Take Paws Rescue recently had a foster dog go missing. Thankfully, it was my first time dealing with a missing dog. Ash had been in my care and then was moved to a female only foster home, because he is afraid of men. Then he was almost adopted! Ash has apparantly been abused, and he is still learning to trust. Like Ash, many dogs go missing right after being sent to a new foster or adoptive home. They slip the leash, jump the fence, or bolt out of an open door. They don’t know where they are, and they have not bonded with their new people. If they are naturally fearful or unsocialized, they can be relatively difficult to capture.
Ash found his way out of the backyard fence of his new foster home and it took a day and half to find and catch him. Many of our wonderful rescue dogs are brought into the shelters as strays. It happens. Unfortunately, about one in four pets will be lost at some point during their lifetime. Sadly, many of them never make it back home.The best thing that you can do to assure that your beloved pets are returned home if lost is to make sure that they are wearing ID tags and that they are microchipped back to you.
Always attach a tag to your dogs collar with your phone number and or address on it. An ID tag is your pet’s only visible means of identification, and not everyone who finds a dog will know about microchips, or will take the time to visit a vet or shelter to have a found dog scanned. But tags and collars can easily slip off, so a microchip is the best way to ensure that a pet can be linked back to its owner. Microchips are tiny, about the size of a grain of rice. They are quickly implanted beneath the skin. I have seen it done about 40 times, and most dogs don’t even notice it going in. Once implanted, you pay a small fee, usually about $20, to register your pet online and provide up to date contact information. A microchip contains a unique identification number that is linked to a database. When a lost pet is found, it can be scanned for a microchip at any animal shelter or veterinary clinic and will be linked back to whoever registered it.
No matter what company your microchip is registered to, you can register and update for FREE at www.foundanimals.org. Make sure to update your information if it changes.
What to do if your pet is lost:
When dogs become lost, they quickly revert to a sort of feral dog mode; their first instinct is to survive and find a safe place to eat. Place food, water, and your dog’s crate in the area where the dog went missing, then they won’t feel the need to wander far. Leave out high value human food like chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, or hot dogs instead of dog food; it’s more enticing for dogs.
Organize a team of friends, family and neighbors to begin a detailed physical search of the place the animal was last seen, both on foot and by car, carrying leashes or slip leads, high value treats, and handouts with contact information. It is important to tell EVERYONE searching to NOT call out to, approach, or chase the dog. A lost dog is in fight or flight mode. The greatest risk to a shy or frightened lost dog is that he will be chased into traffic and killed.
Often the search will begin at home. If at all practical, leave doors open, so that the dog can return home. Make sure someone is home at all times in case the dog comes back on their own. Search in and around the house, in the bushes, under decks and under raised houses in case the dog is hiding.
Search during the daylight as much possible. Intensify the search between 5 am and 8 am and 6 pm and 9 pm. Dogs may hide during the day, but come out at dusk and dawn. If you are searching at night, be aware of your surroundings and bring a companion. Consider your safety first. Be sure to ask permission before going onto private property, and use extra care near busy roads or in isolated areas.
Other than searching the area, what can be done to help find the dog?
- Contact your microchip company to report your dog lost and make sure that they have accurate, up to date contact information for you.
- Notify local animal control, or government agencies responsible for dealing with lost and found pets. Dial 411 to get phone numbers for animal control in your community.
- Visit in person any shelters where your pet might turn up as soon and as often as possible. Just contacting shelters by phone or e-mail is not enough. Do not assume you will be contacted because you left your information; they are often very busy and dealing with a lot of dogs.
- Post and search for your lost pet on the local Nextdoor.com and post on your personal Facebook page as well as local lost and found, pet, and buy/sell pages. Check Craigslist (or Kijiji in Canada) in the free classifieds, lost and found, and pets sections.
- Petfinder is a website where both rescues and shelters post information about pets available for adoption. If your lost pet is a specific breed, it’s a good idea to contact the appropriate rescue group. Just enter your zip code on Petfinder and you will see a list with links in order of their distance from you.
- AnimalShelter.org is another directory of rescues and humane societies. Sites like Petharbor and Petango are similar to Petfinder.
- Helping Lost Pets is a free national database of lost and found pets.
- Homeagain.com is primarily a microchip registry but anyone can register a lost pet even if it is not microchipped and you can search their database.
- Other sites to check out include: LostFoundPets.us, Lostdogsofamerica.org maintains a network of Facebook pages dedicated to lost and found dog reports. The Center For Lost Pets, Missingpet.net, Helpinglostpets.com: www.fidofinder.com, and Tabbytracker.com.
POSTERS AND FLYERS
Posting flyers is one of the most effective methods of getting the word out about a lost or found pet. Make bright, highly visible neon posters and print your flyers on colored paper. Yellow is easiest to see from a distance. Keep it simple. Use a few descriptive words and contact info and very large lettering. You want people to be able to read it at a glance. Add “DO NOT CHASE” on your flyers and signs. Consider the demographics in your area, maybe post flyers in Spanish. Insert your printed flyer into a page protector with open edge down, seal and attach with clear packaging tape to a bright colored poster board. To secure flyers to a utility pole, just wrap clear wide shipping tape to encircle the pole and to weatherproof it. Post these at major intersections and at main streets leading into and out of the area the dog has been sighted or was lost from.
