Finding a Search Dog

Unfortunately pet detectives and search dogs teams are few and far between across the country.  They can also be difficult to locate because very few people are full-time pet detectives, so they often don’t advertise their services very well.  Check the Missing Animal Response Network‘s Pet Detective Directory for a list of pet detectives and volunteers willing to search for lost pets.  If you cannot find someone listed on there, you can request a complimentary copy of my Guide to Finding a Pet Detective or Search Dog, which includes a larger directory of pet detectives and search dogs.

Pet Detectives Willing to Travel

If there’s no one in your area, some pet detectives are willing to travel long distances.  However, this can be very expensive.

  • Feline Finders – willing to fly throughout US.
  • Lost Cat Finder – no search dog, but willing to fly to many states.
  • Lost Pet Tracking Dogs – northeast US.
  • Lost Pet Professionals – national franchise with search dog teams in multiple states. Willing to travel long distances.
  • Lost Pet Search and Rescue Investigations – search dog teams located in several states and willing to travel.
  • Missing Pet Detectives – may be willing to drive throughout southeast US.
  • Pure Gold Pet Trackers – eastern US.

Other Places to Check

  • Try an online search for “search dog,” “tracking dog” and “pet detective” in your state.
  • Ask local shelters, rescue groups or animal control if they know of anyone in your area. If looking for help with trapping, also ask if there are any Trap-Neuter-Return volunteers in the area that might be able to help you.
  • If there’s another pet detective in your state or region, email them and ask if they know anyone closer to your location.
  • You could try contacting your local Search and Rescue (SAR) group, but be aware that most SAR dogs are specifically trained to ignore animal scent, so they won’t get distracted on human searches.

Before You Hire a Pet Detective or Search Dog Team …

Make sure that they are a real business or volunteer and have a good reputation.  Most pet detectives do not solicit.  Be wary of anyone that contacts YOU for paid services.  Unfortunately, there is no regulation on lost pet search dogs and anyone can call their dog a search dog even with little or no training.  A bad track is not only a waste of money, it will also have you wasting time and other resources focusing your search in the wrong areas.

The training of the pet detective is also important since most lost pets are not found during the search and on-going support is often critical.  Although often referred to as “pet detectives,” only a few are actually licensed private investigators.  Most provide education on lost pet behavior, physical searches similar to search and rescue operations, assistance with effective advertising, rental of equipment such as cameras and traps and/or help with catching loose pets.  Others may refer to themselves as lost pet consultants and may or may not offer on-site assistance.  There are also many volunteer lost pet searchers and even some non-profit groups.  Make sure that you are aware of the training and expertise of the person that you hire whether they are a paid professional or volunteer.

Check their website:

  • Do they have an About section that clearly describes their experience and training?
  • Do they clearly describe the training and abilities of their search dogs?
  • Do they have any training or experience in dog or cat behavior such as a dog trainer, wildlife biologist, veterinary technician, pet sitter or shelter volunteer?
  • Do they have training or certifications in search and rescue or missing pet work? There are a few groups that offer training and/or certification for missing pet work.  Missing Pet Partnership used to offer a week-long training and certification for Missing Animal Response (MAR) technicians.  Currently, the Missing Animal Response Network offers online training for pet detectives, shelter volunteers and search dog teams.  Lost Pet Professionals provides their own training and certifications through the Missing Animal Investigators of America and the Missing Animal Scent Dog Network.
  • Do they clearly describe the services that they offer and their fees?
  • Do they include a Services Agreement or Terms and Conditions page on their website? This will often include cancellation and refund policies.

Search online for reviews and complaints:

  • Check for online reviews such as Yelp! or Facebook. When checking reviews, be aware that most tracking dog teams will have some complaints.  This is often due to the high cost of services combined with the often-unrealistic expectations of many lost pet owners.  However, be wary of anyone with lots of negative reviews and avoid any with less than three stars.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau. Most pet detective businesses will not have a listing, but if you see one with unresolved complaints, this is a definite red flag. If you are unsure where they are located, you can try a “Whois” search to see where their website is registered.
  • Before purchasing any on-site services, make sure your are confident that you are dealing with a real business/person. Also check out their refund/cancellation policies.  Some may provide partial refunds if you find your pet prior to the search, but others may not.

Ask them questions:

If it is unclear from their website, call or email the pet detective or search dog team with questions about their services.

  • What type of search dogs do they have?
    • Are they scent-specific (i.e. only locate your missing pet) or general (e.g. find all cats)?
    • Can they detect animal remains or predator kill sites?
    • Are they able to check potential sightings? Most scent-specific dogs should do this, but some may not. If they don’t, this may be an indication that their dog does not have a good negative indication.  The dog should indicate whether there is no scent at the location rather than go off searching for the scent.
  • What are their qualifications, experience or training?
  • Do they provide support beyond the search such as consultations, posters, equipment rental or assistance with capture/trapping?
  • Will they provide a GPS map of the search dog track? This is important especially if they don’t provide other on-going support, so you can share the track with others.
  • Can you or are you expected to accompany them on the search? Be wary of anyone that does not allow you to come on the search.
  • What is their “walk-up find” rate? This is where the search dog “walks up” and locates the missing pet during the search. Don’t be surprised if these are very low.  Rates less than 10% are common.
  • What is their overall success rate? If they offer services/support beyond the search dog, they should be able to give you an estimate of the likelihood of finding your missing pet.  Success rates of 60% or more are common, but be wary of anyone that states a success rate over 90%.