Preventing Your Puppy from Getting Lost

Although any dog can become lost at any time, sticking around home is especially hard for a puppy or a newly adopted dog to do. After all, he's still not sure where "home" is, so he may take off for who-knows-where — at high speed.

The best time to protect your dog — old or new, young or not — is before he gets out. Here's a checklist of things to do, just in case:

  • Check your fences and gates. Are there loose or missing boards or enticing gaps at the baseline that could be opened up with a little digging? Are latches secure, with locks in place? Fix them all. If you have children going in and out all the time, invest in a device that pulls the gate closed automatically.

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    A special summertime hazard in the United States is the Fourth of July. The noise of fireworks can put pets in a panic, so the best you can do is go for a bowl of cool water and complete confinement in a crate, in the house, or in the garage, until the festivities are over. The same goes for New Year's Eve or any other event when noisemaking is the norm.

  • Check your dog. Don't waste time before getting him a license and an ID tag. If your pet ends up in the shelter, a license buys him extra time. And if someone finds him when the shelter's closed, an ID tag with your phone number speeds up the reunion.

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    Instead of your pet's name and your address on the ID tag, use the word "REWARD" and as many phone numbers as you can fit. Also recommended: A 24-hour tracking service such as 1-800-HELP4PETS, which will not only reunite you with your dog if she becomes lost, but will also arrange for boarding or medical care if you cannot be immediately found.

  • Plan for the worst. Keep current, clear pictures of your pets on hand — you need them to throw together a flyer in an emergency. If you lose your pet, put flyers everywhere you can and place a lost ad in the newspaper right away — don't waste precious time hoping your pet will wander home. Describe your dog as the general public would see him: To most people, a Belgian Tervuren looks like a Collie-Shepherd cross, and a Flat-Coated Retriever looks like a long-haired black Lab. So say that, too.

  • Scan the neighborhood, watch found ads, and check the shelters every other day in person. Don't give up too soon — pets have been located weeks after their disappearance.

If you've never lost a pet, being vigilant is sometimes tough — but you must. Make sure that ID tags stay current and readable, and keep an eye on those gates. In this game, you make your own luck.

Microchipping your pup

Okay, so this sounds like something out of a cheap science-fiction movie circa The Stepford Wives, but inserting microchips into dogs has been gaining popularity for about ten years.

The microchip is no bigger than a grain of rice, which your veterinarian imbeds under the skin over your pet's shoulder blades using a large needle. Don't worry: One yip is about all you'll hear, and then it's done! After that, the microchip provides permanent identification for your pet. It costs anything from $20 to $50 to have your pet chipped, but it's a good investment for your dog's safety.

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If you're going to have your canine companion microchipped, find out what chip scanners are used at the shelters in your area, and make sure your pet is implanted with a chip that can be read using that brand of scanner. You also should register your pet with AKC Companion Animal Recovery — 800-252-7894 — which offers 24-hour match-up service, 365 days a year. Although the service was set-up in conjunction with one manufacturer, you can register the number of whatever chip you use. If someone calls to report your pet has been found, the service will release your number so you can be reunited quickly.

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