"Don't inhibit your chances of finding your pet by having a "wait and see" attitude. Start searching immediately. Only in the movies do dogs like Lassie find their way home after a long and harrowing journey."

It was around midnight late last year that Gayle Mousis of Los Angeles, California, noticed that her house seemed unusually quiet. Her son's Siberian Husky, Nashwan, was nowhere in sight. There had been workmen at the property that day, and she found they'd left the front gate standing wide open. Her friendly dog had wandered off to explore the neighborhood.

A couple of days later, a couple who had found the dog and taken him home were putting up a "found" poster outside a coffee shop close to the Mousis' home. They realized he matched the description of a friendly missing Husky on a "lost" poster put up in the same location.

Thousands of dogs go missing around the country every day. Knowing your pet's personality and the way she reacts towards strangers can tell you how she will respond should she get lost. Personality can also tell you how far from home she's likely to travel before being rescued.

"Away from the comforts of home, pets go into survival mode," explains pet detective Kat Albrecht, founder of Missing Pet Partnership in Clovis, California, and author of The Lost Pet Chronicles: Adventures of a Canine Cop Turned Pet Detective (Bloomsbury USA, 2004). " Typically, dogs hide during the day and move around looking for food at night."

According to Albrecht, all dogs fall into one of the following behavior categories:

The Gregarious Dog

A gregarious dog, like Nashwan the Husky, is friendly and will come up to the first person that attracts her attention, generally wagging her tail. Depending on the surroundings and the population density of the area, she won't stray far from home. Because of her responsive disposition, a stranger who finds her may want to adopt her on the spot.

If you find a friendly dog without a collar and ID tag, she's probably lost. If you're able to take her home, immediately put up "found" posters in the vicinity where the dog was found. If you can't keep the dog, take her to a no-kill shelter and put the contact information on the posters.

The Aloof Dog

A dog with an aloof temperament is very wary of strangers and, avoiding any human contact, will travel a great distance from home. She can, however, be enticed with food when she gets hungry. Strangers often misinterpret her wariness for having been abused.

Often a distrustful dog is not recovered for weeks, or even months, after escaping. By then, her physical appearance may have deteriorated, and she may appear to be homeless and unloved.

When you see a dog in this condition, think "lost" not "stray," and try to locate the owner or take her to a no-kill shelter.

The Xenophobic Dog

Xenophobia is a fear of anything strange or foreign. A xenophobic temperament is either a genetic disposition or the result of an unfortunate puppyhood experience. If a dog panics easily, then a loud noise is enough to make her bolt and run for miles. Consequently, a xenophobic dog can travel great distances and is at high risk of being hit by a car. Because of her cowering, fearful behavior, people assume she has been abused.

Even if the dog has an ID tag, a rescuer often refuses to contact the owner, assuming he or she mistreated the animal. A xenophobic dog can be so overcome with terror that she will even run from her owner! Once again, think "lost" not "stray," and act accordingly.

Take Note of Your Dog's Habits

It's important to be aware of your pet's daily habits, such as:

  • When does your dog eat?
  • When does your dog sleep?
  • What is her favorite hiding place in the home?

Don't inhibit your chances of finding your pet by having a "wait and see" attitude. Start searching immediately. Only in the movies do dogs like Lassie find their way home after a long and harrowing journey. Don't give up too quickly—it could take weeks or months for your pet to be recovered.

Make sure you include your pet's personality traits on your "lost" posters. It will be a big help to anyone finding her. And remember, proper identification, like a registered microchip, is your lost pet's ticket home.