What To Do When Your Dog Goes Missing
Lately, social media has been up in arms posting every missing and lost dog, helping families reunite with their furry loved ones. It’s an amazing use of a huge network of individuals dealing with the sad reality that many dogs go missing every year. Almost every dog owner can recount a moment when their dog was missing or was almost missing. Whether their collar snapped or a door was left open, many dogs dash for freedom or go off exploring before realizing they are lost or far from home. There is a good chance that one day your dog might go missing, even if only for a few terrifying moments. There are a couple of things to keep in mind and to prepare your dog so that these moments remain only moments and your dog doesn’t become the next featured missing pet on Facebook©.
First of all, expect that your dog will one day be in a situation where they can choose to run. It will happen — collars break and leashes slip out of hands. Over the course of your dog’s life, something unexpected will happen. The best plan is to train your dog knowing that they will one day have to make the choice between running off and exploring or coming back to you or your home. Teaching your dog a solid recall really is not enough unless you have proofed your recall by dropping the leash or taken off your pooch’s collar. However, a rock solid recall cue can definitely help get your pup’s attention and may make them pause long enough for you to use another cue or game.
One thing that can help decrease the chance of your pup escaping is to teach reliable behaviors around doorways (see: http://perfect-pooch.com/who-should-go-through-a-door-first/) and off leash in secure areas (like a basketball court or empty dog park). You can also teach an emergency behavior and make it extremely highly rewarding. I use a “drop” cue, which means “fall flat on the ground immediately and I will walk up and give you steak or hot dog” with my dogs. A cue can only mean one thing right? I think this is a pretty clear one for my guys.
When you find yourself in the unexpected situation where your dog has the opportunity to run off, your instinct will likely be to chase your dog. This is a big mistake! Your dog’s instincts will take over and they will run from you if they see you approaching at any type of speed or concern. Your yelling will not help the situation either.
You have three real options in this case if you really think your dog might take off: you can yell something fun and run away from your dog or in a perpendicular line so that your dog meets you at a point, you can scream and fall to the ground, or you can use your dog’s favorite word and hope they forgive you for the lie later when you throw a party for them. Running in a perpendicular line to your dog allow you to keep an eye on them and coax them towards you without instigating a chasing game. Many dogs are happy to play this game and will run to greet you. Screaming and falling to the ground is especially useful for sensitive dogs, as they will often check on you to make sure you are not hurt. Grab them fast when they get to you and don’t stare as they come running. You should act as if you are actually injured. A last resort option is to yell their favorite word (cookie, yes, good girl, walk, toy, etc.) and hope they come running for their prize. This is a last resort because you are about to disappoint your dog and poison the word for future use, so be sure you throw a huge happy party for your dog as soon as they get to you.
You should also prepare your dog for the inevitable day of escape by making sure your dog has readable and accurate collar tags with multiple forms of contact if possible. If you move or get a new cell phone, update your dog’s tags. You can also microchip your dog, but remember anyone can read a collar tag, but not everyone scans for a microchip or can scan all frequencies of microchips, as they are not universal in the United States.
If you happen to be on the other hand of the situation and find a dog on their own, do not assume they are a stray but rather that they are lost. Always approach loose dogs cautiously and you can even snap a picture on your cell phone before approaching in case the dog bolts (this helps get them up on social media and can give a family proof of life and potentially a location if the dog has been missing for a while). Just like your own dog, running towards a dog will usually lead to the dog running away from you. It is much better to approach slowly and quietly, stopping a short distance away and allowing the dog to come to you.
This is not always possible, however. For example, a few weeks ago I spotted a tiny Yorkshire terrier on the side of a major road walking between the barrier wall and the cars with nowhere safe to go. I did not approach slowly nor call the dog to me but rather scooped him up from behind and kept his face away from me until I determined he was not going to bite. Do what you have to do. Luckily the dog had a tag and lived less than a mile away so it was a quick reunion before the owner even realized he was gone. Without a collar tag, I would have taken the dog to the closest vet hoping that they could identify the dog or scan for a chip. Then I likely would have called the local police and other vets before calling a local no-kill shelter with better means to find his home or place him in a new one.
When dogs go missing it can be heartbreaking and scary, but with a little bit of preparation and a plan of action, you can drastically improve the outcome for the inevitable day when your dog can choose to run or stay.
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator