A-Z of dog wellbeing: Lost dog

As pet parents we do everything we can to ensure our dogs are safe, however sometimes they can get spooked and run off. The sinking feeling that you’ve lost your dog is horrid, so in this blog we’ll look at how to avoid this awful situation, and what to do if the worst happens.

In the UK there were 56,000 stray dogs last year, and only 57% were reunited with their owners, so lets do everything we can to ensure that, if you dog is lost, they can find their way home to you.

How to avoid losing your dog

Train your dog to come back to you when called
Many owners expect that their dogs should come back to them when they are called, but dogs do not come with this innate ability, and it’s up to us as responsible owners to teach them how to do this and make it a very enjoyable game.  If your dog can’t recall to you 9 times out of 10 as a minimum, then they should not be off lead unless they are in a secure paddock; use a long line instead if you want them to have some freedom to explore on walks.

If your dog is an escape artist or prone to running off then investing in a GPS tracker, which is fitted to their collar, may be advisable!

Keep your dog safe when out

Never leave your dog tied up outside a shop. You will make them a vulnerable and tempting target for opportunist thieves, or they may get spooked by something and bite someone.  It’s not worth the risk. If you can’t take them in to the shop, then leave them at home.

Don’t leave your dog alone in the car, even for a few minutes. Thieves can easily break into your car to steal your precious pet, and in summer your car becomes an oven in minutes, capable of killing your dog before you’ve picked up a pint of milk and a loaf of bread.  Again, leave them at home.

Keep your dog safe at home

At home, make sure your back garden is secure and fit a bell or movement sensitive camera to the gate so you are aware if anyone opens it. Avoid your dog being unsupervised in the front garden, even if fenced off as you don’t know who will walk in to deliver some junk mail, and may take a fancy to your dog, or simply leave the gate open accidentally.

If you use a dog walker or holiday sitter then ensure you do your homework and look for customer references, membership of commercial dog walker schemes and associations, police (DBS) checks, first aid qualifications and insurance.  If you are giving someone access to your home, you must be comfortable with them as a person, as well as a canine carer.

How to ensure your dog comes home if they are lost

Correct dog tag
When out and about, it your legal duty to ensure your dog is wearing a collar with a plate or badge attached to it, inscribed with the following:

  • your name (not your dog’s name – that’s optional)
  • Your full address – not just your house number and postcode, but your full postal address.
  • your phone number(s) – although it’s not mandatory, it’s the easiest way for someone to contact you if they find your dog.

You can be a little creative on the tag options, and go for a collar embroidered with your details, a set of military dog tags so you can include lots of information, or ‘message in a bottle’ type tags with your details inside.  Just make sure they are up to date!

Microchip details
Legally, your dog should be microchipped by 8 weeks of age, and this may have been done by your breeder.  Ensure your dog is chipped and registered on one of the 13 approved providers who meet the government standards. Breeders or rescues have to register themselves as the initial owner of the dog, so when they pass the dog over to you, it is your responsibility to ensure that you update the that you update the microchip company with your contact details.  Be sure to update them if you move house or change your telephone number too.

Photos of your dog

Take clear (not goofy!) photographs of your dog from various angles, with close ups of their face, and full body from the front, back and sides, with close-ups of any markings and visible features that differentiate them from similar dogs.  Ensure you update the photos at least annually so that you have a recent, clear photo to put on posters and fliers.  Also ensure you have lots of photographs of yourself with your dog, to help you to prove ownership if needed.

What to do if you’ve lost your dog

Initially, stay in the local area and call your dog. If you can call friends or family members to help widen the search area then do, but one person should stay in the area your dog first disappeared.  Check local buildings, favourite haunts, nearby friend’s houses that the dog visits regularly, and notify any local building sites to ensure your dog hasn’t got stuck somewhere they shouldn’t

If your dog hasn’t returned after an hour or so of searching, then you should consider calling the following contacts:

  • Microchip database – call the provider of your dog’s microchip and report them as lost or stolen so this will flag them as lost when anyone scans their chip and they can notify you if someone tries to change your dog’s chip details. It is also important that you notify the database to let them know if your dog is found.
  • Local council dog warden – They are legally responsible for stray dogs and may well have picked up your pet. They will hold on to stray dogs for seven days but, after this time, dogs will be rehomed or put to sleep if no home can be found for them. Call the Swindon Animal Warden Service on 01793 445501 (Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm) or 01793 466453 at all other times.
  • Vet surgeries – if your dog has been injured, they may have been taken there for treatment.
  • DogLost – Register your dog on the DogLost free national database which is run by volunteers who will help you to search for your dog.
  • Social media – Check online lost and found websites and notice boards and Facebook groups in your local area too. Post a lost dog notice in these groups and on your profile and ask your friends to share it widely.
  • Police – If you think your dog has been stolen, call the police on 101.
  • Local noticeboards – put up notices in your local supermarkets, libraries, newsagents etc with an up to date photo of your dog. Your insurer may also help you with this and provide a reward for their safe return if this is part of your policy.
  • Dog rehoming centres – call local rescue centres such as Dogs Trust, RSPCA, Blue Cross and Battersea and don’t forget the small local sanctuaries.

As is often the case with these scenarios, prevention is better than cure, so please take the time now to ensure you have taken all the precautions you can to keep your dog safe and I sincerely hope you never need to worry about a lost dog.