A dog owner’s worst nightmare is losing her dog.
But accidents can happen. Your dog can slip past you when you open the door; slip out of his collar while on a walk; or dig or climb out of your fenced yard.
What Should You Do if Yours Gets Loose?
Stay calm, even though your heart is racing with panic. Your dog will sense the fear in your voice and will ignore you or simply run faster. If you have taught him to come to you reliably, then call him cheerfully and beckon with your hand, as if you have a treat or toy. Try turning your back a little, as if to encourage him to follow you.
Do not chase him! Almost all dogs can run faster than almost all humans, and if he thinks you are chasing him, he’ll simply run faster and with less care for where he’s going. Walk or jog calmly, but quickly, and keep him in sight. If you’ve practiced recalls and he thinks you might have a delicious treat, he will most likely come to you. Keep treats near the front door, so they will be handy should he slip out when someone comes to visit.
Most dogs love to go for a ride in the car. If the dog is running loose and you spot him while driving around searching for him, simply pull over and get out (if it is safe to do so), open the door, and cheerfully invite him to jump in for a ride. I have “caught” two loose dogs that did not even know me this way! Most dogs apparently do not know that they should not take candy from strangers.
Prevention is the most effective way to make sure this does not happen. Never let your dog off-leash outside a secure fenced area. Even the best-trained dog can forget everything he ever learned if he sees a squirrel or a cat. Also, consider your dog’s breed. Hounds and terriers are very good at what they were bred to do: pursue their prey independently and single-mindedly. They follow their noses and can get into big trouble without a fence, and may be more likely to ignore your calls than, say, a sporting or working breed might be.
Use a secure collar when walking your dog. If you use a buckle collar, you should be able to get two fingers snugly under it and no more. Martingale collars are great, especially for dogs with narrow skulls. When adjusted properly, it’s nearly impossible for a dog to back out of one. These collars are humane, and when fitted correctly will close tightly enough to prevent escape but not so tightly as to choke. Harnesses and head collars are also very secure. The collar should have identification on it.
If your dog gets lost without his collar and its identification tag, permanent identification such as a microchip and/or tattoo can help get him home. AKC Reunite is a service that keeps your essential contact information and enables anyone who finds your dog to return him safely to you. A veterinarian inserts a tiny microchip under the dog’s skin, and almost every shelter and veterinary office has a scanner that can read the chip. This protection lasts for you dog's entire life.
Teach a reliable recall. Always be glad to see your dog when she comes to you, no matter what she may have done before she came. Practice calling her in distraction-free environments and gradually work toward more distracting ones. Don’t be reluctant to use very high-value rewards for good recalls. Coming to you must be more rewarding than whatever your dog is currently up to. This will truly pay off when it really counts. Until she has a good recall, if your dog is in the fenced yard doing something fun like digging up a chipmunk, don’t call -- simply go and get her and give her a treat for coming with you. Do not encourage the habit of ignoring you.
Never call the dog for something unpleasant, like a toenail trim or bath. Check out this article for ways to make your dog love coming to you.
The most frightening scenario is the one in which your dog gets loose and has a big head start. Maybe he has been gone for minutes, maybe hours, and you have no idea where he could be.
Act quickly. You should always have a good current photo of your dog. While you are out looking, a family member can whip up a flyer with the dog’s picture to post all over the neighborhood, at nearby stores, the post office, and local veterinarian offices and shelters. Offer a reward for the dog’s return. Check with the shelters frequently. Contact breed rescue groups.
Social media has helped many lost pets find their way back home. Take advantage of this resource right away if your dog is lost.
When the coin is flipped, and you find a lost dog, take him to a veterinarian or shelter where they will scan for a microchip. If he’s lucky enough to have one, he will be on his way home. You will have made another dog owner very happy.