It’s difficult to articulate the kind of feelings you’ll experience upon noticing that your dog has wandered off or become lost.
Fear. Anxiety. Sorrow. Frustration. Despair.
The list goes on…
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the ordeal is that there’s little you can do at this point. You can drive around the neighborhood, put up signs, and plaster pleas for your pup’s safe return on social media, but these are rarely as helpful as you’d hope.
So, the important thing is to prevent your dog from running away or getting lost in the first place.
Fortunately, that is pretty easy to do. We’ll explain some of the most effective tips and tricks for keeping your canine safe and by your side, despite her occasional desire to wander around the neighborhood or chase after a fleeing squirrel.
You may not be able to employ all of the tips discussed below but do your best to incorporate as many of them as possible. You – and your dog – will be glad you did.
Nine Ways to Keep Your Dog from Getting Lost or Running Away
A million terrible things can happen to an unattended pooch, so try to employ the following tips to keep your pupper safe and sound.
1. Keep your dog leashed anytime you’re in a non-enclosed space.
This tip is pretty basic, but it is unfortunately one a lot of dog owners have problems following. And failure to keep your dog leashed can quickly lead to tragedy.
So, no matter how friendly or well-behaved you think your dog is, keep her on a leash when you’re outdoors (unless you’re in some type of enclosed area, like a dog park). Each year, scads of owners suffer broken hearts that could’ve been prevented by simply keeping their dog on a leash.
Further, keeping your dog leashed will also help prevent injuries and accidents, as well as conflicts with people, stray cats, or other dogs. Besides, you’re legally obligated to keep your dog leashed in many parts of the country.
2. Enclose your yard with a physical fence.
A physical barrier is one of the very best ways to prevent your pet from wandering off.
And for that matter, a fence will also improve your dog’s quality of life, as it will make it easier for you to let her run, jump, and play in the backyard, rather than having to wait for walks.
There are several different kinds of fences you can use, but the best options include chain-link fences, cement or brick fences, and wooden privacy fences. All three have different strengths and weaknesses, so pick one that suits your home, yard, and sense of style, and – most importantly – your canine’s needs.
Chain-link fences are relatively affordable, but athletic dogs may be able to climb or hop over them. Privacy fences are much harder for dogs to climb, but particularly escape-prone pups may be able to gnaw away enough wood to crawl through or under them. Brick or cement fences are the most secure, but they’re also the most expensive.
One other thing: Fences are great for keeping your dog in your yard, but they’re also great for keeping other dogs and dangerous wildlife out of your yard.
3. Use an electronic (“invisible”) fence.
If a physical fence is not possible in your situation, you may want to opt for an “invisible fence.”
Invisible fences consist of an electronic “barrier” and a special collar you fit on your dog. When your dog gets close to the boundary, the collar delivers a small static shock. This typically convinces your dog to stop trying to cross the barrier and return to the center portion of the yard.
There is a bit of training involved with invisible fences (you have to teach your dog where the boundaries are), and some dogs can occasionally get excited enough to just run right across the barrier while simply enduring the shock. Also, they won’t do anything to prevent other dogs, people, or wildlife from entering your property.
But, for some dogs, owners, and situations, they are pretty helpful and work well at keeping Fido safely contained.
Note that some invisible fences require you to dig a trench around your property, into which you’ll place the wire that makes the system work. This can be a bit laborious, though it is usually a one-time deal.
However, there are also portable invisible fences that work via a radio transmitter.
4. Use a long lead when trying to give your pup more room to explore.
We get it – your dog needs to be able to explore and sniff all the exciting things the world has to offer from time to time. But it is hard to do this while keeping your dog leashed.
Fortunately, there is an answer: Use a long lead – like, a really long lead.
You can get dog leashes measuring up to 100 feet in length (although 50 feet is usually plenty to give your dog room to roam). This way, your dog can explore to her heart’s content, while still staying safely tethered to you.
5. Install a tether or trolley system.
One potential option for giving your pooch some room to explore, while still being kept safely inside the boundaries of your yard, is to install a tether or trolley system.
These are essentially leashes that clip to your dog’s collar on one side and some type of semi-permanent anchor on the other.
Tethers (also called tie-outs or tie-downs) are essentially nothing but a leash you attach to a stake in the ground, tree, or your house. They’re pretty affordable and simple to install, but they only provide a relatively small amount of freedom to your pooch.
