Dog Search Advice

What should you do if your dog goes missing?

This page outlines a few simple steps you can take to help search for your missing dog.

If possible you should not leave the location from which your dog went missing, the point of escape, whether this is on a walk or from home. Most dogs stay around for a while and generally circle the area. Most people start searching for their dogs straight away so when the dog returns to the point it went missing nobody is there to get them.

Eventually the circles your dog travels get bigger; this is when a ‘stakeout’ is required. Ask someone to bring you a comfortable chair, food, drink and clothes/blankets depending on the time of year – this is so the owner is able to stay in the area for as long as possible. Statistics show that most dogs come back within the first 24-48 hours. An alternative to sitting outside is sitting in a car, but be mindful that you need to be as close to point of escape as possible.

If the dog escapes from home, keep gates open and offer food. In the best case use a motion triggered camera so you can check who is actually taking the food during the night.

It is important to note that most dogs usually show up again during late evening or very early morning hours, for example between 10pm and 1am and again between 4am and 6am.

Be sure not to fill the food bowl with a large amount of food but leave only a small amount. The dog should get more of an appetite and become curious if the bowl will be filled again next time it comes back. If you offer too much food the dog may disappear again for a few days until it becomes hungry again.

It is important that people with a connection to the dog do NOT run around looking for them, especially not owners. The dog will search for familiar scents in order to find their way back, if lots of familiar scents lead in all different directions this will confuse the dog. Owners should stay wherever they lost their dog – strangers can go searching because the dog won’t mind the scent of people that they are not related to it.

Most dogs – not only the ones from rescue organisations – do not recognise their owner immediately when they show up. So it is very important that if you see your dog you turn away – DO NOT CALL THEM – make yourself small. BE PATIENT, in case your dog comes a bit closer but again freezes, best to turn and walk in the opposite direction away from the dog. Maybe leave some very high tasty treats on the way, so the dog may become curious. These actions are also important for anybody who is helping you search.

This is often very difficult for people – but dogs read our body language much more than anything else. EVERYBODY who is stressed and worried about their lost dog will exhibit lots of anxiety and stress in their body language. Also dogs can smell adrenalin and even our voice changes completely if we are calling whilst stressed. This combination of an unfamiliar voice, stressed smell and strange body language keeps dogs away. In the worst case they will run away again, in the best case they will recognise you after 10-30 minutes.

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If you do not know the direction in which your dog has run, you can set scent trails to help your dog find their way back to you.

Lost Dog: Laying scent trails back home

Need:

  • Scent article of the owner e.g. t-shirt that has been worn – but worn BEFORE the dog went missing; otherwise it will contain adrenalin which the dog will avoid. If no worn clothes are available, use a pillowcase.
  • If the dog is new to the owner (a few days), if possible get a scent article from the previous owner.
  • Someone to drive the owner/person (trail layer) laying the scent trail.
  • String to attach the scent article to the trail layer so it can be dragged along the ground.

Procedure:

  • Using the house as the centre point, the trail layer is driven away from the house and dropped off
  • The trail layer attaches the scent article to their e.g. belt and walks back towards the house whilst dragging the scent article behind them along the ground
  • This process is repeated, each time starting the scent trail from a different direction. Eventually laying trails in all directions back towards the house.

If the dog has run away from home, these trails should be set in the area and lead the dog back as close as possible to the house/in the garden – with a food bowl.

If the dog has gone missing whilst out on a walk, far away from home, the trails should be set leading the dog back to point of escape – there should also be a partially filled food bowl here as well. If a motion triggered camera is available, set one up. This food bowl should be filled twice a day, in the early morning and evening. If it takes a while for the dog to gain trust again, it should learn that this food bowl can be relied upon.

If no scent article is available, a ‘soup’ can be made by boiling meat/sausage/fish in water. When cooled, put the soup into a large plastic bottle with 2-3 holes in the cap. Whilst laying the trail you need to place a few drops of ‘soup’ every few steps – a lot at the start of each trail to attract the dog and more at points where the trail becomes ‘difficult’, e.g. goes around a corner or crosses a road etc.

The DIRECTION of the trail is VITAL – it must lead back towards the home or point of escape. Dogs have the ability to smell the age of a trail. They will always follow scents from the oldest to the newest i.e. from the start of trail laid earlier to the end of the trail laid later. Trails should always lead towards the point of escape NOT away from it.

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If there are no sightings distribute as many leaflets as possible in the area. Use any forms of publicity/social media e.g. Facebook, lost dog pages etc. Contact local rescue centres, vets, taxi companies, council workers, postal workers etc. to keep a look out for your dog. A new sighting is necessary to have a focal point from which to repeat the previously described actions.

This advice is based on the knowledge and experience of Professional Pettrailers in Austria.