To be effective, individuals working as K9 Handlers must be skilled in all aspects of the Tracking Dog Triad.
As a K9 Handler, one must be knowledgeable in working and reading scent dogs. In addition it is critical that a handler be experienced and successful in how to structure and work a missing pet case based on the specific scenario. Running around behind a tracking dog following a scent is only a small part of what it takes to be successful in the pursuit of a missing animal. Profiling and Case Structure is the most overlooked aspect of this work but it is as important as the other skills necessary to be effective.
The Tracking Dogs must be able to follow the scent of a specific missing animal. These K9s must also be able to alert their handler when they no longer have scent or the scent of the missing pet is not in a specific area.
Many pet owners have been befuddled and discouraged with individuals who have claimed experience as they ran for hours behind their scent dogs apparently hot on the trail only to later find their missing dog at the next door neighbors house. What was the "tracking dog" following? Clearly not the missing dog.
This is a bad situation for everyone involved and works against the principles and standards professionals are striving to build in creating a credible and reliable industry pet owners can count on.
Scent is a highly controversial and much discussed subject with many purported experts weighing in on what they know or feel. After 25 years handling scent specific scent dogs, this is what I have learned.
As you search for a reputable K9 handler with trained dogs, you may hear many different opinions on the viability and a dog's ability to detect scent. There will be purported experts that will spout a 14-day limit while others will swear scent is gone in five days. There are other experts that contend scent lasts for years.
In truth they are all right and they are all wrong because viable scent is different from scent dog to scent dog. Some dogs will be able to detect and follow scent months after the original trail was laid while other dogs may not be able to detect the scent trail after 24 hours. Much of the confusion about scent comes from the way in which handlers train their dogs. If they believe that scent somehow magically disappears on the 15th day, then they will train this way and their dogs will only be exposed to aged trails less than that. Always inquire as to the philosophy of the K9 handler before hiring anyone so you will know what to expect.
Try to keep in mind it is more about training and exposing scent dogs to older scent and that there is no exacting time table by which scent disappears.
After two decades working scent detection dogs and training over 130 dogs in this work, I know this to be the truth.