Trolleys, on the other hand, feature a long, elevated line, which stretches across a significant length of your property. A relatively short lead is then attached to this and your dog. The short lead will slide up and down the elevated line, thereby giving your dog quite a bit of room to stretch her legs.
Unfortunately, tethers and trolleys are not perfect tools. They should not be used for unsupervised dogs, as they can become tangled, which could seriously injure your pooch. Additionally, they won’t protect your dog from people, pets, or wildlife entering your yard.
But these systems are great tools to use while you’re hanging out in the backyard or by the pool, and you want your pupper to be able to blow off some steam in a safe manner. You can even use some of these systems on-the-go, such as during camping trips.
6. Use dog gates to prevent your dog from bolting out the front door.
One of the most common ways dogs end up running free is by lurking by the door and bolting for freedom unexpectedly. One minute, you’re greeting an unexpected guest or signing for a package, and the next, you see a blur of fur flying out the door at warp speed.
To prevent this from happening, you’ll want to do two things:
- Get to know your dog. While some dogs may occasionally surprise you, most dogs who’re inclined to slip through an open door will exhibit this tendency pretty consistently. So, if you have a pooch that’s always on the lookout for an escape route, be prepared when you go to the door.
- Purchase and use a dog gate (or build your own). Dog gates are basically like the baby gates designed to keep toddlers from stumbling down the stairs or getting into trouble. By installing a gate, you can simply cut off access to open doors, thereby thwarting your canine’s escape attempts.
It bears mentioning that dog gates are simply fantastic dog-management tools, so they provide a ton of value.
Trying to keep your overzealous pooch from jumping on your guests? Need to keep your dog away from jumping up on the dinner table? Need to keep your dog in the bathroom while she air dries after her bath?
A dog gate will work in each of these scenarios and countless others.
7. Practice your dog’s recall command regularly.
“Recalling” your dog is essentially the act of calling her over to you – it’s a “come here!” command.
If your dog has a strong recall, she should come back to you from a significant distance, no matter what kinds of distractions are around.
Now, you should never rely solely on a recall command. Even the best-behaved and most strongly attached doggos will occasionally fail at this task, and you don’t want to bet your dog’s life or safety on her willingness to execute the command at all times.
But a strong recall provides some extra insurance against tragedy if her leash breaks, she bolts out the door unexpectedly, or any number of other problems occurs. So, be sure to teach your dog to come to you when called and practice the skill regularly.
We’ve written an entire how-to article about working on your dog’s recall command, but basically, you’ll want to do the following:
Go to a big, open field, attach her to an extra-long leash (like the one we recommended picking up above), and let her explore. Then, call her to come back to you (use some treats for motivation if necessary). Once she does, hand over some treats and give her lots of praise.
Lather, rinse, and repeat over the course of 10 to 20 minutes and repeat this several times a week to help practice the command.
8. Inspect all leashes and harnesses regularly.
Take it from me – leashes can and do break from time to time.
So, not only do you want to use a high-quality leash that’ll stand up to everything your pup can dish out, you should inspect your dog’s leash regularly. I do so before each and every walk, but a couple of times a week is probably sufficient.
Just look for signs of fraying, weak or cracked hardware, or anything else that is cause for concern.
Ask yourself if you’d bet your pup’s life on the leash. If you wouldn’t do so comfortably, it’s time for a replacement (this is also one of the reasons it never hurts to have two leashes on hand – that way, you won’t be tempted to use one that may not be up to the task).
And, of course, the same thing goes for your dog’s collar or harness. This is especially true for dogs who wear their collar or harness most of the time, as weak spots or damaged areas can easily go unnoticed.
9. Give your pet a dog run or exercise pen.
You’ve probably realized by now that the crux of the whole preventing-your-dog-from-escaping issue is that you need to give your dog time to run around like a goofball outside, while still maintaining some type of control over said goofball.
But leashes (even really long ones), tethers, trolleys, and fences aren’t the only way to do so: You can also set your dog up with an exercise pen or dog run.
These are essentially small fenced areas in which your dog can get some exercise and enjoy a bit of fresh air, while still remaining safe.
“Dog runs” are usually constructed on-site and pretty permanent, while “exercise pens” are more commonly purchased and portable, but don’t get bogged down in the language – they both accomplish the same goal.
Of course, you’ll have much more flexibility when designing and constructing your own dog run than you will when buying an exercise pen. But on the other hand, it’s much easier to just buy a pre-built pen than it is to construct a dog run from the ground up.
