How to find a lost dog

Sally Andersen_cmykSally Andersen’s tips for finding a lost dog.

Recently I spent three weeks searching for a lost dog that ran away from its prospective adopter on the very first day. Happily, the dog is now safely back after her adventure “holiday”, but it’s not the first time that I’ve had to spend my rare days off in the wilds trying to find a lost dog. So far, I’ve always been successful except for one case where the dog is still living free and happily in Central and refuses to be caught.

It’s not unusual for adult dogs to run away shortly after adoption, which is why we advise using both a collar (non-slip) and a harness, with a leash attached to each. I’ve seen timid dogs wearing full bondage gear until they settle and get to know the neighbourhood. While that’s not always necessary, at least it guards against the anguish of a runaway new pet.

There are a few general rules that apply to finding these four-legged fugitives, with surprisingly few exceptions.

Unless they’re close to a previous home that they would automatically head for, most dogs will stay in the area where they ran away. Once the initial panic has subsided, instinct kicks in and a dog will assess its surroundings to find a place to hide, and will not usually venture out during daylight or if there are people around. Dusk and dawn are “hunting” times, when the dog will search for food and water before returning to its safe place. Rubbish bins and barbecue sites are good food sources.

Once a dog has gone to ground, all you can do is wait for a chance sighting. Early-morning joggers and people walking home from work in the evening are most likely to spot a furtive dog, so it’s essential to put up posters in the area of the first sighting as quickly as possible.

While people may volunteer to help with the search, groups of strangers calling a runaway dog’s name will only send it deeper into hiding. By all means go out looking, but keep the numbers to just a few people who act as spotters only. Once a dog’s location has been verified, only the person or people the dog knows should try to catch it. Even then, once instinctive survival behaviour has taken over, the dog may not readily respond to a familiar voice. If that happens, leaving food in one spot will keep the dog coming back, and eventually it should relax enough to let itself be caught.

There are now GPS tracking collars available, which I would use if there was any chance of a dog getting lost on an unfamiliar walk, or if it was nervous and likely to get spooked.  Alternatively, an extra-long training leash is great for allowing dogs freedom to run while having the security of guaranteed recall. Retractable leashes are not recommended, by the way, as they are dangerous and can cause injury or worse. Always use a collar that won’t slip off, but never a choke chain as these can not only damage a dog’s trachea but can result in strangulation. A semi-choke will tighten just to the point where it can’t come off, but no further and for nervous dogs use a T-shaped harness as well as a collar. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Sally Anderson is the founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue.