Using a Search Dog

Preparing for the Search Dog Team’s Arrival

If the search dog team is unable to come on-site immediately, take advantage of the time that you have to prepare for their arrival. There are several things you can do to maximize the effectiveness of your search

Posters, posters, posters

I can’t stress the importance of posters enough!  Create and post some well-designed, large and bright lost pet posters.  In the majority of cases where I have done searches, I’m lucky if I see 1-2 posters on the drive in, and in most cases they are small and hard to read.   This step is most important if you have a lost dog missing more than 24 hours or a lost cat missing more than one week.  In these cases, it is extremely helpful if you can get some potential sightings to check with the search dog rather than just starting with the location where they were last seen.

Go door-to-door in your neighborhood

Distribute flyers in your neighborhood.  This is most important with lost cats, especially indoor-only cats.  Ideally, go door-to-door and speak with all your neighbors within a 3-5 house radius or 500 ft (suburban) to 1/4 mile (rural areas).  Better yet, get permission to enter your neighbor’s property and do a thorough search yourself prior to the search dog teams arrival.  You may even find your cat!  If you are missing an outdoor-access cat, you should also ask your neighbors if they have ever seen your cat in their yard.  This can help you get a better idea of where your cat normally travels and where to focus your search, especially if using an area detection dog.

If you are using a cat detection dog, it can also be extremely helpful if you visit your neighbors prior to the search and get permission to search their yards when the search dog team arrives.  This way you won’t be excluded from checking certain yards if the people are not home at the time of the search.

Use an Amber Alert service

If there isn’t time for doing posters or distributing flyers, consider using a phone call alert service.  See Amber Alerts for links and more information.   These services are most useful for lost dogs and for cats that have a distinctive appearance and/or are most likely to be seen by people (e.g. very friendly or confident cats).  This method is least effective for skittish indoor-only cats that are likely hiding in fear.

Being Prepared on the Search

You will most likely accompany the pet detective/search dog team during the search.  Be prepared!  The search could last several hours and cover a lot of ground.  Think about the terrain in your area and dress accordingly. Wear comfortable shoes and consider insect repellent or sunscreen.  Some search dogs move very quickly while others are more slow and methodical.  Make sure you have the search dog team’s phone number in case you get separated.

What to bring on the search:

  • Water (for you).
  • Flyers or business cards.  Give these to anyone that you talk to during the search.
  • If possible, bring at least one poster to hold up and show to passing cars during your search.  You can also carry this when approaching home owners to get permission to search their property.
  • A flashlight for searching under sheds, decks, cars, etc.  Even a well-trained search dog is not infallible.  Stay behind the search dog team, and if there’s time check any good hiding spots during the search.
  • Be sure to take notes on your search.  The search dog handler may indicate locations of strong scent where you may want to follow-up with a surveillance camera and/or humane traps.  Also record streets where you walk and make sure that you have posters up along your pet’s travel routes.  This is most important for lost dogs.
  • Ask if they will provide you with a GPS map of the track.  If not, consider recording your own track.  If you don’t have a GPS tracking device, some smart phones have this capability using an app such as ViewRanger.
  • A camera or your phone to take pictures of any notable findings.
  • Binoculars can be useful for scanning ahead of the search dog in open areas, and for checking out any distant animals that might be your lost pet.
  • A can of cat food or dog treats in case you see your pet and need to lure them closer.
  • Something to hold or restrain your pet should you find them during the search.
    • Even a friendly cat may panic when picked up.  Bring a cat carrier, duffel bag, towel or pillow case to hold your cat.
    • Bring a slip lead to capture a loose dog.
  • An open mind.  Many people that hire a tracking dog team already have an idea about what might have happened to their lost pet and where they might have gone.  While you may be right, it is very important to keep an open mind and not develop tunnel vision.  In my experience, it sometimes seems like people will hire a search dog just to verify what they believe happened, and if the search dog goes somewhere unexpected, they come to disbelieve the accuracy of the track.  If you go through the energy and expense of hiring a search dog team, you should spend a minimum of one week focusing your search in the area that the search dog indicated.