Can Dogs Get Lost?

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Whether you travel for work or on vacation, if you have a poor sense of direction, taking a wrong turning and getting lost is part of life. Fortunately to get out of the scrape, you have only to ask a friendly passer-by for directions. Better still, with sat-navs on smart phones, there's less likelihood of getting lost in the first place.

Your fur pal however, gets lost for very different reasons. He may be scared by a firework or backfiring car and take off in blind panic. Or he may have a wanderlust born out of an excess of male hormones, and take off looking for a mate. Or it might simply be a case of "The grass is greener on the other side of the gate…" and he takes the opportunity to explore.

Can Dogs Get Lost?


Dogs do get lost.

However, unlike you, the dog can't ask a passing stranger how to get home. Worse still, fear can shut down the dog's olfactory center, meaning he's blind to scent messages and deprived of his own inner sat-nav.

Is My Dog Lost?

The longer a dog is gone, the further away from home he may get, so time is of the essence.

Recognizing your dog is lost is critical. Of course, this may be obvious, such seeing him run out of the front door, but other times you may not know Rover has dug his way out of the yard.

It's also important to realize that, although the dog may still be in the neighborhood, panic may confuse his senses. Once a dog enters flight mode, high levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream make him more likely to flee when approached. In other words, he sees people as a danger rather than a help. Unfortunately, this can even apply to his owner, because strong fear can blind a dog to familiar sights and smells.

Once you realize he's lost, it may sound obvious, but look for the dog. And this means not only walking the streets, but calling local shelters, dog pounds, and vet clinics. Especially when a dog is gone for a day or more, they quickly take on the appearance of a stray or 'homeless' dog, which means whoever finds the dog may not come looking for you and you have to find them.

How Do I Find my Lost Dog?

Is your dog microchipped? If not, then schedule a vet appointment and get him chipped today!

A microchip passively holds a reference number, which is registered on a database and holds your contact details. A lost dog, when scanned by a local vet, can be back with you in the length of time it takes to make two phone calls. That's a lot of pounding the pavement and heartache saved!

Of course, a collar and tag helps, because it indicates the dog is a lost pet rather than a true stray. But collars do come off, and if this is his sole means of ID he's then high and dry on his own.

Leave no stone unturned when searching for a lost dog:

  • Enlist friends and neighbors to search for him on foot

  • Alert the microchip database holder that the dog is lost

  • Phone shelters, pounds, and vet clinics

  • Put up posters

  • Advertise that your dog is lost

Many times the 'finder' of a cute dog may 'adopt' them, believing them to be a true stray rather than lost. Putting up posters increases the chance of the finder realizing the truth.

How is a Lost Dog Similar to a Lost Person?

A lost dog has a lot in common with a lost child. He is likely to be frightened, fearful, and panicked. How far the dog strays depends on factors such as his character, the weather, and the terrain.

A friendly, waggy dog may well run up to the first person that calls them, whereas an anxious fearful dog is liable to run rather than allow himself to be caught. Just like a lost child, the dog needs careful handling so as not to further alarm them and to win their trust.

How is a Lost Dog Different from a Lost Person?

The most obvious difference is that you need to do the seeking. You also need to be aware of how a lost dog reacts even when you, the owner, find them.

It is human nature to face the dog, slap your thighs, and call them; however, a direct stare and calling acts as a challenge and raises the dog's anxiety threshold. Panic can cancel out the dog's ability to recognize you. Despite calling his name, the dog may be in flight mode and run.

Instead, crouch down, avoid a direct stare (watch via your peripheral vision) and pretend to eat and drop food. Be prepared to play act like this for long periods of time, until eventually the dog calms down and approaches out of curiosity.

Case Study

Rover is an anxious dog. Walking off leash, a noise startles him and he flees. His pet parent calls after him but Rover keeps on running. His owners organize search parties and phone local shelters to see if he's been handed in.

Several hours later, he is spotted by the local dog warden. She is used to flighty dogs, and wins his confidence by sitting on the ground and rustling a bag of treats. Once she has Rover on a leash, the warden scans the dog. Fortunately, he is microchipped. The warden contacts the database and retrieves the owner's contact details. She gives Rover's worried pet parents a call to let them know he is safe and well, and where to collect him.

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