A search dog can be a very useful tool for locating a lost pet, but it is not the one and only answer to finding your lost pet, which is what many people expect. In some cases, it is not even the best tool to use. For this reason, I require a lost pet consultation as part of any on-site services including the search dog.
My search dog, Dante, is trained as a cat-detection dog, which means he will search yard-by-yard and locate any cats. He is not a scent-specific tracking dog, and is not trained to follow the scent-trail of a lost pet.
How a Cat-Detection Dog Works
A cat-detection dog is used to search an area (usually a radius of 250 ft to 500 ft from where the cat went missing) and is trained to indicate when he finds the scent of any cat. This is referred to as “air scent” rather than “trail scent” because it is usually coming directly off of the cat.
Indoor-Only Cats: Many indoor-only cats will initially hide after they escape, so a cat-detection dog can be used to search likely areas where the cat may be hiding. This type of search is usually most effective in the first three days after the cat escapes, but perhaps for as long as 7-10 days for extremely skittish cats or those that have never been outside before. The find rate for indoor-only cats with the search dog is around 20%. If your cat is not located during the search, there is still a very high chance of him being located through other search techniques. I specialize in finding lost indoor-only cats and have a recovery rate of over 75% where I provide on-site services.
Outdoor-Access Cats: A cat-detection dog can also be used to assist in the search for a missing outdoor-access cat. In this case the goal of the search dog is to search the cat’s known or suspected home range and make sure that the missing cat is not trapped, injured and hiding or deceased. You might expect your cat to respond to you if trapped or come home if injured, but this is unfortunately not usually the case. When frightened or injured, a cat will often hide and not make a sound even if you are nearby searching. This is an instinctual behavior to protect it from potential predators. The find rate for lost outdoor-access cats is less than 5% with the search dog. This is partly due to the fact that most missing outdoor-access cats are not hiding, trapped or deceased close to home, but rather they are more likely to have left their home range and are located outside of the search area.
Using the Search Dog
Once you have scheduled on-site services, you will be provided with a map of the potential search area. A search is most effective if you can get permission to enter people’s yards prior to the search dog’s arrival. That way the search can be conducted much more quickly and you will not be excluded from searching yards where people are not home at the time of the search to give permission. In some cases such as when the search dog is coming on-site immediately, this may not be possible and permission can be requested from each homeowner during the search. In either case, it is your responsibility to get permission to search private property, and you (or someone you designate) will be required to accompany the search dog during the search. If you are physically unable to participate in the search, I may be able to find someone to accompany me, but they are generally only available on weekends.