You could save your dog’s life by taking seven minutes to read this. Of the millions of dogs in the United States, about one third of them will go missing at some point in their lives. Being lost exposes dogs to a number of dangers, including being hit by a car, attacked by wild animals or other dogs, kept by a finder who doesn’t intend to return him, or turned over to a shelter far from your city where you might not think to look for him. In my line of work, helping people find their lost pets, every day I have to deal with dogs who died, and their deaths were preventable through relatively simple measures.
The first step is just to be aware that it can happen, even if you think, “My dog would never do that.” Dogs escape when a meter reader leaves the gate open, or during a car accident, or when you are on vacation and your dog is at the pet sitter. Just yesterday, a small dog was in her owner’s arms, right in front of their home, when two off-leash dogs attacked. The owner did almost everything right, in that moment, and the little dog just happened to back out of her collar during the struggle, and she ran off into the dark. In those critical moments when her little dog ran off, she could have done things differently, if she had only known. It took a day and a half to find her dog when she might have found her in under an hour if she had taken the right approach. You probably don’t know the best ways to find a lost dog because hopefully you haven’t had to do it very often. An ounce of prevention now, arming yourself with some basic knowledge, could save your dog’s life. Also, even if your dog doesn’t go missing, there is a 100% chance that someone you know is going to lose their dog at some point, and what you learn now can save them a world of heartache.
A Martingale collar can be a real lifesaver. This is a collar that fits loosely when the dog is not pulling, but if he tries to back out of the collar, it tightens up. You can adjust the fit so that it won’t ever choke your dog, but it will tighten up enough to stay on in an emergency situation.
Putting a lock or a carabiner on your gate latch can prevent someone from entering the yard without authorization and letting your dogs loose.
For many dogs, it may be wise to create an “air lock” at the front door by installing a baby gate away from the door, to prevent a dog from darting out if the door was open unexpectedly, or if, for example, a squirrel just happens to dart by when you open the door.
Don’t leave your small dog out in the yard by himself, even if your yard is fully fenced. Coyotes and bobcats can jump almost any fence, and some owls can take dogs under nine pounds. Just because you have let your little dog out in the yard for years without incident doesn’t mean your dog is safe. It just means that you’ve been lucky so far. Stay very close to your little dog while out in the yard, and keeping him on a leash is even better.
If a dog is new to your home, such as an adopted dog, please outfit him with a collar and a harness, and walk him with two leashes, one on the collar and one on the harness. A dog in a new environment may be spooked by things you haven’t even imagined. Of the cases where people ask my search dog to come track their lost dog, a high percentage happened when the dog panicked and backed out of a collar, or backed out of a harness. Never once, that I know of, has a dog managed to wriggle out of a collar and a harness. I have fostered many dogs who stayed with us a short time until they found their permanent homes. Walking a dog with two leashes, one to the collar, one to the harness, has prevented many escapes.
If you have to entrust your dog to someone else while you are at work or on vacation, be sure to talk to them about loss prevention and how to find a dog quickly if lost. Anyone who watches your dog should already know everything in this article. If they don’t, educate them, or find someone else. An alarming number of professional pet sitters don’t know even the basics about preventing a dog from going missing or recovering a dog quickly.
As important as loss prevention is, even if you do everything right, you might still lose your dog through no fault of your own. There are many easy things you can do now to greatly improve your chances of recovering your dog quickly.
First and foremost, have some ID on your dog’s collar. This can be ID tags, or you can buy an embroidered collar for not much more than a regular collar. Be sure the phone number is up to date. This one measure, if adopted by every dog owner, would probably allow me to retire from my career of finding lost pets. Millions of dogs who took a trip to the shelter could have just been taken home if they only had ID on their collars. It is the simplest, most basic, easiest thing you can do for your dog, and it is astounding how many dogs are running around lost without proper ID. If you love your dog, or even if you don’t love your dog, put ID on him.
Take some good, clear, sharp pictures of your dog, with a simple background. I currently have 83,448 pictures and videos on my iPhone, and 95% of those are of dogs. Even if you don’t love to take pictures of your dogs, like I do, be sure to take a few simple, clear pictures just in case they are needed for LOST DOG posters or for posting on social media. I have been asked to search for many dogs where the owner didn’t have a clear photo handy. Pick a few of your best photos and send them to a friend just in case your phone dies or is lost.
If your dog is an escape artist, please do invest in a GPS tracking unit for the collar. Compared to the cost of the average vet visit, or bailing your dog out of impound, a GPS collar is not expensive. There are several that are reliable and easy to use. I have been happy with Fi and Whistle.
If your dog does escape from you, DO NOT CALL HIS NAME. When I tell this to people, they almost never believe me at first. This advice is based on years of experience and hundreds of reports of dogs running farther away when their names were called. Even if your dog reliably comes when called, if it’s a situation where he has escaped or is lost, it is very likely that he won’t come when called. Instead, as you go around looking for your dog, you should just be talking in a normal tone of voice, as if you aren’t out looking for him, but you’re just out for a walk and talking to your friend on your cell phone. If you want to be heard over a longer distance, call the name of your dog’s favorite dog friend. This one bit of advice, to not call your dog’s name, would result in millions of dogs being found quickly instead of taking days or weeks to find, or never being found.
Please be sure to put a microchip in your dog. If you think of all of the millions of dogs that end up in shelters, if they all had microchips, they would have been scanned and sent home. It costs very little, and often there are events where you can get a free microchip. When you do get a microchip, it is very important to verify with the chip company that they have your correct contact info.
Create and store a scent item for your dog. If your dog goes missing, you may be able to enlist a trained search dog to try to follow the scent trail. This can be difficult or impossible if there isn’t any item with just your dog’s scent, and not the scent of any other pet. It is easy to store your dog’s scent. Take a sterile gauze pad, like you would place over a wound, and rub it all over your dog. If you don’t have that, a clean paper towel or napkin would be okay. After you have rubbed this pad or paper towel all over your dog, stick it in a ziplock bag. Write the dog’s name on the outside with a permanent marker. Store this in the freezer. It will be viable for up to three years, but you should be in the habit of making a new one every year. You may never need this scent item, but it is so easy and simple to create and store, just in case.
There are many other measures you can take for loss prevention and to prepare for a rapid recovery, and you can find many articles on these topics at 3retrievers.com. Just knowing the basics in this article could save your dog from accidental death or permanent loss. The more people who know this elementary information, the more will be protected, so please share this with someone you know who loves dogs.