online Resources for Selecting and Using a Trail Camera

Lost cat investigates trap, which is elevated to keep out skunks.

Trail cameras (also called wildlife, game, scouting, motion-sensitive, surveillance or remote cameras) can be highly effective tools for helping locate and recover displaced cats (including escaped indoor-only cats) and skittish lost dogs.  They can help provide evidence that the lost pet is in the area and whether s/he will enter a humane trap if one is set up.  For an example, see Kat Albrecht’s recent blog “Catching Bill.” However, the effectiveness of the camera is dependent on several factors including the quality of the camera and where/how it is set up.

Selecting a trail camera can be a daunting task, especially if you intend to purchase a quantity of cameras to rent out to clients.  There are so many brands available, none of them are particularly cheap, and they all seem to have some technical issues.  The website provides some very useful information for making this decision.  They have a “First Time” Trail Camera Buyer’s Guide that covers many important aspects of selecting a camera including:

  • Trigger Time
  • Detection Zone
  • Recovery Time
  • Picture Quality
  • Type of Flash
  • Battery Life
  • Security Options

There is even a step-by-step Trail Camera Selection Guide that picks a camera for you based on the criteria you select.  The information is interesting, but you are limited to selecting from the cameras that they sell.  I was happy to see that the best quality affordable camera that they suggest is the one that I currently use: the Bushnell Trophy Cam. sells them for $200+, but you can buy them for around $150 on  I only say “affordable” because the next step up is their best camera, the Reconyx, which sells for $500+.

If you are really serious about learning all the features and how different brand cameras compare, then you should also check out the Trail Camera Tests including trigger speed, detection zone, recovery time, and flash range tests.  Both and Chasing Game also provide in-depth reviews of many different trail cameras.  I was unhappy to find that Chasing Game has some rather unflattering reviews of the Bushnell Trophy Cam based on camera performance and customer service issues. also indicated that the Warranty Rate for the 2010 Bushnell Trophy Cam was 3.8%, while the best made cameras have a return rate of less than 1%.  However, until I find a better camera for the same cost, I’m probably going to stick with Bushnell.

Whichever camera you select, you can improve your success by setting up the camera effectively because even a great camera won’t get a single picture of a lost pet if set up poorly. provides a useful Trail Camera Checklist.  Since their website is aimed primarily at deer hunters, the height that they suggest placing the camera (24”-36”) is too high for cats and small dogs, but most of the information is applicable to setting up a camera to locate missing pets.  Chasing Game also has some useful set-up information under the “Getting Started” tab.  In addition, they cover the topics of camera camouflage and security, which does not cover on their checklist.

If you want even more in-depth information or are seeking answers to a particular question, there are many forums and discussion groups online.  Among the hunting forums, I found the Chasing Game forum particularly user-friendly and informative.  Besides hunters, wildlife biologists are the other heavy users of trail cameras, which they generally refer to as “camera traps.”  The Yahoo! Camera Trap Group is another good source for information and questions on camera selection and set-up.

I am currently researching wildlife studies that use camera traps.  I am particularly interested in those that compare using trail cameras to other methods of detecting animals such as track plates (a method of recording animal tracks), box trapping, and spotlighting to determine which is more effective.  I am also hoping to learn more about how to most effectively set-up cameras for cats and dogs by researching wildlife studies on similar size carnivores such as wildcats, foxes, and coyotes.

The Primos Truth Cam 35 and Bushnell Trophy Cam are two of my favorite cameras.

I haven’t had the chance to try these cameras yet, but the Bushnell Aggressor No Glow and the Browning Dark Ops Elite are highly rated by as the lowest priced of the higher quality cameras on the market.  The Browning in particular has a feature that adjusts the strength of the flash based on how close the animal is to the camera.  A too bright flash that whites out the animal in the photo is a common problem with many wildlife cameras.

If you can afford them, Reconyx supposedly sells the best quality trail cameras on the market.  They also have a high resale value on Ebay or, so you could resell yours after you get your lost dog or cat back home.

For more detailed information on selecting and using a wildlife camera to find a missing pet, check out the Lost Pet Recovery Instructions.