When you take your dog on a walk and pass by “Lost Dog” posters stapled to utility poles, you likely feel a twinge of sorrow, imagining a cold, scared pooch lost and alone, or a frantic family waiting by the phone for some good news. You probably also feel comforted knowing your own pet is safely by your side, but it’s difficult not to think of the scenarios that might cause your dog to go astray.
Some people think of their missing dog as being “ungrateful” for the care and shelter we provide when in reality, well-loved pets rarely take off with the intention of “running away”. Sudden, loud noises can trigger the “fight or flight” instinct. Missing or damaged fence boards or tunnels dug under fencelines can go unnoticed until your dog fails to come in from the yard. Meter checkers or tax assessors might inadvertently let your dog slip by when passing through your gate, and sadly, poorly-secured dogs often bolt from car accidents, getting lost in unfamiliar territory.
How can you reduce the risk of your dog becoming lost while increasing the odds she’ll be found in case she gets away? Here are some great products and practices that really do work.
Teach your dog basic commands, like “sit”, “stay” and “come”, and practice them in your daily routine. Make your dog sit and wait patiently while you leash her, open the door and pass through when you go on walks, so she doesn’t get in the habit of rushing the door every time it opens.
Collar and updated tags
Make sure your dog’s collar is in good condition, with an identification tag bearing his name and your current contact information. You never know if your dog will get loose, and a collar helps a good Samaritan catch your dog, check for ID and get him on his way home.
Microchip your dog
Sometimes collars break or tags fall of when our dog is on “walkabout”. Invest in a microchip program for your dog, and keep up with the registry subscription. Microchips operate by radio frequency identification technology (RFID), which means the chip injected under your dog’s skin transmits a serial number when scanned by a handheld device.
Most vet clinics and shelters are equipped to scan your lost pet, enter the number into a database, and report the location and condition of your animal to your subscription company.
When we know we’ll spend a lot of time going in and out of the house, or when we’re expecting company, pet gates allow us to confine our dogs in one area of the house and away from access to the outdoors. Be sure to use pet gates as an added layer of prevention when a neighbor, pet-sitter or professional dog-walker needs to come over. Nobody wants to be responsible for a dog sneaking out!
Secure your yard
It’s a good idea to inspect your perimeter fencing for damage and tunnels. Observe your dog at play in the yard when she doesn’t know you’re watching, and discourage fence-climbing and digging behavior. If your neighbors have dogs, ask if they can check their side of the fence as well, especially if their pets (or yours) have not been neutered or spayed.
Electric fence wire designed for livestock can deter large dogs that like to climb, and wireless electronic “fences” are an option for adding another layer of perimeter security to your yard.
Consider installing a lock at your fence gate, and placing a placard warning visitors not to let your dog loose. You may want to confer with your insurance agent before hanging any signs announcing “attack dogs”, for liability reasons.
Spaying reduces roaming
If you don’t plan to breed your dog, one of the many benefits of “fixing” them is reducing their instinct to roam. Females in heat will attract intact males that will tear down fences or dig to get the chance to mate.
Use travel restraints
When you’re on the go with your dog, secure him for his own safety as well as yours. Crates or safety harnesses keep your dog from interfering with the driver, keep him from being thrown about in an accident, and prevent him from running away if you’re in a fender-bender or serious wreck.
Security away from home
Once you reach your destination, make sure your pet has a secure place to sleep and play. Familiarize your pet with his very own collapsible crate, and bring along his favorite blankets so he knows that even if he’s in a new place, he has his favorite “den”.
Puppies and smaller dogs can play off-leash with lightweight, portable, panelized pens, popular with pet people who spend a lot of time at family campgrounds and RV parks.
Use compression jackets to ease anxiety
Special “shirts” give dogs a feeling of security by mimicking the sensation of being in a snug den, or even in the mother’s womb. If your dog exhibits anxiety during thunderstorms, fireworks displays or car travel, a properly-fitting compression jacket can help prevent your dog from “panic escapes.”
Don’t let your dog off-leash in unfamiliar areas
Whether you’re traveling or exploring the neighborhood right next to yours, keep your dog on a leash. Consider using a harness in high-activity areas, and leave your dog home from fireworks displays, celebrations with loud noises, or very crowded gatherings.
Prepare for the unexpected
While you never want to see your pet’s face on a “Lost Dog” poster, it’s never a bad idea to keep lots of current photos of your pooch in your smartphone in case you need to quickly print out posters of your own. With a little luck and self-discipline, you’ll only end up proudly showing your mutt’s mug to friends, relatives, and co-workers.
No matter what we do to prevent lost pets, we’re only human, and they’re dogs. By maintaining preventative habits, investing in the right equipment and refreshing our dog’s obedience commands, we can reduce the risk of losing our dog and a valued member of our family.