Simple Steps to Avoid a Missing Dog

Nobody intends it, but lost dogs happen—and, usually, because of easily preventable oversights by well-meaning owners. A missing dog is a devastating experience. Though you can't guarantee against every lost-dog scenario, you can increase the odds of keeping your pet safe with these common-sense strategies:

  • Secure your dog in a fenced yard or on a leash Missing dogs are often the result of an unsecured area or unleashed pet. No matter how well-trained you think your pet is, don't let him wander around outside unsupervised. Many pets get lost or stolen this way. You can prevent a lost dog by keeping him inside a securely fenced yard, or safely tethered to a leash. Fences should be tall for jumping pets, buried at least 6 inches into the ground for digging pets, and without open cracks or loose boards for pushy pets and tiny pets. Invisible fences or pens work for some dogs, but others barrel right through these barriers, not minding the electric shock if it means they get to chase that squirrel. On outings, use a leash and never leave your dog unsupervised. Many dogs get stolen, injured by the tether or other animals, or even strangle themselves when left alone on a leash.
  • Don't leave your pet unsupervised. A lost dog is an unsupervised dog. Supervision entails more than a secure fence. It can mean not leaving your dog or cat out for long periods while you are away, and never leaving your pet unsupervised in the car. Many lost dogs are just bored pets that have found a way to escape from a yard or car—and, according to some experts, as many as 1.5 million dogs and cats get stolen every year from those same places. Most of them are never recovered. Comfortable crates can house dogs when you leave, or consider a pet sitter or pet daycare during the weekday.
  • Have your dog microchipped. This tiny implant between a pet's shoulder blades contains identifying information that a veterinarian or shelter can scan to find out whom the pet belongs to. Many lost dogs are recovered because of their microchips. Most veterinarians and shelters have scanners that can read the microchip.
  • Spay or neuter your pet. According to the ASPCA, 75% of owned pets are spayed or neutered, but only 10% of animals coming into shelters are spayed or neutered. Spayed or neutered pets may be less likely to wander off in search of a mate. Lost dogs are likely to breed, too, and if they are not fixed, may create more homeless animals.
  • Train your dog Dogs that have had formal obedience training are much less likely to end up in shelters, and not just because they are better behaved. Training classes offer pet owners valuable pet care and safety information that can reduce careless mistakes that lead to missing dogs, and an obedience-trained dog is more likely to stop on command instead of running off, come back when called, and walk nicely on a leash. Obedience training also gives pet owners and their dogs more things to do together, so the dog is less likely to get bored and wander off looking for some fun. Even with obedience-training, some dogs will follow the scent or sight of a critter no matter what you do, but obedience-trained dogs and their owners communicate better in general, and that can make the difference between a playful pet that stays with you and a lost dog you never find again.
  • Get a license. Licensing an animal isn't just another way for the city to take some of your hard-earned cash. A missing dog with a license tag on its collar carries the info authorities need to track down the owner. Rabies tags also include identifying information.
  • Play phone tag. A simple identification tag should contain your phone number at least. Some owners feel uncomfortable putting their own names or addresses on a tag, but a phone number makes it easy for someone to pick up the phone when he or she has found your missing dog.
  • Take a DNA snapshot. Valuable purebred show dogs often have their DNA recorded in a database that the American Kennel Club maintains, providing positive proof of who that dog is. This new technology can even be used in court, if the identity or owner of a pet ever comes into question when you believe someone else is rightfully holding your lost dog. Ask your veterinarian about how to have your dog's DNA fingerprinted.
  • Vital stats and photo evidence Every pet owner should have each pet's basic statistics readily available at any time, including vaccination records and a color photograph. Then, even if your pet does get lost, you'll know exactly where to find the information you need and a picture to show neighbors, shelter workers, or the police everything about your missing dog—and, hopefully, bring him home soon.