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No one likes to imagine their dog going missing, but the best way to avoid it is with careful preparation.
Trust us, we have some experience with this sort of thing. At Shadow, we’ve built an app that helps owners find lost dogs. So far, we’ve reunited over 3,000 dogs and their families, and every day we’re reuniting more.
But even better than finding lost dogs is making sure they never go missing in the first place. Below, you’ll find a list of lost pet prevention tips that will help keep your dog safe.
1. Get Your Dog Proper Identification
A tag for your dog’s collar that lists their name and your phone number will be exceptionally helpful if they ever go missing and are found by a good Samaritan or animal control. Similarly, a dog license registered through your city, with a corresponding tag, will mean they’ll be quickly returned to you if they’re ever picked up by animal control or the police.
If your dog was adopted, they may already have a microchip or even a dog tattoo on them. If not, it’s a good idea to get one or the other.
A microchip is a small implant that’s embedded into the skin of a dog, most commonly the neck. Using a scanner — which can be found at most vet clinics, pet supply stores, police stations, and animal control — a person can retrieve a registration number that will lead them to the dog’s owner through a microchip company.
A dog tattoo is considerably less common and is often inked on the dog’s belly or inner thigh. While the information (usually a registration number) is more immediately visible than a microchip, it’s a tattoo and will fade over time.
Since microchipping is more prevalent, and more people are aware of it, it’s your best bet.
As with all forms of identification, though, it’s important to make sure your information is always up to date — when there’s a change of address, phone number, and so on.
2. Get Your Dog the Proper Gear
One of the biggest mistakes people make when walking their dog is they attach the leash to a loose-fitting dog collar. Then, if the dog slips the leash — perhaps because they’re frightened — the owner is left with both the leash and collar, while the dog is naked and frightened on the streets, not nearly as identifiable.
Instead of attaching your dog’s leash directly to their collar, attach it to a separate piece like a harness or use a slip lead or martingale leash. This way, if your dog manages to get free of their harness or leash, the collar with identifying tags will still be around their neck, and anyone who finds them will know exactly who to call.
The likelihood of a dog getting free from a harness is extremely low, since it fastens at multiple points around their entire body. Likewise, a slip lead or martingale leash safely tightens the more your dog pulls, making it difficult for them to slip free.
If you want to go all out, you can get your dog a GPS tracker for their collar. These can be expensive, though, and require regular charging, so your mileage may vary as to their worth.
3. Spay or Neuter Your Dog
This may come as a surprise (although not to fans of Bob Barker and The Price Is Right), but pets who are spayed or neutered are much less likely to run away from home in search of a mate, which is a common cause of dogs going missing. Without the biological urges that come with certain, ahem, organs, your dog will be much more content just hanging out on the couch with you, in addition to being generally healthier and less likely to become aggressive.
There are programs in major cities that provide cheap or even free spaying and neutering. Check with your local shelter to see if your city offers such a program.
4. Never Leave Your Dog Outside Unattended
Dogs left outside the house by themselves are liable to get into mischief, if not wander altogether. If you have a fence, of course it’s okay for your dog to spend some time alone in the yard, as long as you’re constantly checking up on them. However, long periods of alone time are strongly discouraged, particularly when you’re not home, as many dogs go missing after jumping their fence or digging holes underneath it. And while it’s far more rare, dogs have also been tragically stolen from their yard. When letting your dog out into a fenced in yard, it’s a good idea to check the area ahead of time, and constantly re-check to make sure all is well.
Additionally, it’s not always best for your dog to accompany you outside the house. If you want to go shopping, for example, consider leaving your dog at home rather than tying them up outside a store or confining them to a car, particularly in warm weather. And never, ever leave your dog alone in a park. In instances like the ones above, we’ve seen dogs taken by well-meaning strangers who believed them to be abandoned.
5. Home Safety
Providing a safe, comfortable space for a dog at home, especially when you leave them behind, is one of the best ways to prevent them from running away. This means making sure that your house is locked and secure, that your dog cannot escape through an open door or window (especially if they have separation anxiety), and that there’s nothing they could get hold of that might be harmful to them.
For dogs who bolt out the front door as soon as it opens, you may want to consider purchasing a baby gate to block the area altogether. Otherwise, just be mindful of their quirks and try to keep them away from exits, particularly when people are going inside and out.
If you’re looking to build a fence for your home (especially for a large breed dog), most experts suggest it be 5-6 feet high and 1-2 feet beneath the dirt. This is so your high-jumping, deep-digging pal won’t circumvent the fence altogether.
6. Car Safety
Taking your dog everywhere you go, as previously stated, probably isn’t the best idea. But going on a day trip with your dog to the beach, the park, or even just a pet-friendly store, can be a wonderful activity for the both of you.
However, there are safety precautions to consider, as it’s not uncommon for a dog to get loose when a car door opens. And though less common, when car accidents occur, if a dog isn’t properly restrained, they could get hurt, loose, or even go missing.
We recommend buying a dog seatbelt harness. This will protect them just as a seatbelt protects you, and your dog won’t be able to run away when you open the door.
And as previously mentioned, never leave your dog inside your car unattended, particularly in warm weather. On a pleasant 70-degree day, the inside of a car can feel like an oven, and the results can be deadly. For this reason, it’s legal in many states for a person to break into a hot car to remove the dog and get them to safety.
7. Train Your Dog
Basic obedience for your dog can go a long way toward making them more well-behaved — and therefore less likely to run away from you.
The most important commands you can teach a dog are stay and come, especially if you plan to take them to off-leash hours at a park where recall is a must. What if your dog is playing with another dog and refuses to return to you? Or what if an unexpected loud noise frightens them off? A well-trained dog that will come the moment you say the word is less likely to do that.
Training doesn’t mean shelling out the big bucks for an expensive trainer either. You can train your dog yourself with a little patience, consistency, positive reinforcement, and lots of delicious treats.
8. When to Be on High Alert
While it’s impossible to know exactly when a dog will run away, be especially careful during these scenarios. Dogs are most likely to go missing:
- In the days immediately after being adopted
- During fireworks displays
- During thunderstorms
- While traveling
- When a dog sitter or dog walker are caring for them
- After a scuffle with another dog
- When people are entering or leaving the house, particularly during parties or get-togethers
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should avoid traveling, leaving your dog with a sitter or walker, or having parties. But again, being extra careful during these high alert periods is a good idea.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to lost pet prevention, but the main thing is to just be mindful of your surroundings, of your dog, and of their emotional state. If you need more help, don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-400-4001