Background: With a global target set for zero human deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030 and some regional programmes close to eliminating canine rabies, there is an urgent need for enhanced surveillance strategies suitable for declaring freedom from disease and elimination of transmission with known confidence. Methods: Using exhaustive contact tracing across settings in Tanzania we generated detailed data on rabies incidence, rabid dog biting behaviour and health-seeking behaviour of bite victims. Using these data we compared case detection of sampling-based and enhanced surveillance methodologies and investigated elimination verification procedures. Findings: We demonstrate that patients presenting to clinics with bite injuries are sensitive sentinels for identifying dog rabies cases. Triage of patients based on bite history criteria and investigation of suspicious incidents can confirm >10% of dog rabies cases and is an affordable approach that will enable validation of disease freedom following two years without case detection. Approaches based on sampling the dog population without using bite-injury follow-up were found to be neither sensitive nor cost-effective. Interpretation: The low prevalence of rabies, and short window in which disease can be detected, preclude sampling-based surveillance. Instead, active case finding guided by bite-patient triage is needed as elimination is approached. Our proposed methodology is affordable, practical and supports the goal of eliminating human rabies deaths by improving administration of lifesaving post-exposure prophylaxis for genuinely exposed but untreated contacts. Moreover, joint investigations by public health and veterinary workers will strengthen intersectoral partnerships and capacity for control of emerging zoonoses.