Assuming that a dog won’t run off and get lost is a mistake that dog owners make every day. I know from personal experience that even after years of always staying within the boundaries, dogs can suddenly take off and disappear without your ever knowing what happened. There are many more outdoor dogs than most people realize. While you might expect the greatest risk to be to those dogs who stay outside, even the most pampered indoor pets go outside sometimes. When they do, there’s always a risk that they will get lost.
So, how do dogs get lost?
When Mother Nature Calls
One of the biggest reasons that dogs wander away from home is due to the heat cycle. Both males and females that haven’t been spayed or neutered are vulnerable; even in the best-behaved pets.
Dog owners often fail to realize how soon their female dogs begin having a heat cycle. It usually starts between the ages of 5 months and 1 year. When a female is in heat, a male can smell the scent from up to 3 miles away. If a worthy partner doesn’t show up in her yard, the female is likely to go in search of a male to breed.
A fertile dog can lead to several scenarios that put the dogs and anyone around them in danger. Gentle dogs often become aggressive and travel away from home for extended periods of time. They don’t acknowledge the dangers around them. People who are around them become scared and sometimes act out violently or, at best, call the dog warden to have the trespassing dogs taken away.
This is one of the biggest reasons to have your dog neutered or spayed. Even the best-behaved dog will leave the safety of their home when the opportunity to breed arrives. If you actively breed your dog, make sure it’s secured at all times. Dogs have even scaled fences when there was a female in heat on the other site.
Loud Noises, Especially Fireworks
Dogs are much more sensitive to loud noises than humans, often becoming frightened when confronted with something as overpowering as fireworks. According to Lost Dogs of America, more dogs are lost during the 4th of July than at any other time. Unfortunately, fireworks shows aren’t limited to the 4th of July anymore. People tend to use them to celebrate everything from Memorial Day to Easter! That means you might not even realize the stress your dog is experiencing while you aren’t at home.
If your dog feels threatened by loud sounds, it might run off to get away from the noise. Dogs that are in fenced-in yards or indoors might seize an opportunity to escape when they normally stay put without any issue. They aren’t really running away from you and home, but away from the perceived threat.
Someone Takes Them
I have one family member who has had her little dog taken from her dog on three different occasions, only to be found for sale on Craigslist right after. Everyone isn’t fortunate enough to track their missing dog so easily. Sometimes people steal purebred dogs to get some fast cash. Others take them to keep as pets because they don’t want to shell out several hundred dollars to buy a dog of their own.
Then there are the people who pick up pets, transport them miles away from home, and then turn them out on the side of the road. I have no idea why they do this other than being purely evil. I do know from firsthand experience that it does happen.
They’re Hot on the Trail of an Elusive Fox Squirrel
Dogs are natural hunters, always on the lookout for prey. If your dog has had his eye on a squirrel, bird, or the family cat for some time, he won’t think twice when opportunity arises. Whether you are in your yard or walking him in the park, he’s going to follow his natural instinct. By the time he gets to the end of the chase, he might not have any idea where he is; and neither will you!
In Search of Fun
Sometimes dogs spend too much time alone and they get bored. Others are just naturally curious. Either way, they end up leaving home to find to see what or who they can find. If kids or other dogs live nearby, they might go looking for a playmate.
Prevention Is the Best Solution
Like so many other things that go wrong in life, prevention is the best way to keep from losing a dog in the first place. The reason so many pet owners don’t take preventive steps is that they don’t think it’s something that will ever happen to them. The reality is that no matter how well you know your dog or how much of a homebody it is, there is always a chance that it will get lost. The last thing you want is to come home one day and find your dog missing only to never see it again. Trust me; I’ve been there.
Let’s Start with Microchipping…
I’ve become quite the advocate of microchipping since learning the hard way how easy it can happen with any dog. Your vet injects the chip under your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades using a special syringe. I’m sure it’s more expensive now than it was when I had it done more than a decade ago. But even if it’s double the $40 price tag, it’s a small price to pay to ensure your dog is traceable.
It’s important to know that microchipping isn’t a standalone solution. It has some limitations, including who finds your dog. If he shows up at the little old lady’s house down the street, she might not think twice about taking in what she perceives to be a stray. Only animal shelters and veterinarians have the scanners to check for a microchip. Everyone isn’t going to take your dog in to have it checked.
Also, different brands of scanners work differently and might not read your pet’s microchip. Some other potential problems include the microchip slipping out of place or your failing to register your new contact information if you move. It’s a good idea to have the vet check the chip to see if it’s working every year during your pet’s regular exam. Still, a microchip is one form of id that your dog won’t lose, and no one can take it off.
On to New Technology…
Technology is growing, giving more pet owners options to track their pets using their computers or smartphones. A GPS collar can even let you see where your dog has gone for months at a time. If you’ve always wondered what your dog does when it’s home alone, the GPS tracker will show you with ease.
Any of the newfangled tracking collars work great for dogs that get lost on their own. They even offer a bonus of letting you watch your dog’s habits and behaviors when you aren’t there to watch them in person. It might even give you a clue about a potential breakout before it happens.
Layer on the ID…
The bottom line is that you can never have too many layers of ID. Start with a custom collar with your dog’s name and phone number. For smaller dogs with less embroidery space, just use the phone number. If you take your dog on walks, consider an embroidered leash, too. The person that finds your dog might be more apt to read the contact on the leash since they can see it at a distance. Also, some dogs won’t let a stranger get close enough to read an ID tag or collar.
Finally, add a dog ID tag engraved with your dog’s name and your phone number. You can also get tags that inform the finder that the dog is microchipped. This information might not be necessary if they have your phone number directly. But you never know which piece of information will bring your dog home to you.
Once the Unthinkable Happens…
It’s scary to think of your fur baby running out into traffic on his own. You want to find him as quickly as possible. Hopefully, a search of your neighborhood or the area where he went missing will help you get results fast. Don’t just call out his name with the hopes you’ll get a response. Listen for any dogs barking nearby. Sometimes other dogs sound the alert when a strange dog is in their territory.
If you don’t find your dog right away, it’s time to take action. Call animal control to see if they’ve had any calls about a stray dog. Tell them about your dog, the area where he went missing, and where to get hold of you if he shows up. Call back the next morning if he’s still missing and start expanding your search area.
There’s still a good chance that your dog isn’t that far from home. Use a current picture to create some flyers and post them around the neighborhood. Target nearby businesses where there is a lot of traffic.
Go online and use social media to your advantage. I share pics of lost docs on Facebook almost every day. The great thing is that a lot of them get found. The nature of sharing posts helps the information spread quickly in the immediate area and in nearby locations. If someone took your dog away from your neighborhood, there’s still a good chance of finding him.
The Next Morning…
If your dog still hasn’t found his way home the next morning, start reaching out to dog rescues and shelter in the surrounding counties. Don’t stop calling until you find your dog. Don’t give the workers in any shelter the chance to forget who you are and what kind of dog you’re looking for.
Whether your dog has a chip or not, post flyers in local veterinarian offices and animal hospitals. If your dog gets injured or the person who finds it takes it to get scanned, they will see your flyer and know how to contact you. Of course, you need to act quickly to ensure you get your info posted before the finder brings the dog in.
Dealing with Pet Loss
Losing a pet is one of the most difficult things any dog lover experiences. It’s inevitable. Living a lifetime without ever knowing what happened to them is much more devastating.
Fortunately, most pets who get lost are recovered. Knowing what to do to prevent your pet’s loss and what to do when your efforts don’t pay off could make you one of the lucky ones.