Pets Gone AWOL Part 2 – What to Do If You Lose Your Dog

How are you all doing? It’s beautiful weather at the moment – really puts the proverbial ‘spring’ in your step, doesn’t it! (Apologies if it’s started chucking it down by the time you read this – that’s the curse of mentioning the weather!)

On days like these I’m so pleased that I’m a dog owner. There’s nothing better than stretching your legs before and after work in the spring sunshine, enjoying the beautiful Derbyshire countryside and clearing your head as the dogs dash about, burning off energy. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a dog owner all year round, but there are times when you really have to drag both yourself and your Muttley mates out of the door, when it’s freezing cold, blowing a gale and the rain’s coming at you sideways. The dogs are looking at you as if you’ve lost the plot… ‘Really? You’re gonna make us go out in this?!?’ But, in this weather it’s a different story. There’s no need for 17 layers of warm, waterproof clothing and there’s no mud to wash off when you get home; it’s genuinely a pleasure.

Now, avid readers of the blog (which I’m assuming applies to most of you, right?) will remember that in the last blog I talked about how to catch a small animal who’s escaped from their cage and is playing truant around the house. But what do you do if you lose a larger animal – i.e. your dog – and what if the search area is considerably bigger than your house – i.e. the whole of the countryside?

Well, your first reaction is likely to be the same as the hamster scenario – panic. You’ll remember that wasn’t helpful then, and it won’t be helpful now either. So, fight against that rising panic and try your very best to stay calm. Rational thinking will help.

Obviously, you’re going to spend a fair bit of time searching in the area where they disappeared calling them repeatedly and, if you see any other passing walkers, asking them if they’ve spotted pooch on their travels. Try to stay in the same area for a good while, in case they make their way back to where they last saw you. If you’ve got treats in your pocket get them out to tempt Fido back from his exploration with the smell, or give them a rattle so he can hear there’s a good reason to return.

You know your dog best, so you will probably have an inkling as to why they took off – maybe they’re tracking a scent, chasing a squirrel, playing with another dog, or perhaps something scared them.

For my dog Poppy it is the sight of Sheep or Goats, very scary creatures for a Pop Pop!

Try to use this as a clue as to where they may have gone – think like your dog if you can! When you’re calling them, keep your tone light (again, fight that urge to panic) as they may be wary of coming back if they think they’re in trouble. If they come back to you, make sure you praise them for returning rather than chastising them for running away. You want them to know that coming back to you is always the best option.

If you’ve waited and looked in the area for as long as you realistically can and there’s still no sign, then retrace your route or, if it’s a familiar walk, use the route you’d usually take to get home. It’s possible that they’ll have made their own way home or back to familiar territory at least – dogs can navigate well using scent so, while they’ve been sniffing all around the walk, they’re effectively drawing themselves a map. If you can, try to leave a coat or jumper near where you last saw them before you leave the area; if they’ve become disorientated (which is especially likely if they’re scared) they may return to the scent of you and wait for you there.

Once you’ve retraced your steps or returned home via the usual track, and there’s still no joy, it’s worth asking friends, family or neighbours to help you with the search. If your dog is timid and is likely to be afraid, then ask them to call you if there’s a sighting rather than trying to give chase or catch Muttley themselves, which could cause him to run off again in fear. Spread the word as far and wide as possible, so alert other dog walkers locally that your pooch is missing. Social media is a great way to quickly get a message out there and, before long, you could have 100s of people keeping an eye out. It’s also a good idea to phone local vets and animal shelters as anyone who’s found a dog wandering around unaccompanied is likely to take it somewhere like this to be looked after.

In this situation the best and quickest way for a vet to be able to reunite roving Rover is to scan his microchip. Then, a quick call to you and immediately you know he’s safe and well and you can dash of to the vet’s for an emotional reunion. That’s why it’s so important to have your dog chipped (and keep the details up to date) – should this scenario ever occur, you’ve got a really good chance of getting your beloved fur baby home. A collar with an ID tag or one with a phone number sewn onto it is really useful, but should be used in addition to, rather than instead of, a microchip; a collar or tag can be lost whereas a microchip is harmlessly inserted just under the skin at the scruff of a dog’s neck, where it safely stays, in case it’s ever needed.

So hopefully, you’ve been reunited with your errant hound. You can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy some much-needed snuggles (after you’ve been back for that jumper you left in the woods!). But, how can you prevent this from happening again?

Well, working on recall training is the best option. Ideally, no matter what distractions are around, you should be able to call your dog back to you and they’ll come a-running. Yes, I say ideally. I realise we’re not all expert dog trainers and Muttley may not be as well behaved as Shep the sheepdog but, with some dedicated time and effort you may just be surprised at the level of obedience you can achieve! Start in a quiet spot with a long, loose lead and lots of praise and treats, then progress to losing the lead, then move on to an area with more distractions…and so on. Until you’re confident that your dog will return when called, it’s best to walk them on a lead or in a secure area where they can’t run off for their safety and your peace of mind.

For additional reassurance, I have recently seen some dog owners who use a GPS tracker attached to their dog’s collar, which connects to an app on their phone. If you’ve got a really energetic dog who does a lot of dashing about during a walk this can be a useful way to keep an eye on their location. However, bear in mind that it’s not an infallible solution as GPS signal can fail or the tracker can be lost. Great recall is still the best and safest option because if a dog’s running amok they may be at risk from traffic or other hazards. Stick at it and you’ll soon have other dog owners in the park watching in awe of your dog’s impeccable behaviour and your unbelievable recall skills.

Right, it’s time for me to sign off – the great outdoors is calling. “Poppy, Betty! Walkies time!”