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The dog was chased by the person who lost her, a boy eager for the reward money, a nice lady trying to help, and lastly, a concerned parent who yelled while running her out of his yard. Each chase reinforces a growing perception that she needs to avoid ALL humans. Today, a territorial dog was loose, so she had to take a different, difficult, and longer route to a water source. Now wary of everyone and everything, the lost dog runs from the slightest attention given to her.


Dogs wander primarily in residential areas where water, food, and shelter are easier to find. They can settle in an area for weeks, months, or years, if their basic needs are met.
Attracted by the scent of farm animals, dogs might find access to food, water, and hay bedding. They sometimes want to play with friendly dogs that are fenced in, chained, or running loose. Yards most visited provide shelter or food, are animal/nature friendly, or remind them of home.

Water can be found at streams, lakes, ponds, puddles, pet bowls, water gardens, kiddie pools. They may eat food litter, rodents, birds, snakes, birdseed, acorns, manure, insects, and roadkill. With a little luck, dogs find bowls of kibble left outside by residents for their own pets.
In a “colony” or alone, feral cats are usually fed daily by individuals in same aromatic spot.

It’s a “no-no,” but people regularly put food out for foxes, raccoons, and other wildlife.
Certain birds (seagulls, crows, bluejays) are exceptionally vocal when they see bits of food. Dogs roam streets that are ready for “rubbish night” to check out all the promising odors. Check streets before and after pickup to look for ripped bags or excessive trash on curbsides.

Dogs need protective shelters appropriate for the weather conditions. Finding shade on a hot day or dry spot in a downpour is easier than bunkering in for a snowstorm. Small dogs can fit in a lot of places, but choices are limited for big dogs. A “busy” yard provides numerous shelters for most any size dog: doghouses, decks, spare/junk autos, evergreen trees, trailers, debris piles, carports, sheds, and open barns. Seasonal, vacation, for sale, unfinished – vacant homes are great places to hide – no one home. Powdery snow gets so cold in sub-zero temps that dogs may find it painful to walk on and must search for ground that doesn’t hurt or a shelter so they can lay down and get off their feet.

OK…what’s the fastest way to get to everything and not be noticed by residents or their dogs? Shortcuts are fast, convenient, used frequently, and include power line access roads, trails, golf courses, parking lots, gravel pits, pastures, recreational fields, parks, and cemeteries.
Dogs favor homes next to forests on dead end streets, cul de sacs, and the rear of subdivisions. One backyard leads to the yard of a home on the next street over – both travel & escape routes. Dogs take temporary refuge in woods behind yards providing shelter, food, or new dog friends. They don’t normally go deep into forests unless chasing a deer, rabbit, or some other animal. They follow man-made trails or barely visible, narrow paths used by wild inhabitants in the area. Dogs often travel “lines” created by roads, fences, railroad tracks, shrubs, and stone walls.


Take the dog’s canine friend for a walk and get him to bark – HAPPY! A social butterfly dog might be more easily enticed to come out of hiding to join the walk or play. He may not respond to unfamiliar dogs unless he loves to party with everyone. Lost dogs are often attracted to other dogs, but socializing is now done solely at their own discretion (or not done at all).
Note – residents may think you’ve found the lost dog if walking one similar in looks.



For all beds (trap, kennel, cardboard box, etc) line with a blanket that will show hairs the dog most sheds. Check dark blankets for light hair and light blankets for dark hair & paw prints. Many a dog has not gone into a trap that has a food bowl inside. Once the food was moved well outside the trap, these dogs went right inside to inspect scent items and were quickly trapped.

I believe many are simply suspicious of the wire box with food, but scent items alone are okay.

Dogs may not be comfortable crouching to enter a trap. It’s not the same as crawling under the deck or shrub in your own yard. If the trap has a rear access, you can make a new entrance that’s less intimidating for the dog and/or temporarily use the trap as a shelter. If you plan to set the trap to catch, it’s better to get the dog used to going in the main entry. In that case, tie the door to stay securely in the up position, even if the dog nudges it. You untie and reset to trap once the dog learns to clear the overhang. To encourage a dog to be less wary, train it to walk through the trap. Tie up the front door and remove the rear one, then lay a trail of food bits into the cage entry and back out the rear. When the dog is comfortable walking through the cage “taking bait”, then put the rear door back on and set the trap to catch. The dog should now accept the one-way entry since its recent experience was safe and the food rewards so tasty.

