Below are questions to ask and things to consider before hiring anyone offering their services or help with a missing pet.
All tracking dogs and K9 Handlers are NOT Created Equal.
Make sure you hire the best TEAM based on the needs of your missing pet's situation.
A K9 Handler's greatest tools are her trained dogs and her ability to understand what they are telling her. There is no better tool to confirm that a sighting was in fact your cat or to alert that your dog has been picked up in a car than what can be provided by a professionally trained and certified tracking dog.
If you are considering hiring a tracking dog team, please understand that not all K9 Handlers or Tracking dogs are equal or even similar. We will go on further to say that the training of tracking and scent dogs varies from professional and effective to downright ridiculous. Many pet detectives, MAR technicians, search and rescue handlers and other dog experts are not necessarily capable of performing a search and investigation for a missing pet as their training has not been effective for the work they mean to undertake. The term search dog is used today on a carte blanche basis for anyone who chooses to get a dog and put a search vest on. It is a fact, that most of the pet detectives now advertising themselves as search dog handlers, have never been in search and rescue.
Be very careful when interviewing candidates or you may end up being very discouraged as have others who have hired inexperienced K9 handlers to help in their search only to find out that the handler and dog had limited experience both in the art of tracking and at working a missing pet crisis.
You are looking for a CERTIFIED K9 handler that is experienced with working all types of missing pet cases. Their dog team needs to have the ability to do a scent scan and follow a trail for several miles. Certified K9 Handlers can be found in the Regional Directories for MASDN - The Missing Animal Scent Dog Network. MASDN is the only network that certifies K9 Handler's for this specialty based on the boots on the ground K9 and casework that is necessary.
Anyone doing this work professionally will use scent specific tracking dogs. This mean the tracking dogs will follow the specific scent of your pet. You must ask if the K9 handler's working dogs are scent specific as there is an organization that promotes the use of non-scent specific dogs for missing cats. This is almost always a futile and ineffective search process so be aware of this. The K9 Handler and tracking dogs must move your search forward with valuable information or by finding your pet.
It is required that the K9 Handler's K9 Team can check sightings and that the K9s on the team have a clear alert for "no scent." This is imperative for working missing pet cases.
Be particularly cautious of anyone who does not want you to go with them on the search for your pet. If the individual asks you to stay at home and wait for their call, it is best to pass on this opportunity. There is no mystery or reason that a pet owner cannot view the investigative and/or search process. K9s that do this work have been exposed and proofed to work regardless the distraction. As professionals, we find that many times the pet owner provides valuable information that moves the search forward. If the pet detective says you cannot go... do not hire them.
It is important to know how the prospective K9 handler got into this field. Are they from search and rescue? Law enforcement as a K9 handler? The professional you need will have at least two years in this industry and/or is being mentored by a veteran professional. They should have learned their handling skills from a recognized professional or trainer. Certification and effectiveness in this field cannot be achieved by reading a book, taking online classes, webinars or video learning.
Ask for three to five client testimonials and references with phone numbers.... and call, text or email them in reference to their experience with the K9 Handler.
Employing Certified scent specific tracking dogs with an experienced K9 Handler and/or investigator can move your search to the next level resulting in the location and recovery of your missing family member.
Be clear on what you need and do not be afraid to move on and find someone else if the handler on the phone does not sound like someone you can trust.