A Day in the Life of a Lost Dog
Most dog owners agree that their worst nightmare would be to lose their beloved pet. Sadly, the UK is teeming with lost and stray dogs, many of which have no hope of finding their way home. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) estimates there to be around 100,000 dogs without homes in the UK alone.
While it’s true that many of these are abandoned, there are thousands of much-loved dogs who, for one reason or another, become separated from their homes.
Why Do Dogs Become Lost?
When a dog is frightened, they usually run. And keep running. The things that tend to scare dogs are loud noises. Fireworks are the number one reason for dogs to take flight. Thunder, crowd noise and things like gunshots or backfiring cars elicit the same response. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, this is also just fear by another name. They may leave the house to go looking for you, and subsequently get lost.
If your female dog is on heat, or your male dog smells another dog on heat, it may result in them wandering off to try and find a mate. This highlights the need for secure fencing if your dog isn’t neutered or spayed.
The urge to hunt is still very strong in some breeds. If your dog is a natural hunter, they may get lost after chasing a cat, a bird or anything else they see as prey.
Dogs are intelligent animals, who need to be exercised and stimulated every day. If they’re left to their own devices, they may try to go and explore on their own. This is quite common. Distraction is closely related to boredom, and dogs will run off if distracted by something that they want to investigate. This might be a squirrel, a child with an ice-cream, a leaf in the breeze, another dog, anything to break their boredom.
If you take your dog on holidays, or let them run free when they’re away from home, they may become separated from you, and then get lost trying to find their way back. New smells and other distractions can make your dog go and explore, then find themselves lost.
What to Do if Your Dog Goes Missing
Try Not to Panic
The fact is that many dogs are found, or returned to their owners quite quickly. Ask yourself, why did my dog run away? How far are they likely to go? Are they frightened or just distracted? Try to think logically about your dog’s state of mind, and how likely they are to return to you.
One person should stay at home in case your dog returns. This happens often, so having someone there will reassure the dog, and mean the wider search can be called off.
If you’re away from home, on a hike or on holiday, don’t be in a hurry to go too far away from the place you last saw your dog. Dogs are natural trackers, and they have excellent smelling abilities. If your scent is within range, they will find you. If you jump into the car and drive away to go and look, that opportunity will be lost. When you do go in the car, leave someone behind to continue the search and call out your dog’s name.
Searching for your Dog
- First, search the area they went missing
- Call their name, not angrily. You don’t want to frighten them further
- If your dog is close by, don’t chase them
- Ask other people if they’ve seen your dog
- Get others to help you search
- Expand your search area
Report your Dog Missing
If they have a microchip, phone the database they’re registered with and report them as missing. Phone the local dog warden or environmental health department, animal shelters and vets.
Involve your community. Put posters up around the neighbourhood. Include things like:
- Description and photo of your dog
- Collar tag details
- Last known location
- Your contact details
Posting on local community discussion groups is a powerful way to get your message out. Many dogs have been located this way. You can also register with Dog Lost if your dog was lost in the UK. Lastly, check to see if your town or city has a ‘missing pet’ register.
Should You Pick Up a Lost Dog?
If you think you know the dog, keep them safe till you can contact the owner. If you decide to take the dog home and find the owners yourself:
- Ring local vets and rescue centres.
- If it’s safe, check to see whether the dog is wearing a tag. If there is a contact number, phone as soon as you can.
- Ask local vets to scan them for a micro-chip.
- Create a found poster and place some around the local area.
- Contact the local dog warden.
Don’t forget that a lost dog could be scared. If you’re unsure about their behaviour, please don’t approach and wait for the dog control officer to arrive.
What Happens if they Go to the Local Authority?
Local authority kennels may be busy and overcrowded. The dog will be kept for a minimum period of 7 days after which it may be rehomed with a new owner or euthanised. If the dog warden takes in an injured dog, it may be euthanised to ease its suffering.
How to Stop Your Dog from Going Missing
Microchipping is a legal requirement for dogs in the UK, but it also makes sense, to be able to identify your dog if they go missing or are stolen. If your dog is handed to a vet or a shelter, the first thing that will happen is they will scan for a microchip.
A Sturdy Leash
If they are a flight risk, keep your dog on a good leash. Six feet long is standard, and gives them plenty of sniffing freedom.
Collar and ID Tags
A trained dog is much less likely to take flight, and if they do, you can call them back. If your dog can be voice-controlled to ‘come’ and ‘stay’, they will be a lot safer out and about.
A well-fenced garden is vital if you own a dog who likes to roam. Always keep your gate closed, and put a sign up asking people to close it when they enter and leave your property.
Like children, you should maintain awareness of your dog’s whereabouts at all times. It takes seconds for them to get lost, choke on a toy, or encounter other animals.
Keep Them Inside When You’re Not Home
When you’re out, or at night when it’s time for sleep, keep your dogs safe and secure indoors. Dogs are lost and stolen from yards and gardens a lot, while their owners are unaware there is a problem.
Small dogs left alone outside are particularly at risk. They are more likely to find small gaps in fences, plus they are easy to pick up and remove from the property.
Laura Horton, MSc. is founder of Hound101.com, a website which helps you to be your dog’s best friend. She is also a registered clinical health professional with many years’ experience in diagnostic imaging, teaching and health research.