If possible, always provide a wide-open path to approach, get near, and go inside the trap. Don’t expect a dog to dig, crawl through deep snow, or struggle with troublesome ground.

Bait stored in plastic bags is easy to carry, heat/defrost. Hotdog pieces make a great bait. Small meatballs in red sauce are messy but tasty. Pup-A-Roni also good. Slices of cheese or lunch meats are okay until you try tossing bits to a dog that’s 40’ away. It’s easy to forget bait so keep a stash of extra kitty treats, jerky, and easy open tubs of dog food (Cesar) in the car. Bring anything normally used for positive training purposes, like clickers or dog whistles.
Keep extra toys in car: squeakies, tennis balls, small stuffed animals, fetch sticks, or Frisbees.
A dog can steal another dog’s toys out of curiosity, even if you never gave him any at home. Life-sized stuffed animals in shapes of small dogs, cats, or rabbits can draw a pet to a specific spot or directly into a cage trap. These can work well if your dog loves to chase cats or rabbits. Put a brightly colored toy (no scent) as a “test” where your dog (hopefully not another) will see it. Use a toy easily carried – even in a small dog’s mouth – wildlife shouldn’t be interested. If picked up but dropped nearby, you’ve got a direction of travel. If it disappears, ask residents if you can spot check yards, especially those known to be used previously for shelter, food, or travel.

Food left at a site is gone and you’re not sure what ate it. Food left after dark and gone by morning can be taken by wild or domestics, including the dog. Monitor more closely. Food that disappears during the day is likely eaten by local pets or your dog. Squirrels will steal dry kibble by day and mice at night. Dust the ground with powdered chalk or fine ashes to help identify the food bandit by its prints. Watch to see what shows up from a vehicle parked at a distance, from behind a window in a home, or camouflaged tent. Dogs learn there’s a “catch” to free food, and it’s usually human. They often won’t come out until you’ve disappeared for quite a long while.
If you’re very quiet, the dog might come out because she thinks you’ve left. Night vision goggles and/or “scout cameras” help monitor sites and traps. Don’t draw conclusions because a dog doesn’t show up on a scout cam. I set traps without a cam pic proving the dog was around and never waited for “pics” to set up. I relied on sightings & instincts. Love cams, don’t own one yet.


Traps can be set to trip using a stick to prop up the door. Tie a sturdy line near the bottom of the stick and run it out to a well-hidden spot. Keep it taut on the ground or suspended in the air where the dog can’t run into it. Lines only work for a set distance, so test to ensure you’ve got it right. Once the animal goes inside, you pull the line hard and fast to yank the stick out of place. The door comes down, the dog is trapped – and you can breathe again. The stick method can be used to catch “on demand” – l got 2 chicks AND mother hen this way. The basic idea of using sturdy line to close a “trap” can be adapted for a variety of doors and gates to enclosed structures or outside pens. For enclosures, the more bait and toys placed far past the entry door or gate, the better. Huey the Sheltie was caught after almost three months out, using an enclosed kennel run with no less than 13 items to entice her into the pen. Very cautious dog.


Certain dogs go “feral” (instinctive wild animal behavior) and adapt more readily than others. Lacking familiar territory, family, or things to “defend,” lost dogs don’t bark as much, if at all. Many will not respond as they would under normal circumstances in familiar surroundings.
The most friendly, pampered pet can be frightened and run away from her beloved humans. This pet may later go up to a stranger who offers food or kind words at the right place and time. A dog might shun adult family members but go to children she knows and loves to play with. Children on a search must be old enough to stay calm and not yell if they see their dog.

Dogs are generally more responsive to women who instinctively treat them like a small child. Dogs need a name to recognize as their own, so they know when you’re talking to them.
If recently given a new name, the dog might respond better to the old name.
Do give the lost dog a name and use it kindly as if you’re talking to a sensitive child. Be sweet. People think the dog’s been mistreated – she won’t come out of hiding for her family.

People think the dog is rather stupid because he won’t go up to someone to be “saved”. Residents are quick to assume the dog has most likely been victimized by local predators. Predators, like coyotes, are a threat, but I’d worry more about the dog getting hit by a car. Dogs that catch scent of predators often sense “trouble” and head in the opposite direction. Residents quickly assume a dog can’t survive on its own in bad weather. Sadly, some can’t. They do try to find shelter from adverse weather conditions, and many succeed quite well. Dogs of all sizes have survived predators and the worst that mother nature can throw at us.