Record an outgoing message on the voice mail of the number posted. “If you are calling to report a sighting of our lost dog, please give the time, location and direction the dog was moving and your phone number. Thank you.”
After a sighting, spread lots of posters and flyers in the area.
Flyers can be more detailed than posters and can include a photograph. Have good quality photographs of your pets. If they ever become lost, this photograph could be invaluable. Flyers can be handed out to neighbors, mailmen, joggers and dog walkers, and staff at local veterinary offices and businesses nearby. People who find pets will often take them to a veterinarian to be scanned for a microchip rather than turn the pet into a shelter. Ask if you can post on indoor bulletin boards at the vet, animal shelter, library, or any other public place that allows this.
See https://search.petfbi.org/flyer.html for a good flyer template.
MISSING DOG BEHAVIOR
Pets can become lost in unfamiliar surroundings (from a car accident, while on vacation, or from the vet, pet sitter, or groomer). Newly adopted dogs and foster dogs must be watched carefully. They have not yet bonded with their new family and they are unfamiliar with their new territory. If lost, they are at a disadvantage. However, they are usually quite predictable in their behaviors, often staying close to the spot where they went missing.
Typical missing dog behaviors can be broken down into general categories. Knowing which category your dog best fits can help you find him or her.
An explorer gets out repeatedly and generally knows their territory. This dog appears confident, often follows the same route and urinates at intervals along the way. The good news is, this dog will avoid people and will usually return home by the end of the day.
An outgoing dog is friendly and may follow people or get into their cars. These dogs are well adjusted and confident. They usually don’t stay missing for long; they’re easy to catch. They’ll walk up to strangers, and if they’re wearing ID, they’ll usually be returned home quickly.
These two types of friendly dogs are relatively easy to catch. However, even well-socialized dogs may instinctively go into “feral mode” after finding themselves lost. In this state of mind, dogs perceive all humans as threats and may flee even from people they know.
- Search yard, house, call by name
- Call out “Treat!” or “Go home!
- Leave out food, water, and crate, and the dog’s bedding or clothing with your scent where the dog was last seen
- If lost from home, leave doors open where the dog is used to going in and out of the house
- Recruit neighbors and friends to search by car and on foot
- Tell people DO NOT CHASE
- If you have another dog, take it with you to search
- Carry a leash, high value treats, and flyers with a description of the dog and contact info
A runner dog is running scared and does not know where he is. A runner may be set off by loud noises, like fireworks. A runner is in great danger of being hit by a car. Ash, the missing foster dog, was a runner. He is afraid of men. He ran when familiar people spotted him. He repeatedly ran across a busy road, and was lucky that a car did not hit him.
A shy dog may be a loved pet with a naturally fearful temperament, or may be a dog that was not well socialized to humans as a puppy. Dogs who were abandoned or lost as puppies, or who were raised in puppy mills and hoarding situations can be the most difficult to recover. They will run off in a panic when startled, or when faced with a stressful situation. They can run for miles before slowing down. They will avoid human contact, running from anyone who tries to approach. They will become more fearful if chased and may growl or bite if cornered, so use caution when approaching.
- Do NOT call the dog’s name
- Write “Do Not Chase” on your signs and handouts.
- Be slow and calm – if the dog is spotted, sit quietly and avoid direct eye contact
- Lure dog with food, just drop food bits and walk away a bit to see if it will follow
- If the dog won’t come to you, it may be necessary to use a humane trap to recover a runner or a shy dog. You may be able to borrow one from your local shelter or animal control. (More on traps below)
- When searching carry a slip lead that can go over the dog’s head quickly
When there is a sighting, but the dog is not caught, it is important to get high value food and water set out in the area to keep the dog from roaming further. You can even try to set up a portable grill and cook hamburgers or hotdogs. The smell might entice the dog near. Leaving out scent articles like the dog’s bed, toys, even dirty articles of clothing (from the person most bonded with the dog) also may help keep the dog nearby. When a hunter loses a dog while hunting, they will often leave their coat out on the ground at the place they last saw their dog, and find that the dog is lying on it when they return to the spot later.
If you see the dog, stop. Slowly sit down on the ground. Assume a nonthreatening position. Keep the dog in sight using your peripheral vision. Don’t look at the dog straight on or make direct eye contact with the dog. Move as little as possible. Make sure your phone is on vibrate or silent. Maybe toss a few high value treats on the ground around you. Have a crinkly bag with treats inside it (my dogs always run to the kitchen when they hear me opening anything that may be treats.) Start crinkling the bag and “accidentally” dropping the food onto the ground, then slowly pick up pieces that you dropped on the ground.
