On September 3, 2017 our dog Swift escaped from our yard. He had gotten out of the yard a few previous times by ducking under the worn wire of our split rail fence to chase deer. As a preventative we had just had the entire acre of fencing repaired and the wiring replaced the week before, and felt it was safe for him. After only ten minutes in the yard we discovered he was missing, and set out on our search with whistles and business cards in hand (more on that later.) We handed out business cards to everyone we came across.
We searched the neighborhood for two hours before we came home empty handed and sat down to create some flyers and plan our next steps. That's when the phone rang. The woman on the other end said her husband had just come home and told her about Swift, and she just happened to have seen photos of him posted on social media by a friend of hers. She gave me her number, I called, and we picked Swift up within minutes, a mile away from our home.
We're grateful for a happy ending and determined to do everything in our power to prevent another escape. But if it does happen we'll have planned for it as proactively as possible, using the ideas below.
How Can You Improve Your Chances of a Swift Return?
There is plenty that you can do before your dog goes missing to improve your chances of finding him. All it takes is a little preparation time and some training. Please -- don't wait until he's gone to hatch your plan!
MICROCHIP YOUR PET
Is your dog microchipped? Have you registered and/or updated your information at the microchip registry? Most veterinarians and animal control facilities will gladly scan your dog's microchip if he is brought into their clinic, but the microchip company won't be able to contact you unless you've submitted your contact information at their registry. The small chip placed just above your dog's shoulders is worth installing, but do register it too!
GPS TRACKING COLLARS
There are many GPS tracking collar options available. Some require a monthly monitoring fee and others do not. Some require your dog wear a special collar, and others can be attached to your dog's existing collar. Some have apps for your phone, others don't.
WHISTLE RECALL TRAINING
Teaching your dog to recall to a whistle can be a powerful resource. The idea is to have whistles available to hand out to folks when your dog goes missing so that they can also blow their whistles in hopes of locating the dog or even having the dog come to them. No one can recreate the voice you use when you call your dog, but everyone can recreate the sound of the whistle. Also, while voices can carry a great deal of emotion that might keep your dog away, the whistle does not. Swift had just started his whistle recall training the week before he escaped, so we had no idea what affect blowing the whistle might have but it was worth a try. We did confirm that the noise carried much further than our actual voices while we were out searching!
Here's how you can train your dog to recall to a whistle:
Once your whistle recalling training is complete create a kit of several tagged whistles and store them where you can find them later. Just be sure you've bought several of the same exact whistles so the tones are as similar as possible.
BUILD A SCENT KIT FOR YOUR DOG
If you are fortunate to have a tracking service like Dogs Finding Dogs or Pure Gold Pet Trackers in your area, a good scent article is essential for a successful search. If there are multiple pets in the household, it is suggested a scent article is made for each of the pets so that the tracking dog has an individual, uncontaminated article to identify which animal they are looking for.
Here's how you can make a scent kit for your dog:
- Take a clean, damp rag or wash cloth and using gloves, wipe the pet all over to include the nose, ears, toes, abdomen and chest.
- Hang the cloth to dry.
- When it is completely dry secure in a sealed, zip lock bag.
- Label the bag with the pet's name.
- Repeat this for all of the pets in the home, ensuring that different gloves are used for each pet to avoid cross contamination.
- Store your dog's scent kit in a location that's easy to remember when you need it.
Special thanks to Grinner Christine Rojas, pictured on the left with her pet tracking dog Keelah, for this great tip!
BUSINESS CARDS FOR YOUR DOG
Passing out business cards turned out to be key for Swift's safe return. There are several online services where you can create a card for your dog and order on the spot. Office Depot and Vista Print are only two of many. Keep it simple or be as creative as you like. But do be sure you have them on hand before you need them, and store your dog's cards in a safe place so you can find them easily in a pinch.
If you can't source cheap business cards immediately you can have a flyer printed 4 to a page and then cut. These are so helpful for handing out to folks and many convenience stores will let you place a small stack at their checkout even when they have a "No posting flyers in the window" policy. -Thanks to Kristina P. for this great idea.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA
If you're on Facebook you may find a local page where people share important happenings in your community. Build a page for the sole purpose of finding your dog, and share it on the community page. Be sure to include photos that show any unique markings your dog may have and your contact information in everything you post, and make your posts public for maximum effect. Do consider what you'll share that will keep you safe but also promote your need as widely as possible. Consider how Twitter and Instagram might also help you spread the word.
FREE ONLINE FLYER TEMPLATES
If you search the internet for "lost dog flyer template" you'll find several available. Pet FBI offers a template and also offers helpful tips about lost pets, including how and where to post your flyers for the most benefit. When you print, make them BIG so drivers can see them as they pass by. Laminating your flyers can protect them from moisture. - Thanks to Rhoda E. for sharing this tip.
Reader Kristina P. shares: Another easy way to make larger, cheaper posters is to print a standard sized color pic of the dog, put that in a page protector (opening at the bottom of the pic) and put that in the middle of a brightly colored piece of poster board. Then use a wide-tip sharpie marker to Add "Lost" and a phone number. Drivers don't have time to read much and it will pull focus to the pic. The poster board will hold up in mild rain and the pic will stay bright.
Don't forget to take down your flyers once your dog has been found!
FINDTOTO is an online service that alerts folks in your area via telephone, social media and Google ads when a pet goes missing. There are varying levels of service available, depending on how much you'd like to spend.
Bookmark the link to their website so you can retrieve when you need it. To date they've located over 10,000 missing pets!