Searchers should meet in a parking lot and not congregate noisily at any sighting location. Organize and have a game plan so everyone knows “who to call and what to do” and when.
A savvy dog knows it’s the object of a “hunt” and will outrun, outsmart, and outmaneuver you.
If you do see the dog, she could prove hard to catch, even for professionals with experience. Time is critical and a quick response is best – use resources to go door to door with fliers ASAP. Every searcher vehicle should have a “lost dog” sign AND flier taped to top left rear window.
A sign identifies you to all the residents as a searcher, not a thief casing the neighborhood.
Give the police a courtesy call to inform them of your group’s purpose and location.
If working out of town or state, keep a contact list for local police, ACOs, and emergency vets.


When dogs are lost due to an auto accident, some search for the family vehicle because it carries recognizable scents (in varying intensity), including their own and favorite human/s.
Find a safe place to start a trail of food and scent markers leading away from the accident scene to a spot where there’s food, water, and you’ve set up a crate for shelter or a box trap to catch.



While delivering fliers, glance around to look for features a dog might find attractive. This home has a deck to hide under, that one feeds a cat outside, and a very friendly Beagle lives there. Discreetly point out possibilities to the homeowner and mention the neighbor’s open hay barn. Give residents a good reason to look out the window, be more observant, and spot your dog. Mention local pets can get agitated if a dog is wandering around their yard or the neighbor’s. Dogs can bark incessantly, and cats will sit on windowsills to watch an animal in the yard. Residents might ask if they should leave food outside and some will do it without asking you. This can attract wildlife, including predators, and it’s hard to catch a dog that’s finding food at several locations, rather than specific locations you know about. Searches are stressful and some end prematurely due to family or job responsibilities, emotional distress, geographical or physical limitations, or the searcher doesn’t know what else to do. Keep shelters, vets, and rescues updated until you need full closure. Catching an elusive dog can take days, weeks, or months. Don’t dwell on negative issues, concentrate on tactics to outsmart, and catch the dog.


Keep spare clothes in the car, including socks, boots, and gloves, so you don’t have to head home if you get wet/chilled. If cell phone coverage is spotty, use two-way radios, and whistle or boat horn for emergencies. Set your phone to vibrate if the dog is nearby to let you focus.
Learn what wildlife is common. Snakes, bears, cougars, whatever – be prepared not surprised. Wear “hunter orange” during hunting seasons. A dog should wear an orange neck gaiter, scarf, or coat. Large game animals can be aggressive when the rut is on (mating season). Some will actively defend their young against perceived danger (female bears and cow moose). When in bear or moose habitat, wear a bell and talk loudly (Hey Bear, Hey Bear) to help them avoid you. Copperheads are more apt to strike out at anything while in the process of shedding their skins. It’s safer to travel in pairs for many reasons. When alone, you must be able to communicate with others if you get lost or have an accident. Carry a walking stick. One misplaced step and you’re stuck in a marshy, swampy area, or you fall through ice hidden under the snow. “Accidents” are just waiting to happen. Most animals use caution when on unfamiliar ground, you should too.

The dog was seen and now you’re following through snow. Walk beside prints, not on top of them – the dog can double back, and you’ll miss the turn-around prints very easily. Don’t take a dog on searches without good reason. They walk over existing prints and disturb “clean” areas that will show new prints for future tracking. When tracking, walk slowly, listen, and observe. Prints can lead to favored trails or hiding spots. It’s also easy to mistake another animal’s prints for the dog’s. Wild canines track rather consistently in a straight line, like on a mission for food, whereas dogs meander more often to investigate things, and tend to leave “sloppy” prints.
Do prints go under a low branch or into a tight space your dog couldn’t go under or through? Try guiding the dog in a particular direction with markers dropped on a safe, easy, travel route. Alternate dropping bits of bait and cotton balls scented with urine, dog hair, and dust/dander. Never touch remains of an animal with bare hands. Wash hands after working in the woods.
If you need assistance with identification, ask an animal control officer or game warden to help.

Someone says they have your dog. Never meet a stranger alone – bring a friend and meet them at a well-lit police station parking lot, the nearest open animal shelter, or other safe, public place.

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