It’s scary—you let your dogs out, you go to let them in and they are not there. What do you do?
Or you’re out walking and suddenly a firework goes off; your dog takes-off in fear. What do you do?
Prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to minimize losing your dog is by teaching them you are their safe-haven and source of all fun.
The very first thing you must, must, MUST do is train a solid recall. The best way to do this is NEVER, ever, no matter what, punish your dog in any way for coming to you. No matter what they did or how mad you are, always reward them. From day one, puppy or adult, if your dog comes to you, reward them. Pet them, give them food, whatever you can do in that moment.
Dogs live in the present. They have no idea you are mad at them because they ran way from you 5 minutes ago no matter how many times you explain it to them or how loud you yell. They only know they came to you and got smacked on the nose or their collar pulled or it seemed to agitate you.
Work on recall from day one using fabulous rewards. Use a word other than their name, humans tend to say a dog’s name to often for it to be an effective command. Start by teaching them to sit. Then teach them to stay moving farther away each time. Practice this in 10 minute sessions a few times a day.
You can train weeks old puppies; keep in mind they have short attention spans and need lots of repetition. Teaching at 9 weeks; the puppy learns how to learn, “Oh, that word means I do this and I get a treat.” There are many training systems out there, find one you like and stick with it.
If you adopted an older dog, a great way to bond and develop trust is to take a basic obedience class. I cannot stress enough the importance of this in preventing the loss of a dog. They may still take off at times, but training increases the chance of the them returning on their own by 80% or more.
Walk your dog
This is as important as training your dog and the most important factor in you being the source of all fun. Dogs who escape often do so because they are bored and have excess energy. Walking and playing with your dog drains that excess energy and removes the need to find other outlets for it like escaping the yard.
Teaching your dog to walk properly on a leash makes walking fun for both of you. The more often you walk your dog, the easier it is. If you only walk occasionally, it is much harder. I walk my dogs 2 times a day every day, but I know not every one can do this. Short walks every day are great, three times a week is better than once. Running the dog along a bicycle is a great energy drainer for very energetic dogs. A tired dog is a good dog.
Walking is not just for exercise. Leash walks are mental exercise for your dog; smelling and catching up on neighborhood critter news, is great mental stimulation and can tire a dog faster than a run. Also, it satisfies the dogs urge to smell whats outside of the yard; the dog learns the neighborhood and the neighborhood gets to know your dog.
Very often a dog is found weeks later and the finder learns the dog lives down the street. It’s also a great way to socialize your dog. Introduce him to any neighbors interested. Knowing the people around you helps if you should lose your dog, find a dog or have a dog issue with a neighbor.
Off the Leash
Find places to walk your dog off-leash. Walking off-leash teaches a dog to be with you without a leash and makes it less likely they will take-off at any opportunity. I drop my leashes all the time, but my dogs don’t run off for two reasons; I don’t panic and they are used to walking with me off-leash.
Yes, you are taking a chance when you walk off-leash, but if you have done your basic training, you should be fine. With puppies there is a period of time where they won’t go far from you. This is the ideal time to teach off-leash ettiequte and recall. Carry treats and very calmly call them to you every so often or call them back if they go to far. It is important you are calm when doing this type training so pick a place your feel comfortable. I like to train mine in a Marsh because it’s surrounded on all sides by water; not every one is comfortable in a Marsh. Find what works for you. Reward, reward, reward.
There are some dogs that can never be walked off-leash, you need to be able to read your dog. The bottom line here is if you are not comfortable, if it’s going to make you anxious, don’t do it.
If your dog runs to far
There may come a time when your dog tests you and runs farther away than they should. It’s hard, but do not chase them. This only encourages them to keep running. They may have done it for fun or because they saw a critter. Your state of worry will communicate there is danger and they need to find it by running farther still. You should calmly turn around and walk the other direction calling the dog in a normal, cheerful voice. It would be a good idea to have treats on hand to reward them when they come to you. Yes, there could be cars and all that, but I have never had this not work. You will not catch them by chasing them.
When your dog goes Walkabout
First, do not panic. When you first discover the dog is missing, stay still and listen for other dogs in the neighborhood barking. Follow the barking. This is the best way to find a dog. If you are not sure how long the dog has been gone, still try this, but listen further away. Walk the neighborhood and listen. The time my Golden Retriever wandered out of my yard, this is how a found him. I got on my bike and followed the barking dogs. There was Barney a few streets away running the fence with a barking dog.
Next, if you walk your dog and have a route you often take, walk that route. You are likely to find the dog somewhere along it. Make sure there is some one at home incase the dog returns on his own. I’ve only had two dogs run away in a lifetime of having dogs and I found both by these two methods. What follows is from my experience helping others find their dogs and returning lost dogs to their owners.
Do not say your dog was stolen. Although this does happen, it is less likely than the dog wandering off. Do not write this on social media or on any posters you make. It is the surest way to never find your dog. If the dog wasn’t stolen and someone found it, they may hesitate to contact you for fear of being accused of stealing. Often people who take dogs do so for the reward money, if you accuse them of stealing in the posts they just dump the dog far away. Remember the goal is to get the dog back.
If you have searched the walking routes and followed the barking dogs and your dog has not returned home; call the local police and make a report that the dog is missing. Call any near-by cities and and make the report and leave your contact information. You do not need to speak to animal control or the shelter. If the police receive a call of a lost dog, they will call you. This is how I have returned 99% of the lost dogs I have found.
Don’t forget to call your vet and report the dog missing and your groomer, if you use one. Notify anyone who would know the dog.
Post your dog’s picture on social media for your local area. Start close to home and then move further out. I like Next-door.com and neighborhood Facebook Groups for this. Most areas have a Facebook group for lost dogs.
As more time goes by, visit local shelters, don’t rely on photos because dogs can look very different after a few hours out on their own.
Make flyers and canvas the neighborhood and talk to neighbors, give them flyers, don’t just post them. It is better to do this on foot or bike than in a car. Always make sure there is some one at home incase the dog returns on it’s own.
Hopefully your dog will be found.
A few more tips
Microchipping is the best way to ensure your dog is returned if something weird happens like they get trapped inside a delivery truck and end-up half a state away. Keep your contact information attached to the chip up-to-date.
An ID tag on the collar is good, but when a dog runs away it is often at a time when it is not wearing it’s collar or the collar is lost on the walkabout.
Secure you fence and gate. Leaning something against the gate isn’t good enough. If you can move it, so can your dog.
Never walk your dog on a retractable leash. Despite the handle and the claims of the manufacturers, these leashes are hard to hold. Often dogs are lost by the owner dropping the leash and the leash chasing the dog. These stories usually do not have happy endings.
No matter how distraught you are, be nice to any one trying to help you find your dog no matter how annoying they are.
Keep calling local police and going to local shelters. It’s hard, but ask if any dead dogs where found when you call. It is better to know than not know.
Social media is a great tool for reuniting lost dogs with owners, but don’t rely on it only. Keep refreshing your social media posts.