Whole Dog Journal's Blog December 23, 2014

Don’t Lose Them

Posted at 08:30AM - Comments: (7)

I don't know about you, but my Facebook news feed is often cluttered with posts regarding lost dogs. In the past week alone, friends or family shared photos and information about half a dozen different lost dogs, from all different parts of the country and lost due to all sorts of circumstances. I find these posts doubly sad, because not only are the people bereft for the loss of their dogs (and the dogs unquestionably scared out of their minds, cold, and hungry), many of the incidents described appear to have been avoidable - with hindsight, of course. But the point is, if people thought more about the bad things that can happen when they least expected them, and worked to prevent them, many of these tragic "lost dog" cases would never happen.

For example, there is a California family looking for their dog, who slipped his collar in the middle of being attacked by a loose dog on a walk, and who ran away in terror from his attacker and his family. While it's arguable that attacks by loose dogs can't have been prevented, what is certain is that if your dog's collar can slip over his head in ANY circumstances, you need to walk him with a different type of collar or harness on! Well-fitted limited-slip collars (a.k.a. martingale collars) are best for many dogs with slender heads and thicker necks.

A well-adjusted and secure harness may be best for dogs whose neck and body anatomy (such as stocky Pugs) make any collars too risky.

I see many, many posts describing lost dogs with no collars (and therefore, no tags) on, which detail a variety of non-emergency reasons the dog was not wearing his or her collar (meaning, the dog didn't slip the collar in a panic, but rather, wasn't wearing a collar at the time of his or her escape). As long as gates can be left open, doors can be incompletely closed, a car accident can happen, and so on and so forth, your dog should have a collar on. However, second lines of defense are smart to employ with any dog who has a propensity to wander, or who is a flight risk when frightened. Securing a baby gate outside your main traffic doors or setting up exercise pens inside or outside the door in an "airlock" formation can prevent a door-darter from being rewarded by a quick (and risky) taste of freedom. And of course, car seat belts (or crating your dog in a car) are a great method for both protecting your dog from escaping your car after an accident and making certain he doesn't bolt out of the car when the driver or passengers enter or exit.

One of the very first behaviors I begin to teach any of my own dogs or foster dogs is a recall, and I practice this behavior a LOT, in an effort to keep it super fresh and super reinforcing for my dogs. I almost always carry treats on a walk with dogs - and if a dog I am walking is new to me, and/or if the place I am walking is extra-challenging (for example, somewhere we might encounter deer or rabbits, or in town, where we have to pass by highly aroused dogs on the other side of fences) - I carry extra-special, over-the-top yummy treats, such as sardines or fresh roast beef.

Alternatively, I carry favorite toys for any toy-obsessed dogs I walk with. And I practice with dogs on a short leash in a low-distraction environment before graduating to a long line in a low-distraction environment; a short leash in a higher-distraction environment before moving up to a long line in a higher-distraction environment... you get the idea.

Also, if I'm not feeling really positive about the dog's demonstrated ability to return to me brightly and quickly in any circumstances, I make darn sure the dog is never, ever completely "free." He's either on a leash, or in a secure crate, house, kennel, or yard until he's demonstrated a SOLID recall in the face of all sorts of distractions.

Please! Fewer "lost dog!" postings, and more, "Wow, that (collar, crate, seatbelt, training) really paid off!" stories.

Comments (7)

It is surprising how many dogs have collars, but no identification! A simple name and phone number on the collar will get your dog back to you much more quickly than a microchip. If you have dogs that roughhouse, breakaway collars are safe, yet really do stay on better than you might expect. Also, I have a variety of harnesses that I use when taking shelter dogs and foster dogs out. While a dog can back out of harness, it usually takes quite a bit more time than from a collar.

Posted by: MadderScientist | January 31, 2015 9:11 AM    Report this comment

I spent 24 years as the Animal Control Officer for my town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Microchip your dogs, cats and pet birds no matter what because these animals can wind up in another town, or clear across the country. Indoor cats, dogs and birds can slip (or fly) out of an open door or window unnoticed, or during a medical or fire emergency when rescue personnel are streaming in and out of the house, creating a frightening situation especially for cats and birds, and many shy dogs. The same situation can occur during a car wreck. I use a flat nylon collar with my dog's name and my cell phone number imprinted permanently on it, and fit it snug enough to just fit 2 fingers between the back of the dog's neck and the inside of the collar for the dog's comfort and no chance of him slipping the collar off or, worse yet, getting a leg stuck in the collar when he scratches his neck with a loose collar on. Preparation and management are key to keeping your pets safe!

Posted by: Dogwench | December 23, 2014 2:40 PM    Report this comment

My dog bolts when frightened, so she is always on leash away from home. My dog friends always say, "Oh just let her off the leash, she'll be too busy playing with my dog to run off." Once I gave in and unhooked her leash - instead of leapng for the frisbee she bolted toward traffic. I caught her fast, but only because I was expecting her to bolt. My dog friends never asked to take her off leash again. Now that she's older we can run an agility demo in an unfenced park with confidence. We've made enormous progress. But I know my dog, she's a shelter dog whose brain turns off when she gets spooked. I no longer feel bad that my dog is "missing out" on freedom. She gets plenty of off leash time at home in a huge area that's double fenced. It's safer that way.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | December 23, 2014 12:18 PM    Report this comment

Before going to the expense of micro-chipping (and the stress to the animal of having this process done), make sure the system in your area is functioning. Where I live - and it most certainly is not remote! - apparently microchipping is useless. The network does not work.

Posted by: Tamara Heikalo | December 23, 2014 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Before going to the expense of micro-chipping (and the stress to the animal of having this process done), make sure the system in your area is functioning. Where I live - and it most certainly is not remote! - apparently microchipping is useless. The network does not work.

Posted by: Tamara Heikalo | December 23, 2014 10:49 AM    Report this comment

Getting your dog - and cat that goes outside - microchipped can be a useful help if they are turned in to a shelter.

Posted by: Hovifriend | December 23, 2014 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Yes, yes, yes! As a former shelter worker, I second everything you've said. So many lost pet situations are entirely avoidable, and much suffering - human and animal- eliminated. But there are those situations in which preplanning, training and management are just not sufficient. Would you consider inviting Kat Albrecht to write an article on how to search for lost pets, focusing on the typical behavior of different types of animal, and the things that make the difference between successful strategies and wasted efforts? She can also write about the lost-pet search training for dogs, how to find a team if you need one, and how to teach your dog the necessary skills. Thank you!

Posted by: LaurieR | December 23, 2014 9:39 AM    Report this comment

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