Dogs bolting—one of the biggest fears of any pet owner. An accidentally opened door or a broken leash might give your rescue pet a reason to run. And, when they start running, it can be impossible to catch up to them and even ill-advised. But, quick thinking is key when it comes to finding lost pets. Your swift action, along with community support, will bring your best friend home in no time.
Dogs run away for a variety of reasons. Whether your pet was suddenly spooked by noise or happens to be an opportunistic adventurer, it’s important to understand the instincts driving your dog’s desire to bolt. In general, our four-legged friends were meant to roam according to Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, DACVB, professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia. “As a species, the majority of dogs are curious and want to be active and explore and discover,” says the longtime veterinarian and educator. Although frightening, lost dogs are not uncommon.
But, mitigating the impact of a lost pet is manageable. Here are our top tips on what to do if your dog suddenly bolts:
Drop to the Ground
If your pet gets loose while on a walk or bolts out the door, try to catch your pet’s attention with a small noise like a cough or sneeze. When your pet turns around, immediately kneel or lie flat on your back while patting your chest—as though you are inviting them to play. Avoid harsh sounds or words that might cause your pet to avoid coming back.
The goal is to invite your pet to return as opposed to chasing after them when they may already be scared or panicked. By creating a scenario in which you need help, you might be able to trick your pet into circling back to check on you, effectively stopping them in their tracks.
Search the Immediate Area
First, start with a thorough physical search of the area inspecting backyards, fenced-in spaces, shrubs or bushes, and crawl spaces. Practice caution in visiting unfamiliar homes or neighborhoods. Tell people that you meet that your pet is missing. Give out relevant contact information and inform community members to reach out to you and, most importantly, not to chase your pet if spotted.
It’s imperative not to chase a dog that may be hanging out in a specific area. This might cause the dog to stray further from where it disappeared. Dogs that are skittish, shy, or lost in an unfamiliar area are more likely to run away or hide from people that are strangers to them.
Create a Presence in your Neighborhood
Start by hanging large, colorful posters in the area where your pet was last seen. Print posters on neon-colored paper with large, bold font and a clear picture of your lost pet. Distribute flyers to people outside their homes, mail carriers, dog walkers, runners, and anyone else who might frequent the location of your missing dog. Write down a short list of supplies you may wish to consider for your posters:
- Fluorescent poster board or construction paper
- Large chisel-tip permanent markers
- Printed pictures of your pet (8” x 11.5” or larger)
- Staple gun or duct tape
Lost pet recovery trainer, Kat Albrecht, says that fluorescent posters with large font are an incredibly effective method when it comes to finding lost pets. “Even if you’ve plastered an area with flyers or small posters,” says Albrecht, “replace them with giant, neon posters and, like many people, you might get the ‘I think I have your lost dog phone call’.”
Take to Social Media
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to locating missing pets. On Facebook, join a local lost pets Facebook page or create a group dedicated to searching for your lost loved one. Nextdoor, another popular social media platform, may also help track down your pet by calling on the help of your immediate neighborhood to help search.
Because of the power of social media, pets have been reunited with their owners in record time, making social media a must-do for any pet parent missing their four-legged friend.
Consider Your Dog’s Personality
What motivates your dog? Do they prefer food or some private time with their favorite person? By taking into account your dog’s personality, you may be able to motivate your dog to return. Bring high-value treats like hotdogs, or even McDonald’s hamburgers, to entice a food-loving dog to come home. Favorite toys or old leashes may catch an active dog’s attention, and a pup that loves cuddles may be lured in by its softest blanket. If you’re unsure of what motivates your pet, bring more than one of their favorite items when searching.
Visit Your Local Animal Control Agency or Animal Services
Ultimately, your local animal control agency or animal services can help you find your lost pet. Share a photo of your pet and provide your contact information in case your dog has been found or spotted in a certain area. Typically, most animal shelters are open, although you may wish to call ahead and allow in-person visitation to their kennels so that owners can see lost pets in person.
Stay Calm - Your Pet Needs You
It’s easy to start panicking the second your four-legged friend is nowhere to be found. “Often people react by yelling for them,” says veteran foster and expert Vet Tech, Brittany McLaughlin, “but that can instead have many undesirable effects.” It’s important to not give your pet a reason to keep running, staying calm, helps prevent your pet from reacting to your own emotions.
She also suggests that being proactive is an owner’s greatest tool when it comes to preventing a pet from going missing. “Work on your pup's recall so that there is at least some foundation if one should find his or herself in this situation. If they have a previously well-reinforced recall, they'll typically think twice before full on taking off.”
Don’t Give Up—And Microchip Your Pet
Patience and persistence are key when searching for your lost pet. It’s not unheard of for dogs or cats to be found months, or even years, after becoming lost. And, as always, it’s important to microchip your pet to ensure that, once they are found, they will always come home to you.
Microchipping your pet often costs less than a tank of gas and allows your personal information to stay electronically logged on a small chip, about the size of a grain of rice, positioned between the shoulder blades. Although microchips cannot be tracked through GPS, the microchip itself can easily be activated by a scanner that is passed over the pet’s upper back. Although tiny, this incredible piece of technology is your best defense against losing your pet, keeping them out of the shelter and in their rightful homes.
Losing a pet can be scary. It's not easy on pet parents or our four-legged friends. No pet deserves to end up in a shelter when they already have a loving home. Help reduce pets in county shelters by microchipping your pet and keeping these helpful tips in mind - you never know when you may need them.