Possibly the Worst Thing to Do if Your Pet Bolts

lost dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • The Retrievers, formed in 2014, is a group of 40 volunteers who donate their time and expertise to finding others’ lost pets
  • Though they’re based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they locate dogs across the U.S., offering free phone consultations and, for those in Minnesota, trapping services
  • One of the greatest mistakes that pet owners make is not acting fast enough; pet owners should take immediate action by posting on social media, calling local shelters and posting lost dog signs around the neighborhood
  • If you happen to spot your dog, resist the urge to chase him, which can make a frightened dog run away; instead, run away from your dog and call his name, in the hopes that he’ll pick up on this fun “game” and start to chase you back

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

In the U.S., an estimated 15 percent of dog or cat owners have lost a pet in the past five years. The majority — 85 percent — were recovered,1 but not in the way you might think. It's often assumed that if your dog runs off, the best way to find him is by calling local animal shelters.

But, while you certainly should contact them if you've lost a pet, only 6 percent of dog owners and 2 percent of cat owners actually find their lost pets in a shelter, according to a survey conducted by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Among dog owners, the most common method that led to their dog's safe return was searching the neighborhood (for cats, most of them ended up returning home on their own). "Searching immediately when one knows the pet is lost, and searching within the neighborhood first through visual searches as well as posters and internet opportunities proved to be key," ASPCA noted,2 which is a sentiment echoed by "professional" dog-finding group The Retrievers.

The Retrievers Find Lost Dogs Across the US

The Retrievers, formed in 2014, is a group of 40 volunteers who donate their time and expertise to finding others' lost pets. Though they're based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they locate dogs across the U.S., living by their motto, "Come Back Home, Puppies; Stay Warm, Puppies."

The group's founders are also volunteers for Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota (RAGOM), a golden retriever rescue organization, during which they saw firsthand that dogs in transition are often the same ones who become "lost." According to The Retrievers:3

"Thanks to a surge in rescue organizations over the past decade, more shy and fearful dogs are being rehabilitated instead of euthanized as unadoptable. But we're also seeing a corresponding increase in the number of dogs going missing.

Barely a day passes when we don't see a new listing on our Facebook feed for a missing foster dog, newly adopted dog, or dog that bolted during transport. A skittish dog — or any dog under stress — is a flight risk. Because rescues routinely transition dogs from one living situation to another, the odds of losing a dog are high."

Rescued dogs are not the only dogs who get lost, but it is important to use extra caution if your dog is in a transitional stage. The group provides free phone consultations to anyone in the continental U.S. whose dog has gone missing, but for those in Minnesota, they also provide assistance with live trapping. In one success story, reported by The Bark, Lindsey, an Australian Shepherd mix. went missing during a Minnesota camping trip when she was spooked by thunder and lightning from a storm.

Her owner, John Lundquist, searched for her for two days until he had to return home, more than 300 miles away. Lundquist posted the story on social media, which alerted locals to be on the lookout for Lindsey.

The dog wandered into a campsite a couple of weeks later and was captured by a father and son, who took Lindsey into town, where she was set to be reunited with her owner. Lindsey, however, ran off again, but by this time the Retrievers were on the case, mapping sightings of the dog and driving in a live trap for dogs. The Bark explained:4

"A baited trap can be extremely helpful when a skittish dog resists capture (even by her family, as Lundquist can attest) but continues to frequent certain areas. The Retrievers have invented several styles of live traps, including a large enclosure called the Missy Trap.

For Lindsey, they used their smaller Cash Trap, which was named for the first dog caught in it. All are triggered by the Raytripper, an electronic sensor beam/magnet system that drops the trap's gate when the dog steps into its invisible infrared beam."

The trap worked, and within about a month Lindsey was caught and returned to her owner — and likely not a moment too soon. The dog had lost about 10 pounds, caught tapeworm and had last been spotted running away from a wolf. Today, "She's fine and healthy, gaining the weight," Lundquist told The Bark. "Most of the time, she's sitting on someone's lap on the couch."5

If Your Dog Goes Missing, Act Fast

One of the greatest mistakes that pet owners make, according to the Retrievers, is not acting fast enough. Owners often search for their dogs for hours, or give them a chance to return home on their own overnight, before taking action, but this wastes valuable time that you could be on your dog's trail. They urge pet owners to take immediate action by posting lost dog signs around the neighborhood and posting on social media.

"With thousands of followers who are eager to help reunite lost dogs and their owners, Facebook's lost dog pages can be a very effective resource, not only to help spread the word about your dog, but also for recruiting help with flyering," the Retrievers note. "Be sure to give them that chance by reporting your lost dog and posting a personal plea in the comments." At HelpingLostPets.com, you can report a lost dog or cat and it will automatically post it on your state's lost pet Facebook page.

You can also do this directly as well as post a notice of your lost pet on Craigslist and other local lost pet websites. The Retrievers recommending doing the following within the first hour that your pet goes missing:

  • Call local police departments/law enforcement (city, township or county, as appropriate), vet clinics, animal control agencies and shelters. Be sure to include those in your surrounding counties/communities.
  • Contact impound facilities in your area.
  • Place missing dog ad on local Craigslist Community > Lost & Found and Community > Pets
  • Report dog on Facebook lost dog pages for your area (i.e., Lost Dogs - MN)

Within the first four hours that your pet goes missing, they recommend making brightly colored lost dog flyers that include text large enough for drivers to see from the road and a photo of your dog. Within eight hours, the signs should be posted at nearby intersections, where the dog went missing and begin to be distributed around the area, including door-to-door.

Don't Chase the Dog and Other Search Strategies

If your dog doesn't turn up immediately, keep searching and don't give up hope. You can place lost dog ads in your local newspaper's "Lost & Found" section, ask your local radio station to broadcast an announcement about your missing dog and even pay for an automated robocall to be placed to alert neighbors that your pet has gone missing (Findtoto.com and petamberalert.com are two examples).

The Retrievers also recommend continuing to visit animal shelters in your area and also contacting purebred rescues (if your dog is or appears to be a purebred).

If no sightings are reported, they advise expanding your signage and flyer hand-outs by a mile per day. If your dog is spotted and appears to be frequenting the same area, The Retrievers have live trap diagrams to help you make your own live trap to help capture your dog. If you happen to spot your dog, resist the urge to chase him, which can make a frightened dog run away. Instead, run away from your dog and call his name, in the hopes that he'll pick up on this fun "game" and start to chase you back.

How to Prevent a Skittish Dog From Getting Lost

If you've recently adopted a dog, be on alert that this is a high-risk time when he may be prone to taking off — and getting lost. In addition to making sure your dog is wearing a collar with proper identification, RAGOM recommends taking extra precautions like not stopping for potty breaks for your dog on the way home from the initial adoption and crating your dog while in the car.

Once home, they suggest pulling into your garage and closing the door before letting your dog out of the car (if possible). In the first two weeks, you can help keep your dog safe by using two leashes when going for walks (holding one in each hand), not allowing your dog to charge your door when people are entering or leaving your home, and securing gates and fences in your yard.6 Also, be sure there are no "hidden" escape routes in your yard (like a snowbank against a fence that could allow your pet to jump over).

If you need more help on how to find a lost dog, TheRetrievers.org offers flyer templates and directions for making intersection signage, along with a lost dog action plan and videos on how to use Google Maps to help you find your lost dog. They provide a wealth of resources to reunite lost pets with their owners, but hopefully you'll never need to use them.