What to do if your dog goes missing

When a pet goes missing, it’s crucial to act quickly and with a clear plan of action. No pet owner needs to be told of what can happen to a lost pet in the open, but the fact is that worrying will not help your dog and might even hamper your ability to act swiftly or reach out to your pet in a positive way. Remember that dogs are homely, rather territorial creatures, and if your pet is missing he’s most likely trying to find his way back home. There are several things you can do to help him return safely, including being prepared for such an event.

Being prepared for the situation

There are a number of steps you can take before hand to make sure that, in the event that your dog disappears, you can act as quickly and effectively as possible. The following are some ways you can prepare for the scenario:

  • Your dog should be wearing an ID tag on his collar with your name, phone number and address on it.
  • Get your dog “chipped”: have your vet embed a microchip under his skin, so that if he is found and taken to a vet’s office or animal shelter, a quick scan can reveal your contact information. Some chips have numbers for identification, so keep that number safe in case you need to prove ownership to a dog pound.
  • When a pet goes missing, time is of the essence. Make a generic “Lost Dog” flyer: use a large, current, easily identifiable picture of him, with a description of his color and size. It’s also a good idea to offer a reward for his return. Keep some empty space on the flyer for contextual details you’ll want to add at the time — his age, where he was last seen, your contact details (a 24 hour phone number and a back-up number), and make a hundred copies. Keep it with some emergency supplies – tape, staple gun – so that if the need arises, you can just pick them up and be out the door. If your dog is a frisky one or has gone missing in the past, having these posters around makes even more sense.
  • If your dog has been lost in the past, you might want to consider registering him with a pet recovery service.

What to do if your dog goes missing

If your pet is missing, act immediately and follow these steps to maximize the chances of his safe return:

Don’t panic.

Think clearly about when you last saw him. How long ago was it? Has this happened before? If it has been an hour or more since you last saw your pet, do a quick sweep-around of your house and yard and start searching outside as soon as possible. If he’s disappeared before or has a favorite path that he likes to take, start there.

Make sure he’s really missing.

Get some of his favourite treats and spend 10-15 minutes calling and whistling for him. If it has only been a short while since you saw him, it’s quite likely that he is nearby or busy in some game. If he’s fond of hiding, drop to your knees and pretend to be eating or involved in some game, while gently calling out to him in a low voice. Wait 10-15 seconds between every call.

Start searching.

If you don’t find him in the house or backyard, put the treats in your pocket, take his leash and the emergency flyers and head out to do a search. If you don’t have ready flyers on hand, take a recent picture. Follow your dog’s routine path (the path you walk him or use to take him to the dog park) and move from door to door, showing his picture to as many people walking by as possible. Call out or whistle to him, but don’t be loud, rushed or panicked. If anyone has information about where he was last seen, walk or cycle around that area several times.

Call local vets and shelters with a description.

If a physical search does not yield results, start making calls to local vet’s offices and animal shelters with a description and microchip information if necessary, and plan to visit them in person to post flyers.  Contact the animal control department of your local council as well and provide them with your dog’s details.

Post flyers.

The next step is to start posting flyers at all available places in your neighbourhood and local area. Places where you can post flyers include: animal shelters, vet’s surgeries, police station, fire stations, groomer’s, pet shops, feed stores, libraries, supermarkets, service stations, launderettes, petrol stations, video stores, day care centres, take aways and restaurants.  Check your insurance policy, some do help with the cost of recovering a missing animal including the costs of flyers, rewards and advertising in local papers etc.

Help him find his way back.

Your pet is likely to still be in or return to the vicinity of your house. Help him navigate by leaving scents around the area that can help your vet find his way — old t-shirts, some toys etc. If it has rained recently, he may be having trouble finding his way back home.

Place an ad in the local paper.

Consider taking an ad out in the paper with a description of your dog, a 24-hour phone number where you can be reached, and a mention of reward.

A few tips to keep in mind

  • A microchip is a good security measure, but don’t rely on it alone to get your pet back home safely.
  • Keep a list of the places where you post flyers and the people you call. As you make a lot of calls and post flyers, you’ll want to save time by adding each to a list instead of having to check again to make sure.
  • Don’t threaten or call out to your pet in a panicky voice. Even though you’re worried, try to sound normal so that your pet can easily identify your voice and have every reason to come running back.
  • Offer a reward if at all possible. Many dog-lovers will refuse to take anything for returning a lost dog to his owner, but for some people a reward is the best motivator.
  • Beware of scammers. There can be people trying to take advantage of you even at this time. Even if a phone description sounds exactly like your dog, don’t meet anyone alone or at their house. Another tactic is to keep one identifying feature of your dog off the public descriptions (on the flyers or in the paper). When someone calls to say they might have found your dog, ask for the feature and filter the scammers out.

Image courtesy of: domesticknitter

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