The lure of the world beyond the backyard is too strong for some dogs, and they will take a tour of the neighborhood if the gate is left unlatched or if the fence is low enough to be jumped. Even a dog being walked off-leash can run out of your sight after something irresistible. Most dogs will return on their own, or, if properly identified, with someone's help. But if your dog isn't familiar with his surroundings - especially in new territory - he might have trouble finding his way back, or could become injured on the journey home, wander into a garage and become trapped, become disoriented and stray even farther away, or be taken to an animal shelter. Some dogs are even stolen - sometimes right out of their backyard. Ensuring that your dog can be easily identified is your best chance of getting him back. Most cities have strict laws about keeping collars and ID tags on all dogs. The best type of collar is one of sturdy nylon or leather and should fit snugly, but you should always be able to get two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck.
When Your Dog is Missing
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Whether you choose plastic or engraved metal, a wide range of ID tags is available to go on the collar, along with the rabies vaccination tag and dog license. Although it may seem natural to include your dog's name on the ID tag, this may make it easier for thieves to coax him away.
Dog Tag Essential Information
- Name and address
- One or two reliable telephone numbers with answering machines
- A line that reads: "Reward for return"
When you're traveling with your dog, buy replaceable key tags and list your name and a number where you can be reached at each leg of your tour.
If you're considering a more permanent means of identifying your dog (since collars can come off or be removed by thieves), you can choose tattoos or microchips. Relatively painless, a tattoo can be done by your vet while your dog is under anesthesia. Or, your vet can implant a microchip into your dog's skin by injecting it between his shoulder blades. Many shelters, vets and even medical labs will check for tattoos and run a scanner over unidentified dogs to check for a microchip, then contact the national registry where your dog's number is on file. Since microchips have been introduced, shelters have been able to return a significantly higher number of dogs to their owners than they'd been able to through collars alone. Of course, sometimes the tattoo can't be easily read, the scanner -- if there is one at all -- may not be compatible with the microchip, or your dog may be found by a person unfamiliar with these systems, who simply wants to phone the owner. Err on the side of caution: Always keep a collar on your dog if he's outside or if there's a chance he might slip out of the house.
Recent photos of your dog will further ensure that you can always identify him. Include some shots that clearly show his face, some that show his entire body, and some that focus on his identifying features. You may think you'd always be able to recognize him, but a scared or disturbed dog can take on a whole different look and fool both you and any animal shelter worker to whom you're describing him.
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Your dog may wander away from you in the park, but if he doesn't return within a few minutes, especially after you've called his name, stay in one place so he can find his way back to you. If a friend is with you, have him search the immediate area while you wait for your dog to return, then have your friend broaden his search, if necessary. If there is no sign of your dog after an hour or two, assume that he is lost or has been stolen. Your immediate priority should be to call your vet and local pound and shelters to report your dog as missing, then bring them a picture and visit daily to check for him. Post "Lost" signs (ideally with a picture and mention of a reward) at the vet clinic, shelter, pet stores and around your area. Ask your neighbors to watch out for your dog.