These proven methods will give you the best results. Read on to learn about preventative and active search-and-rescue tactics, especially if you have an escape artist. Before your pup even gets the chance to go missing, there are a few things you can do to make them easier to find.
Make Sure Your Pet is Easy to Identify
Most people buy a collar right away, and this is a primary step in helping your dog get home. If you can find a unique collar, that’s even better! Make sure your dog is always wearing it.
Some custom collars will embroider your dog’s information on the underside. Most finders will check the collar to see if the dog is approachable. You can always use a sharpie to write your address or phone number on a plain one, but this can become illegible with time, so it’s best to get something more permanent.
Dog tags are a classic option. Instant tag machines at pet and local department stores near soda and snack machines have them for under $10. Online marketplaces have a wide variety of tags that can be delivered right to your door. I recommend engraved stainless steel for longevity. If your pet has food allergies or is on medications for diabetes, epilepsy, or other chronic conditions, you can also get a medical alert tag, just like those used by humans.
Chips and Tracking Devices
Chipping a dog is popular, but this won’t do much for you or your dog if you don’t get the registration that goes along with it, so be sure to do both if you go this route. This is a pricey option that runs 150 dollars. Remember to submit the registration and update it if you move.
GPS tracking devices and smart collars are another option that’s gaining popularity. They work with your smartphones through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Basic GPS trackers just ping your dog’s location in real-time, but more advanced models have options like 2-way radios and continuous health monitoring for your dog, much like fitness trackers work for humans.
Some of these devices require additional monthly services to be paid, while others work freely with your smartphone. If you go this route, make sure it’s compatible with your device. These can run between $30 and $300, plus monthly subscription fees.
Create and Keep an Updated Dog File
Even if you’re not obsessed with taking a million pictures of your dog, it is a good idea to take 4 pictures every month, one shot from each angle, so that you have accessible up-to-date photos. Take new pictures any time your dog is groomed since hair length can make them look significantly different. This step is especially important if you have a growing puppy. Their appearance can change dramatically in just a few weeks.
Have a pre-written description you can copy/paste of your dog, so you don’t have to come up with one during a panic attack. Write down the sex, breed appearance, approximate height, weight, hair color and coat pattern, eye color, tail type, and note if the dog is fixed or intact. If possible, describe and take pictures of any distinguishing marks your dog may have, such as scars from accidents or surgeries, birthmarks, tattoos, or any visible birth defect.
Create a digital folder on your computer that is easy to access and keep all the information together. Include contact information for your vet, local shelter, humane society, and local rescue organizations. If you use a groomer or pet sitter, add them to this list.
Let the Search Begin
Start by calling the county shelter or humane society. They will tell you if your dog was picked up, dropped off, or reported as found. If the answer is no, be sure to leave your contact information and a description so they can call you if your dog turns up.
Air out your dirty laundry! Hang dirty laundry outside on a rope, tree, or anywhere the wind blows. The smell will help your dog find his way home. Believe me, it works! Dogs can smell your scent up to 12 miles away.
Social media is your friend! Get on Facebook and join local groups for lost and found pets. Create a post that includes your dog’s pictures, your town, and the last seen location at the very top of your post. If medically frail, include that in all CAPS. Don’t forget to include your contact information and submit your post. Scroll through the posts in case someone has listed your dog as FOUND. Repeat this process on the social media site Nextdoor – you can post directly in the lost and found boards since it’s zip-code specific.
Finally, you can use the old-fashioned method of printed fliers, just include a picture, your dog’s description, and your number on the bottom of the page. Pre-cut tabs with your number help even more. Post these at local parks, convenience stores, gas stations, and church community boards.
If your dog has been missing for longer than 24 hours, there are two free websites that help you search. They will list your ad on their website and send state and nationwide alerts through email and social media. Two we frequently use are PawBoost.com andPetFBI.org – the latter is a volunteer-run not-for-profit and will fax/email all local vet hospitals, shelters, groomers, and pet helpers in your area.
My top preventative choice is to invest in a basic GPS tracker that doesn’t require a monthly subscription. It takes literally seconds to find your dog, and you can easily follow them around town. It saves a lot of time, work, money, and heartache. We have twelve dogs, two of which could escape Alcatraz, so these devices are truly lifesaving for dogs like them.