Losing your dog is devastating – particularly if it is a shy or scared dog who will run from people instead of approaching them. This is often the case with newly adopted rescue dogs who aren’t comfortable in their new homes, don’t know their new families, and won’t answer to their new names. Lucky Dog Animal Rescue has spent a lot of time thinking about how to prevent dog escapes – and what to do if they happen. The following are our recommendations about what to do to prevent a lost dog – and what to do when you’re faced with one.
Shelter and Rescue dogs are often be scared and un-socialized dogs, experiencing being in a home for the first time. They don’t know their names. They don’t know the way to their new homes. They don’t know the scents in their immediate surroundings. We consider the first 48 hours in a new home the most critical time to keep your new dog safe, but don’t get lured into complacency. Always be aware of where your dog is until you have trained them to their new name and are confident they will come when called.
- Be sure the collar is secure - We highly recommend martingale—or no-slip—collars. These collars tighten on dogs if they try to back away from you and prevent dogs from slipping right out of their collars (a common escape method). To fit a martingale properly, make sure the two loops cannot touch when pulled tight at the narrowest point of the dogs neck. If you do not have a martingale collar, be sure you can fit no more than two fingers lying flat against your dog’s neck between the collar and the dog. This is especially critical when you first get your dog – remember, new collars will stretch, and you can always loosen the collar after the first 48 hours if needed.
- Don’t trust a harness - Harnesses must be carefully adjusted as dogs can slip out of harnesses as easily as they do collars. With our shy and scared dogs, Lucky Dog will put a harness on to help reluctant dogs walk AND a martingale collar on to prevent escapes. This is not a permanent arrangement, but something we do until we can build some trust with our dogs.
- Keeping the leash on – We recommend keeping newly adopted dogs on leash in your home and yard for the first 48 hours. This does not mean that you have to hold the leash, but let them drag it around so that you can grab the dog should they try to bolt out a door or run from you in the yard/house. Never let your dog off leash in an unsecure environment until you have a 100% reliable “come” command. This means any yards must be fully fenced (6 feet high for jumping dogs) and dog parks must be double gated for a dog to run free. Even in secure environments use care when entering and exiting and let the dog drag their leash until you know how they will behave.
- Guard the doors (car and house) – We often see newly adopted dogs try to bolt out the door of the house or leap out the car door before you have a handle on their leash. The key is never to let them have access to a door – until you have developed a bond of trust or a secure hold on their leash. We recommend the following:
- Crate your dog at all times when you leave your house – this will prevent he/she from slipping out the door when you are leaving or returning.
- Confine your dog to a secure room/area of the house when you have company and the door will be open often.
- Never leave the dog unsupervised in a yard – no matter how secure.
- When transporting dogs in the car, secure the leash to something in the car (wrap it around a headrest or seat back).
- Be Smart in Holding Your Leash - We strongly recommend placing your hand through the loop at the end of the leash and wrapping the leash around your arm a few times to ensure you have a firm hold on your new dog. We discourage retractable leashes because they are easy to drop and you have very little control over your dog.
- Make sure that anybody other than yourself who walks the dog knows exactly how to handle them.
- Do not let small children walk the dogs without a parent holding the lease with them.
- If friends or family or dog-walkers will be walking your dog make sure they are using the proper equipment and technique and be sure to warn them if the dog is a particular flight risk (if they are prey driven or particularly fearful of cars/loud noises).
- Microchip - Microchipping is the only way to keep identification on your dog if they manage to get out of their collar. Almost all vets offer microchipping – and there are a number of great companies that make the chips. Be sure your dog’s chip information is up to date – especially if your phone number changes or if you move! Here is a good article on microchipping: http://dogs.about.com/od/toyssupplies/a/microchipping.htm
- The Pet Protector - The Pet Protector can connect the finder of your dog with a live operator 24/7. If found that Pet Protector can contact the emergency contacts listed on your account if you are unreachable and authorize emergency vet care for your pet if your pet is found injured and you can’t be reached. Learn more at www.Help4pets.com
Recommended website on safeguarding your pets: www.puregoldpettrackers.com
What to do if your Dog Gets Lost
Lucky Dog Animal Rescue has put together some steps we feel will be helpful in getting your dog back. Unfortunately, none of these is the ultimate solution, but they are the best techniques we know.
- Get food to the last point of contact IMMEMDIATELY – Lost dogs often circle back to the spot where they got lost and if there is food there they may stay in the area. If there is no food there they will continue to roam. Feeding stations consist of a large pile of kibble with a can of cheap, smelly dog food (Alpo) dumped on top.
- Preserve a scent item – put a blanket or dog bed lining in a plastic bag in the freezer. This scent item will help a dog tracker if one is needed.
- Blanket the area with flyers – The area needs to be completely saturated with flyers in plastic sheet protectors (with the opening at the bottom so water doesn’t get in). They should be on every telephone pole, at every intersection, along all walking paths – basically everywhere people walk or drive. In the first day it is ideal if 500-1,000 flyers are posted. Do not wait – flyer immediately. Do not assume the dog will stay in the immediate area – flyers should be extend a few miles from the point the dog was lost.
- Send out a Find Toto call.
- Post a lost dog notice on craigslist in both the Lost and Found section and the Pets section. Include a picture and reference the blog (see below).
- File a lost dog report with all area shelters and then visit the shelters in person regularly. Shelter staff receive lots of lost dog reports and don’t often connect the dogs at intake to the lost dog reports.
- Notify local vets. Call the vets, fax them flyers. Be sure to post flyers at local pet stores, dog parks, bulletin boards.
- Email any and all neighborhood listserves, Home Owners Associations (HOAs), area yahoo groups, newsletters. These are a great way to get the word out as well as recruit local volunteers to help with the search.
- Create a Lost Dog Blog with Map. Create a blog where people can follow your progress and offer their help. Include a map where you can post sightings as people call them in.
- Maintain/Refresh Feeding Stations Regularly – even if the sightings move away from the initial stations, all stations should be maintained for at least a week after last activity. Food should be refreshed at least once a day so the dog stays interested and can smell it if in the area.
- Call a dog tracker. We have worked with Sam at Pure Gold Pet Trackers and greatly admire her work. www.puregoldpettrackers.com
- Recruit friends and family to search. You need lots of people flyering and talking to local businesses, dog owners, etc. Call out the troops!
What to do when your dog is found
The work doesn’t end when your pup returns home.
- Take your dog to the vet immediately. You never know how long they have been without food or water (check for dehydration), whether they have internal injuries, or any other problems not clearly visible.
- Take down the flyers. Your neighbors will appreciate it if you take down the flyers so they don’t keep looking for a found dog! This courtesy also helps ensure that people will take the next lost dog flyer they see seriously.
- Update the blog & any email lists you have posted on. You never know how far your reach is or who is out there looking for your dog. Be sure to share the good news!
Additional resources for what to do if you find a dog or cat
Tips on what to do when you have a lost dog sighting - [PDF 105KB]