Now you are sitting or kneeling down and not considered a threat. It may take some time and patience, but the dog might approach you. Be patient and speak softly or not at all. Never call a stray dog. Don’t look at it. Don’t walk towards the dog. When I sighted Ash, our missing foster dog, I was in my car. I got out and moved slowly towards him, happily calling his name. This was a mistake. He bolted and ran across traffic. If I had sat down, he might have come to me. He was in fight or flight mode.
Approaching the dog should only be attempted by one person at a time and not until the dog is in a sitting position. If the dog is standing, it is very likely to run off when you start moving. Try to move closer while the dog is eating the treats, move very slowly and continue tossing treats while avoiding eye contact.
Here is what did work with Ash. Try to bring in a calm dog that the lost dog knows. We knew the area he was in after several sightings. Another of his foster mom’s arrived with her senior Golden, a dog that Ash got along very well with. Maddie was confident, calm, and relaxed. Bringing in a reactive, high-strung dog would have been a mistake. With the calm dog (Maddie), and the lost dog (Ash) in sight, start feeding treats to the calm dog. You want to show that other dogs do not find you threatening. Then you can toss high value treats to the lost dog. If the lost dog spooks, sit and remain where you are and give them a chance to come back. It took patience, and several tries, but eventually Ash approached.
Do not attempt to catch the dog until you are within arm’s reach. Use a slip leash or, if the dog is still wearing their collar, try to grab it. If the dog gets scared and backs away, give them a chance to relax and try again. Don’t rush, be patient. It took a day and a half of searching, and several instances of him approaching and retreating, but Ash was found and caught and is safe now.
Be safe; avoid dog bites. Lost dogs are scared and may turn and nip or bite out of fear when they are finally caught. A pair of thick, leather work gloves can help prevent a dog bite. Whenever possible, let the owner or foster handle the dog. If that person is not there and you have sighted the dog, contact them ASAP. Put some food on the ground let the dog eat and wait for the owner/foster to arrive. Let the dog come to you. Sit on the ground with your back to the dog and gently throw out high value treats.
What happens if there is a bite? In most states any incident that breaks skin results in a 10 day rabies quarantine for the animal. If the dog’s rabies vaccination is not current or the status is unknown, then the quarantine must be done at an animal shelter or stray animal holding facility. The shelter is extremely stressful and the close contact with other dogs puts the dog at high risk of getting sick. The costs of the quarantine, any medical treatment, and care for the dog will be transferred back to the owner. If an owner cannot afford the reclaim fees, the dog is at high risk of being euthanized, because a dog who bites may be considered “aggressive”, even if they bite out of fear and are normally friendly. Aggressive dogs are not adoptable. It is very important to avoid bites, both for your own health and for your dog. Both shelters and rescues will hesitate to take on the additional risk of liability of a dog that has bitten.
To recover a scared, skittish dog, it’s often necessary to catch it in a trap.
How to use a trap to catch a lost pet https://youtu.be/Shpvu9hg-ag
You may be able to borrow a dog trap, or you may need to purchase one.
A trap should be about the size of a dog crate, big enough to enclose the entire dog, standing. The trap is triggered when the dog is lured far enough in to step on a pressure plate, releasing a mechanism that causes the door to slam shut without hurting them.
The trap should be placed in an area the dog frequents for food. Leave food outside in the same area day after day until the dog gets used to feeding in that location. Then position your trap in that area. If a flat, level surface isn’t available, secure the trap to a wooden plank. Once a dog begins to get comfortable with feeding inside the trap, you can bait it and set it for a catch. Unset your trap at times when you are unavailable to monitor it. Do not move the trap. Changing trap locations can confuse the dog
The key to luring the dog into the trap is using really smelly food. Place the food inside and tie it open so it cannot close. The dog could be afraid to go into the trap. Make a routine of leaving a smelly bait trail leading into the trap. Drizzle juice from canned tuna leading into your trap so the dog will follow the scent trail. Leave bits of food just inside of the trap and then a larger amount at the end just beyond the trip plate.
If capturing a pet dog, try adding a favorite toy or blanket or clothing or pillowcases from family members.
The best time to set your trap is at dusk, when dogs feel most comfortable coming out to forage for food. The trap needs to be checked every two hours in the hot summer and cold winter months and every four hours in milder weather. You are likely to catch a variety of wildlife like raccoons or opossums. Please be careful when releasing wildlife.
This takes time and patience, sometimes it takes weeks. The dog needs to work up courage to go into the trap. It may not do so until it is extremely hungry.
Do not immediately open the trap once the dog is found inside. All of the doors to the trap need to be tied shut before moving the trap. Drop a blanket or cloth over the trap to keep the dog calm.
Be very gentle when moving the trap, keeping it level. Have someone help you transport the trap to a secure location where the dog cannot run off again.
If your dog has been missing for a long time, don’t give up! Dogs are survivors and are very resourceful.
Ash is very happy to be with us again, and he has made a lot of progress around my husband. It takes time and patience to undo the effects of abuse and neglect. Ash is now known to crawl up on my husband on the couch for cuddles. He is learning to trust men. It is an amazing thing to be a part of the healing process for these amazing animals, and I am incredibly grateful for my supportive husband and children.