Thanks to dogs’ natural tendencies to hunt and chase, even the most attentive pet owners can find themselves in a desperate situation when Fido breaks free from his leash in pursuit of a squirrel or digs his way out of the backyard to go explore the neighborhood.
How Do Dogs Get Lost?
According to Michael San Filippo, spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), among the most common ways that dogs end up missing are inefficient yard barriers — think fences or walls that your pup is able to dig under or climb over — going out for a walk without restraints like a harness or collar, or when doors are accidentally left open and your dog decides to bolt. “This can be a particular problem if the dog is scared during loud-noise events like thunderstorms or fireworks,” he adds.
In fact, Dr. Lori Bierbrier, medical director of community medicine for the ASPCA, notes that one in five pets escapes when frightened by those loud noises they’ll hear during a storm or celebrations like the Fourth of July.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to ensure that a dog owner’s worst nightmare never has to come true. Here’s how to prevent your four-legged friend from getting lost.
Make Your Backyard and Home Secure
One of the most important things you can do to prevent your dog from getting lost is consistently checking that your backyard is secure. Dr. Bierbrier notes that fences should always be closed and high enough that your dog can’t jump over them. “Never underestimate the fact that a 45-pound dog will do whatever it takes to find one broken board on your fence and squeeze through a 4.5-inch space … so it’s a good idea to do a monthly yard review to look for places where the fence has been compromised or there has been some digging activity,” says Lorien Clemens, vice president of marketing and business development for PetHub, Inc. and PetHub.com, which created Lost Pet Prevention Month in July 2014.
That also goes for when inclement weather, like snow or rain, create new opportunities for your dog to become an escape artist. “When you end up with piles of snow in the backyard, keep in mind that some dogs will take that as an opportunity to boost themselves over the fence, or a lot of running water could create just enough mud and an opening at the bottom for them to squeeze under,” she adds.
In addition to backyard safety, Clemens warns that if you know your dog is the explorer type — or is particularly obsessed with wildlife they may spot through the kitchen window — then pet owners should always ensure the screens on their windows and doors aren’t easy for a resourceful pooch to break through. And, of course, you’ll want to be vigilant about keeping doors closed and locked at all times.
“Always be particularly wary whenever you have family members or workers coming in and out of your home or backyard gate, and have a plan in place to keep your dog safe, whether it’s using baby gates or not allowing workers to access your home without making a specific appointment with you,” she advises.
Prevent Boredom By Playing With Your Dog
It sounds simple, but dogs that have their needs met when it comes to exercise and playtime are generally going to be less likely to get bored in the backyard and attempt an escape. “Provide your dog with plenty of physical and mental stimulation. A satisfied dog has no reason to want to leave the yard,” Dr. Bierbrier says.
Train Your Dog
In many cases, a well-trained dog is the safest dog when it comes to not getting lost. “Training is a key part of lost pet prevention … and your dog should be able to recognize the difference in your tone of voice to know when there’s a potential danger and you mean business,” Lorien says.
Your dog should know and respond well to basic commands like sit, stay and come to help avoid situations where he could start running and ultimately get lost. “A dog that has learned to come to the owner when called because rewards are forthcoming is less likely to want to leave the yard — but, should that happen, the dog is easier to recover,” Dr. Bierbrier explains.
Lorien notes it’s also important to address any anxiety issues your dog may have, such as a fear of fireworks, and rely on his crate, medication, restraining coats or other solutions to prevent him from getting spooked and busting out of the house. “When it comes to lost pet recovery, it’s also a good idea to invest in training for reactive dogs to help them become comfortable with having a stranger take hold of their leash and look at their collar in case they’re ever lost and need some help getting home,” she adds.
Leash (and ID) Your Dog
It seems obvious, but when walking your dog or traveling anywhere outside of the home, your dog should always be on a leash — no exceptions. Dogs that are likely to jump out of the car the second you arrive at your destination should also be fully restrained while traveling. “You’ll also want to be sure to check and replace leashes and collars if they have visible signs of wear and tear,” Dr. Bierbrier adds.
Of course, proper identification is always key in finding a lost dog, so pet owners should always make sure that their dog is microchipped, wearing a collar with an ID tag, and that they are licensed within your township. “You never want to rely on just one piece of identification ... a lot of people assume that if their dog is microchipped then they don’t need to wear a collar, but when a person spots a dog that’s loose out on the street and has a collar, they are much more likely to assume it’s someone’s pet and stop to help,” Lorien warns.
And if you’ve moved or changed your phone number since registering your dog’s chip or creating their ID tag, always update that information as soon as possible. According to Michael, a study of more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters showed that dogs without microchips were returned to their owners around 22 percent of the time, while microchipped dogs were returned to their owners more than 50 percent of the time — and for microchipped animals that weren't returned, it was often due to inaccurate owner information in the microchip registry database.