We’ve officially lost Baxter four times.
The first two times were very early days—three months into him coming to live with us—and due first to my arrogance in letting him off leash too soon and second to me not keeping a tight enough grip on the leash when he took off to chase something in the dark.
The first two times we lost him, my husband spent hours walking through the fields and woods around our property until he found Baxter and brought him home.
The fact that he found Baxter was mostly luck—with a big dose of stubbornness. There was no way my husband was coming home without our dog.
The third and fourth times involved Baxter’s independent nature and the kindness of strangers.
Knowing that we’ve been through a few runaway incidents, Lindsay asked me to write about what to do if you lose your dog.
First, I will say that solid recall, a strong bond with your dog and obedience training are all important.
You never want to lose your dog and basic training is your best foundation to prevent that. See my post: How to train a dog to be off leash.
But, if you do find yourself separated from your dog, here are some of the things that I’ve found helpful.
What to do if your dog runs away
1. If you see your dog going, try to capture his attention.
Usually I can tell if Baxter’s too distracted to be off leash by the position of his ears or his overall body language, and I’ll quickly clip a leash on him.
However, if your dog is out of reach or has already taken a few steps in the wrong direction, your first step is to try to help him tune back in to you. Clap your hands, call his name as loudly as you can, whistle, use your most excited voice.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, run away from your dog. This may make him think you’re playing a game and he may chase you.
During one of our early off-leash hiking classes, one of the dogs took off full speed down the trail. The owner called him and the dog didn’t slow down or look back at all.
Seeing the situation, our trainer called his name once in her loudest voice and then let out a piercing, high-pitched yodel. The odd sound got the dog’s attention. He looked back, turned around and this time when they called him—“Come on back, buddy. Let’s go!”—he came.
I’ve used this technique successfully once with Baxter. While I don’t know how to yodel, a big “Wooooo-hoo!” was the sound that came naturally to me. It’s not a sound I usually make on our walks and was enough to get Baxter’s attention.
If your dog does come back to you, reward that. Clip a leash on him and immediately give scratches and pats. Tell him he’s such a good boy. You want to recognize the correct behaviour—that he came to you. This is not a moment to punish him for running away.
2. Leave something of yours where you last saw your dog.
This tip came from my father-in-law who used to hunt with beagles. In scenarios where the beagle followed her nose and wandered too far away, my FIL would leave his jacket in the woods.
When he came back the next morning or at the end of the day, the beagle would be curled up on his jacket. The familiar scent attracted the dog and gave her a temporary home base.
3. Spread out.
My husband’s instinct is action. He wants to look for the dog, and he will walk and walk and call and call until he finds him. The group I hike with will do the same thing. Everyone takes a different route and walks out, calling for the missing dog. In this scenario, it’s helpful to have everyone’s cell numbers so that you can call off the search if someone finds the dog.
4. Wait where you are.
Inaction may not be your first instinct, but in my experience, Baxter usually hasn’t actually run away. He’s chosen his own adventure for a little while, and then he comes back to the trail.
I’ve learned his comfort zone can be up to 10 minutes long. Initially, I would stand on the trail and wait for him to come back. But I quickly learned that if I keep hiking, soon enough he will charge up the trail behind me.
5. Make sure your dog is identified.
Baxter never goes outside without his collar and tags. His tag has his name, our home phone number and my cell number. Dog tags are tried and true for a reason. See our post: What to put on a dog’s ID tags.
The two times Baxter has been caught by strangers, they have immediately called the numbers on his tags, and I have been able to pick him up right away.
Be aware that sometimes, your dog may become separated from his collar. Baxter also has a microchip, which identifies him as our dog and is associated with all of our numbers. The cell number is important because we’re not always at home, especially if we’re hiking.
Before a hike, I always make sure my cell is charged. Rather than packing my pockets, I like to use my Mighty Paw treat pouch to carry my phone along with my car keys and poop bags.
You might also want to consider licensing your dog.
6. Trust your dog.
The two times Baxter was picked up by other people, I feel very certain he would have found me if he had the chance. In one incident, he had dashed into the woods on our property during our evening walk.
Knowing he knew the neighbourhood very well and could find his way home, I walked back to the house rather than trying to battle through the thick forest.
I sat on the front stoop watching for him and had the phone at my side in case someone found him, which is what ended up happening. However, Baxter was walking in the direction of the farm when a driver picked him up and called me.
7. Contact all the shelters and pounds within several miles.
If you do not find your dog within a certain amount of time, obviously you will start contacting the local pounds/shelters in your area.
It’s a good idea to contact the shelters within a large range such as the next town or county over in all directions or even further. Especially in rural areas, Lindsay said she has heard of dogs that are turned into shelters or humane societies over 50 miles from where they were last seen.
This could be because the dog covered a large distance or because the people who found the dog drove quite a ways to a shelter.
The point is, contact all the shelters in your region and keep contacting them. Often.
8. Have a recent photo of your dog on hand.
Keep a recent photo of your pet on your phone or by email that you can easily pass along to animal control, use on social media or put on posters.
What ideas do the rest of you have?
Obviously, the environment where Baxter and I live and walk is more rural and wooded as opposed to cities or neighbourhoods. And I give my dog a lot of freedom with off leash hiking and no fenced yard. Vehicles and more people add different considerations when you lose a dog. I’d love to hear other people’s tips for finding a lost dog.
Losing your dog is scary no matter where you are. As dog owners, we want to do everything we can to prevent this dangerous, anxious scenario. However, if the worst happens, I hope that these tips on what to do if your dog runs away will help you reunite with your dog.
Have you ever lost your dog for any amount of time?
Do you have any recommendations on what to do if your dog runs away? Let us know in the comments.
Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her husband live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.