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10 Tips for Bringing a Runaway Dog Home Safely

Staying calm and carrying high-value treats are just two of the lessons I've learned in my years as a dog sitter.

Wendy Newell  |  Nov 10th 2014


I’m a dog sitter. Last fall, I came home from an evening out with two of my friends. I opened the back door, and a dog I had been taking care of without incident, Miles, took one look at the strangers behind me and bolted. It was an almost 24-hour ordeal of non-stop searching before the pup was found and scooped up into my arms.

Asscher and runaway Miles pose on a hiking trail. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

Asscher and runaway Miles pose on a hiking trail. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

If you have a dog, there’s a good chance the pup will get loose at some point. When this happens, you want to be ready to act quickly. Here are 10 tips based on my experience chasing runaway dogs.

1. Stay calm

When you realize your dog has bolted, panic sets in. Your pulse races, your mind starts going a zillion miles an hour, and you want to puke. Take a moment to compose yourself. Actions you take while in panic mode may make the situation worse. The No. 1 rule is: Stay calm.

Damsel demonstrates that small dogs can run fast, too!

Damsel demonstrates that small dogs can run fast, too!

2. Don’t run

If your dog is still in sight, don’t run toward him. Running toward a dog will scare and cause him to bolt in the other direction, or it will look like play and cause him to run in the other direction. Either way, the dog is going the wrong way: away from you. In a foot race between you and your dog, the dog will win.

3. Open up

Open your yard gates and any house doors leading inside. Many times, a dog will come home on her own after she has gotten tired of exploring.

Luna's red martingale collar brings out her spots!

Luna’s red martingale collar brings out her spots!

4. Pull out your dog’s stuff  

Grab his bed, favorite toys, and anything else he likes and knows. Stick the items outside where he will see and smell them.

5. Grab treats

Arm yourself with high-value treats. I’m talking about the chicken you just cooked for dinner or even a cheeseburger. Load up your pockets and put a pile near the dog bed you’ve put outside.

Monkey models her walking harness.

Monkey models her walking harness.

6. Hang signs 

If your dog is out of sight and you aren’t sure where she might be headed, get “Lost Dog” signs up as soon as possible. The signs should have a large color photo of your dog along with her name and your phone number. Add a line that asks anyone who sees the dog to not approach but to call you. You don’t want a stranger chasing your dog and scaring her even more. It also never hurts to add a reward if you can swing it.

Don’t stop at signs alone. Post the same photo and information to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, making sure to adjust privacy settings if necessary so everyone can see and share the information. Also, certain local groups and communities have set up Facebook pages for lost animals. Find the ones near you, post to their page, and message them directly so the page curator can post the info so it shows up on the page feed.

Facebook is your friend when looking for a runaway dog.

Facebook is your friend when looking for a runaway dog.

Craigslist is another source that rescuers often check. There are websites that offer an Amber Alert-type service for lost pets, too, such as FindToto.com and HelpingLostPets.com. For a fee, they will call people in the area where your dog was last seen.

During your search, keep your cell phone handy. If the number listed on your dog’s tags and in the lost-dog bulletins is your home phone, have someone stay within earshot.

7. Grab friends and check shelters

The more folks out there helping you hunt, the better chance you have of spotting your runaway dog. Know ahead of time what shelters service your area and have their numbers handy.

8. Have your pup come to you

Chippy and me.

Chippy and me.

Once you have eyes on your dog, get her to come to you. For some, this is as easy as calling. It’s never been that easy for me. Just yesterday, I had a pup slip out of a collar in the parking lot near a trailhead. He started to run into the street whenever I got close. So I turned toward the trail and ran up it, clapping and calling the dog in a high, happy voice, “Let’s go, Chippy. Come on, Chippy.”

When Chippy finally got close, I sat on the ground so I wouldn’t be as intimidating. He was still showing signs of fear, so I laid down right there in the middle of the trail. That made him feel safe enough to come close and check out what my deal was. If you face this scenario, try sitting still, head and eyes down, with those high-value treats in your hand.

BFF's Dragon and Clover take a break from hiking in their harnesses and sitter tags.

BFF’s Dragon and Clover take a break from hiking in their harnesses and sitter tags.

9. Use a slip leash

A nylon leash makes a great slip leash. Put the end with the clasp through the handle and then hold onto the end with the clasp. The loop created can now be easily slipped over a dog’s head, or you can lure your dog through the loop with a treat. If the pup comes to you, it is easier and safer to capture him with this device than to grab him. Grabbing a scared dog will most likely result in you getting a bruised and swollen hand from a bite.

10. Be patient and stay positive

It has taken me anywhere from a few minutes to almost 24 hours to get a pup back safely. It’s hard to not think of dark and unhappy conclusions while you are trying to get a dog back, but try not to. It will just make you panic. You remember what the No. 1 rule is, right? Stay calm!

I hope you find this information helpful — and never have to use it!

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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.