Years ago, missing pets were not even on the scam artists radar but all that changed with increased reach of the Internet and social media. It is now common for grief stricken pet owners to receive, emails, texts and calls from scammers as well as the inexperienced amateur offering fraudulent or ineffective services.
With regards to tracking dogs and K9 handlers, it is crucial to ascertain if the individual you are considering hiring is a certified professional or an inexperienced hobbyist hoping to be able to help or an outright swindler hoping to make a buck.
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.
Be aware of Internet scams that claim a pet detective or search dog handler will come look for your pet. They ask you to pay on line without talking to anyone. This is a scam.
Beware of organizations that offer certified Pet Detectives trained online or in a webinar. This type of work cannot be learned and experienced through online classes. Individuals interested in doing this type of work must receive hands-on training and mentoring by legitimate professionals versed in all the aspects of tracking and case work. This simply cannot be done in an online class, reading of a book or video training.
Search dogs look for missing people not missing animals. All true search dogs will be proofed against following any animal scent. Time and time again, pet owners have found someone who says they have a search dog and have hired them to look for their missing pet only to find that the individual has no idea how to proceed to find a missing pet. Scent Specific dogs that do this work are trained to do this work... period.
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.