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Losing a pet can be heartbreaking for a family. Owners often never locate their missing family member and have no idea what happened to their beloved furry friend. A dog or cat can become confused and wander off in a wilderness area, or even in an urban area. Frightened animals may 'hole up' to stay safe, but this behavior can make them even harder to find. A really frightened or injured pet may not even respond to being called.
A possible solution is to get a trained dog to locate lost pets! Using your dog as a tool to reunite missing pets with their families is very rewarding and gives your scent-following pup a job to do, which most dogs thrive on. Because every animal, including humans, has their own unique scent, you can train a particularly 'nosy' dog to distinguish between individual animal scents and put his nose to work following a pet’s scent trail to locate it. We use dogs all the time for search and rescue to locate humans, so why not put them to work for our missing pets?
By working with your dog's incredibly sensitive nose, you can provide a service to your community and help out some furry friends. Because your dog's “smeller” is many hundreds of times more powerful than yours, you can harness this powerful tool to locate individuals. Once your dog is good at identifying an individual's sent, you can introduce a missing pet's scent to your dog, take your search dog to the last known location, and allow your dog to pick up residual scent trail to follow. You and your dog may be able to locate the pet or at least gather information on where the missing pet may have ended up. Pets can get lost in a variety of environments from rural areas with heavy brush, trees, open fields and water, to urban areas with parking lots, alleys, buildings, and busy streets. A frightened animal may hide to try to stay safe, but there is no hiding from the nose of a dog trained to find lost pets!
A dog that finds lost pets needs to be calm and well socialized with other animals. Also, remember that although all dogs have powerful noses, some dogs such as hounds are particularly suited to finding lost pets. Your dog also must be trainable and able to focus on the job. Working dogs and those with calm, focused temperaments are better tools for locating lost pets. To start with, you will need treats and a dog or cat to act as your 'lost pet' that is comfortable being in a crate. A training stick and a clicker are also useful tools for some training methods.
The Follow Scents Method
Make a simple scent trail
Crush some smelly treats under your shoes and walk to create a scent trail in a simple, straight line for several yards. Hide the treats at the end of the trail to prepare your Shiba to find it.
Follow and reinforce trail
Take your dog on a leash to the beginning of the trail and wait for him to investigate the scent. Then encourage your dog along the scent trail to find the hidden cache of treats.
Make it more difficult
Make treat scent trails more complex, longer, and let them sit until they are older before letting your dog follow them. Practice lots until your dog is really good at following even old, long, and winding trails.
Pair pet scent
Start pairing treat trails with cat or dog scents. Use bedding from another individual animal as a drag and pair with the treat trail to create a trail with both scents. Let your dog get used to following the treat trail with the individual animal scent. If you have another cat or dog in the house, this is ideal, or borrow a pet from a friend or neighbor.
Set pet scent trails only
Now start laying pet scent trail without the treats and practice letting your dog follow just the animal scent trail. When he reaches the scented item at the end of the trail, throw a treat party, and lavish praise and high-value treats on your dog.
The Small Pet Method
Teach your dog to target with a target stick. Point the stick and when your dog touches the end of the stick or the object at the end of the stick with his nose, use a clicker and provide a treat.
Target pet in a crate
Put your small dog, cat, or the calm cat of a friend in a crate. Target the crate so your pet finding dog touches the crate with the pet in it with his nose. Click and treat for targeting the cat in the crate. Add a command such as 'find kitty'. If you are using a small dog the command can be find doggy'.
Increase distance and remove the stick
Stand farther away and point your target stick at the crate with the 'lost pet' in it. Give the 'find kitty' command. When your dog touches the crate, click and treat. Start commanding 'find kitty' without using the targeting stick. When your dog touches the crate, click and treat. Gradually increase distance.
Hide the pet to find
Hide the pet in the crate somewhere in your house, like in another room, and start from somewhere else in the house. Say 'find kitty' and let your dog look for the crate with your cat in it. Keep it simple at first and add complexity as your dog becomes proficient and starts to use his nose to find the pet in a crate. When your dog finds the pet, click, praise your dog, and give him a high-value treat. Practice lots, using different locations. Put the crated pet in a closet, behind a couch, in the bathtub, or on a bed or a table. Get creative!
Capture 'found it' signal
Teach your dog to signal you when he finds the kitty. Many dogs will provide a natural behavior like jumping up and down or barking. Start waiting for a signal behavior before clicking and treating for finding the lost kitty.
The Complete Method
Play 'find the kitty' outside
Take your 'find the kitty' game outside. Put your cat in a crate out in the yard and create a scent trail by dragging the cat's bedding to the crate's location. Let your dog find the kitty outside and encourage him to use his nose.
Find outside cats
Talk to neighbors that have outdoor cats and ask to practice letting your dog find their cats. Introduce the animals first so the cat is not scared of your dog. Obtain some scent items for that pet and present to your dog. Then, when the cat is outdoors, present the scent item and ask your dog to find the kitty. Practice often.
Have a dog hide
Practice finding other dogs. Have a friend or neighbor create a short, simple scent trail in a yard or small outdoor area with their dog. Ask them to hide behind a tree, rock, or building with their dog on a leash.
Find the dog
Present the hidden dog's scent to your dog and say 'find doggy'. Encourage and guide your dog to find the hidden doggy.
Work with other search dogs
Look online for pet finding detectives to locate other experienced pet finding dogs. Work with your dog on leash while the other dog goes to work. Let your dog learn as much as he can from the other experienced working dog.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 06/06/2018, edited: 01/08/2021