Things That’ll Help You Track Down Your Pet If She Does Escape
Even if you follow all of the tips discussed thus far, crazy things can happen. Dogs dig under fences, front doors get left open, and leashes occasionally break.
But there are several things you can do that will help facilitate a happy owner-dog reunion in case the unthinkable happens. These won’t help prevent escapes, but they will help you track down your pooch if she does run off.
Make Sure Your Dog Is Always Wearing Identification Tags
What’s the first thing you do when an ownerless dog runs up to you on the street to say hello?
Well, you probably pet her and start doling out the scritches, but right after that, you’ll check for an ID tag. And that’s exactly what someone else will do if they encounter your dog running around by herself.
ID tags are relatively low-tech, but they get the job done and will help a good Samaritan reunite you with your pooch if she runs off.
ID tags are inexpensive, they’re easy to clip on to your dog’s harness or collar, and usually last a long time. Just be sure that you put your current contact info on them (we always recommend providing multiple methods, such as a phone number and an email address) so it’s easy for someone to track you down.
Note that some ID tags utilize a QR code. This means that all someone needs to do is scan your dog’s tag with their phone, and it’ll automatically bring up a website that’ll allow them to find you.
Have Your Vet Install a Microchip Implant
Microchip implants are tiny little electronic doodads that your vet can install under your pet’s skin. It’s a pretty simple procedure that won’t cause your dog much discomfort (it’s essentially akin to getting an injection), and it could save her life if she ever runs away.
Microchip implants work by storing a unique number. This number can be read with a special device, which most vets and shelters (as well as some pet stores) have on hand.
The chip’s number matches up with your contact information via a database, and it’ll allow the vet or shelter to contact you and get your dog back in your arms.
Use a GPS Dog Tracker
Microchip implants and ID tags are very important tools for helping reunite lost dogs and owners, but they’re passive – they don’t provide you with any tangible way to track down your lost pet.
But that’s exactly what GPS dog trackers do — they’re basically fancy dog tags that attach to your dog’s collar or harness.
But instead of just storing contact info, a GPS tracker produces a signal you can track with your cellphone (or, in some cases, a hand-held GPS unit).
This means you won’t have to simply sit by the phone and wait, while driving yourself crazy with worry. You can just open up the appropriate app on your phone and see an icon of your dog on a map. Hop in the car, drive to that spot, and you can pick up your pooch.
GPS trackers aren’t infallible, and they won’t keep your dog safe while she’s out exploring in unsupervised fashion. But they can mean the difference between finding your pet and never seeing her again.
Foster a Good Relationship between Your Dog and Your Neighbors
One of the best ways you can help ensure a happy reunion with your dog is to foster a positive relationship with some of your neighbors (especially that one guy, who’s always sitting on his porch watching the neighborhood).
This effectively turns your two eyes into dozens, and it significantly increases the chances that somebody will spot your pooch. And if your dog has already established a good relationship with the folks on your block, she will likely go on up and say hello, which will give your neighbor a chance to grab her and give you a call.
So, take some time to introduce your four-footer to the two-footers in your neighborhood. Make sure everyone has your phone number or email address, and that they know what to do if they see Coco running loose.
Just remember that not everyone is comfortable with dogs, so you’ll want to limit introductions to those neighbors who are floof-friendly.
Reach Out to Local Shelters, Vet Offices, Animal Control and “Lost Dog” Websites
Lost or escaped dogs often end up at a local vet office, shelter, or similar establishment. After all, that’s probably where you’d take a dog you found (assuming it didn’t have an ID tag).
So, be sure to contact every applicable business and government agency in your area. They may not all be able to help, but there’s no harm in trying, and the wider you cast your net, the more likely you are to find your pooch.
There are also a variety of dog-finding websites and services you can use to help track down your pet.
They all work in different ways and offer different resources you can bring to bear, so be sure to work through several of them while trying to find your pet. Just note that some may charge fees to use their services.
It never hurts to look for these types of sites and services in your specific geographic area, but the following operate nationwide:
We wish there was a magic solution we could share that would eliminate any chance of your dog escaping or running away. But there’s no completely effective tip or trick that always works.
So, just try to be mindful of your dog’s safety and employ the strategies we’ve discussed that make sense for your situation. With some effort on your part and a bit of luck, you’ll be able to keep your pooch safe, sound, and by your side for years.
Have you ever had a pet run away or get lost? Were you able to find her? We’d love to hear about your experiences — especially if they feature a happy ending!