Any dog can run away.
Whether you have a pup that bolts for the front door any time it opens, or your dog just gets away from you on a walk or a trip and gets lost — it can truly happen to any dog owner. In fact, according to Lost Pet Statistics, 14 percent of all dog owners will lose their pet at least once in a five-year period.
Even though almost all of those lost dogs — 93 percent of them — end up getting found safe and sound, losing a pet is still a scary and heartbreaking experience that no pet owner wants to go through. If you want to better understand why your dog might run away and how to prevent it, this ultimate guide is for you. Plus, we’ll explain what you should do if you have a lost dog, and the one tool you need to help you reunite with your lost pup safely — and quickly.
Why Do Dogs Get Lost?
There are so many reasons a dog might get lost. These are just some of the most common.
If a dog isn’t given enough stimulation — like toys, treats, or attention from people — it might run away out of frustration, or to find more adventure and excitement.
They’re Not Kept Secure
If a dog is left in an unsecure area, like a home with open doors and windows, or an unfenced yard, that’s an invitation for him or her to go exploring. The same goes for walks and outings — if the dog doesn’t have a properly fitting harness or collar and a secure leash, it can easily get away from its owner.
They’re Chasing Something
Some dogs have high prey drives, which means seeing a bird, cat, squirrel, car, or something else that looks fun to chase can cause them to take off.
Even dogs that aren’t usually nervous can get scared by unexpected noises or people. There’s a reason animal shelters see a big increase in stray pets around the Fourth of July — being scared is one of the top reasons for a dog to run away.
They Aren’t Well Trained
If dogs don’t know their basic commands, or aren’t trained to have good leash manners, they could be more likely to get lost. A dog that isn’t trained is a dog that won’t be under control by its owner, which means it will have more opportunity to run away.
They’re Looking for a Mate
Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered might go missing because they’re off looking for a “friend.”
They Just Love to Run
And finally, some dogs just love to run. If they aren’t given enough space and exercise at home, well, they could go out to get their exercise on their own.
How to Keep Your Dog From Getting Lost
One of the first steps you can take in keeping your dog from getting lost is figuring out why he or she runs away, using the list of common reasons above. Then, address the reason.
There are also some general dog care and lifestyle steps you can take to make your dog less likely to run away or get lost.
Let Your Dog Spend Time Inside
Your dog should be a part of the family, which means spending the majority of its time with its people inside the house. Sure, he or she can go out in the backyard (if it’s secure) to play, go potty, or get some fresh air. But your dog should be able to choose when to go in and out.
A dog that’s kept outside is more likely to run away because of a lack of stimulation and attention. It’s also less supervised, which means it will have more opportunities to escape.
Make Sure Your Home and Yard Are Secure
If your dog makes a run for every open door or window, it’s up to you to make sure they stay closed or screened so they don’t turn into potential doggy escape paths. And a dog that wants to get out and explore will look for any way out of your yard, so make sure your fence is secure and in good shape, without damaged areas or holes that your dog can get through. Be mindful also that a determined dog can pretty easily dig its way out of a fenced area, and watch for digging behavior in your dog.
Train Your Dog
A dog that’s well-trained to have good leash manners will be less likely to get lost during walks and outings, one of the easiest times to lose your dog. In addition to leash training, make sure to teach your dog obedience commands that will help you keep him or her under control in all settings. Commands like “come,” “heel,” “sit,” and “stay” can all help you keep your dog from getting away from you in a public place.
Don’t Rely on Just 1 Pet Location Product
An important way to keep your dog safe from getting lost is using all the technology that’s available to help with this.
Your dog should wear a collar that has an attached ID tag with your contact information at all times. And in case the collar gets damaged or falls off, your dog should also be microchipped, and it’s up to you to make sure you keep the microchip registry up to date with your current address and phone number.
But in addition to ID tags and a microchip, your dog can (and should) have a pet tracker that can help you find them if they get lost. The problem with ID tags and microchips is that they only help you reunite with your lost dogs after they’ve been found. A pet tracker like a Huan Smart Tag lets you track your dog’s location via a smartphone app, so you can find them even faster.
Take Regular Photos of Your Dog
We probably don’t need to tell pet owners to take pictures of their beloved fur babies. But here’s one more reason to take photos every day: They can help you find your dog if he or she ever gets lost! Having a recent photo to show to friends, neighbors, and animal shelter workers means people will be better able to keep an eye out for your missing pet.
And in case someone decides to take in and keep your missing dog as a “stray,” recent photos are great proof of ownership so you can get your beloved pup back.
How to Find Lost Dogs
No matter how much care you take to make sure your dog never gets lost, it can still happen — even to the best of dog owner. So if the unthinkable happens and your dog gets away from you, here’s what to do.
Search In Familiar Locations
Unfortunately, a lost dog can cover a lot of ground. Luckily, most dogs have a pretty decent sense of direction, and they also have powerful noses that can help them identify places and people that are familiar. So when you’re searching for your lost dog, concentrate your search in areas that are familiar to your pup — your neighborhood, your vet’s office, and any dog parks or other locations that you two frequent.
Search In Your Car
Not only will searching from a car allow you to cover more ground, but it could help you catch your lost dog once you find him or her. If your pup loves car rides, you might be able to get close, open the car door, and lure them in by asking excitedly if they want to go for a ride.
Show Photos to Everyone You See
As you’re searching for your lost dog, keep a recent photo with you and show it to everyone — neighbors, pedestrians, business owners and employees, and anyone else who might be able to spot and recognize your dog. Make sure the photo you use shows his or her size, markings, and anything else distinct that might stand out.
The more people you’re able to spread the word to, the more people will be able to keep an eye out for your lost dog.
Post Information Wherever You Can
In addition to asking around, put up fliers with a picture of your lost dog anywhere you can — on phone poles, community bulletin boards, and in businesses, if they’ll let you. In addition to fliers, make and share posts on social media sites, especially neighborhood or community oriented sites like NextDoor. Ask friends and family to share posts, too. If possible, place an ad in a local newspaper or newsletter.
Use a Humane Trap
If your lost dog has been spotted in a specific location, you can go there to set a humane trap, using your dog’s favorite food or treats to lure him or her in. If you do this, though, remember to check the trap very frequently. Whether your dog or another animal goes into it, it’s important not to leave any animal stuck in a trap alone for too long.
Ask Local Shelters and Rescues for Help
Keep in touch with local animal shelters and dog rescues, because someone who thinks your lost dog is a stray might bring them in. Ask those organizations for help spreading the word, either by hanging up one of your lost dog fliers, or by sharing social media posts about your lost dog. Check in with them regularly to see if any dogs matching your pet’s description have been brought in.