Category Archives: Shy Lost Dog Series

Catching a Shy Elusive Dog – Part 1 in a Series

Toby, the Australian Shepherd,  was a shy dog. Not only was he wary of strangers, but he had been lost from a strange location (a family member’s house) during the week of the 4th of July. The family was prepared to keep him in the house during the community fireworks display; but a neighborhood party erratically shooting off fireworks two days before the big day was unexpected. Toby bolted and was lost.

Toby had four strikes against him. He had four out of the five risk factors that will make him an elusive dog:

  1. a shy demeanor
  2. a breed that tends to get frightened easily and goes into “survival” mode
  3. lost from an unfamiliar location
  4.  frightened by a stressful situation

Pair this with the usual response of owners who in a panic tend to do all the wrong things to catch  their dog; and the story could have had a sad ending.

Fortunately it did not. The family followed good advice and were successfully able to recover Toby safely. This next series of articles is going to focus on techniques for recovering a shy dog, and/or those dogs lost from a stressful situation or an unfamiliar location. These techniques are different than those you would employ for a friendly dog lost from an opportunistic situation – and we’ll address those in a future series.

But, in preparation for the 4th of July, let’s get started on the shy dog series. We know it will be our busiest week of the year. Thank you for helping us by sharing this information with anyone you know who may have lost their dog. Part 2

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

Catching Toby, Tips for Capturing the Elusive Dog – Part 2 of a Series

Toby, a shy dog,  bolts from the sound of fireworks and panic ensues. EVERYBODY wants to help – a good thing.  Or is it? One of the first hurdles that the owner of a shy, lost dog must do is to calm down and gain control of the situation. He or she must also be prepared to educate all of the well-meaning people who want to help, but in their eagerness may do exactly the wrong things. Their actions may  prolong the search and/or send Toby right into the path of disaster.

We have written a handout called Five Things To Do If You Lose Your Dog that will be helpful. The very first thing that you should do is put Toby’s bed, some food and water and an article of the owner’s clothing (a dirty sock or T-shirt) at the spot where Toby was last seen.  Putting out Toby’s favorite toy is also a good idea. Lost dogs return by their sense of smell which is hundreds of times better than humans.

Even though it may look like Toby took off like a rocket, dogs lost from stressful situations or unfamiliar locations often do not go very far. They bolt, and then hide. They may remain in hiding for several days or they may attempt to return to the location they went missing from as soon as it is quiet.  Make sure that  the location is a quiet, inviting place for them to return to. Don’t allow people to congregate there because slamming doors, unfamiliar voices and strange smells will not entice the shy lost dog to come back.

Every time a well-meaning person tries to call, whistle or approach Toby, they will drive him further away. Toby may stop, turn back and look, and then trot off again. He will soon be even further away, lost and confused.

A  shy,  lost dog is like a small child lost in a department store that is scared and takes refuge under a rack of clothing, despite their mother or store employees walking right by. Similarly,   a lost dog will hunker down and hide, waiting for it to get quiet before creeping back out and returning home or seeking food and water. Unless a dog is very old, very young or injured, it is usually not wise to physically look for them. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack and the lost dog will abandon his hiding spot and bolt again, long before the searchers come across him. The owners must completely shift their thought process from “searching” for Toby to “luring” him back to where he was lost from.

Unfortunately, friends and family will want to “search” for the dog. Exactly the wrong thing to do. This additional pressure on the dog will send him further and further afield. The greatest risk by far to a shy lost dog is that he will be pursued by well-meaning people into traffic and be struck by a car. If you live in a rural area, don’t allow friends or family to look for your dog on ATV’s or horseback. This again, will only serve to drive him out of the area.

Shy lost dogs that are allowed to settle and regroup without the pressure of being pursued will make wise choices. They will settle into a predictable pattern of behavior, avoid busy roadways, and can survive indefinitely. They may very possibly return on their own.

Shy lost dogs that are continually pressured by overzealous searchers will make poor choices. They may bolt into traffic, or into the path of a train, or fall through thin ice in the spring. These are the three leading causes of death of our recovered, but deceased lost dogs.

So take a deep breath, put that food, water, bed and familiar scented article out and we’ll continue with the next steps,  in the third installment of the series.  Part 3

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of  successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

Rewards are a bad idea when trying to catch the elusive dog… Part 3 of a series

Toby bolted from the sound of fireworks. But you have it all under control. You haven’t allowed your friends and family to “search” for Toby. There will be lots of ways they can help soon. Instead, you have stayed calm and placed Toby’s bed, food, water and familiar scented articles out for him. If he is not pursued, there is a very high likelihood that he might return on his own.

BUT, you don’t want to count on that, so you need to be preparing the next steps: Steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Five Things to Do If You Have Lost Your Dog. This is where your family and friends can help: printing flyers, making signs and contacting all of the local authorities to let them know that Toby is missing. Remember to put one sign at the spot he went missing from. Organize one group of people to make phone calls and place internet ads, and another to make signs. Another group will be needed to deliver flyers door to door in the area where he went missing.

Remember, that you need to have ONE point person, preferably the owner to handle all of the incoming phone calls and sightings. Here is a great article on the importance of changing your voicemail message to let everyone know that you are missing your dog.

Now to the subject of rewards. Although you may see many websites and articles that recommend offering a reward for your dog, we highly discourage it with a shy dog or one that has any of the 5 risk factors that will predispose him to being elusive. The reason is pretty simple. People seeking the reward will assume they have to catch Toby to claim the reward. They will approach or pursue Toby driving him even further out of the area. The further you spread the word about a reward, the further he will go. Pretty soon, he will be so far out of your flyering area, that there is a good chance the owner will give up hope out of frustration and despair. Remember, your goal is to LURE Toby back – and that means it has to be easy for him to come back, with no pressure or scary people trying to grab him.

Leave the reward off the flyer, folks! When Toby is safely back home, you may want to reward somebody that has helped you, but don’t risk your dog’s life by offering a reward for a shy or frightened dog.  Part 4

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

Where Could Your Shy Dog Be? Part 4 of a series

Toby has now been missing for three days. The owners are still hopeful that he may return on his own and are very wise to keep the bed, food and familiar scented articles at the point he went missing from.

But they also realize that they can’t control what happens to him while he is lost and he may have been seen and pursued by strangers. But where to start? Where does a shy lost dog want to hang out?

In our experience, lost dogs do not want to live deep in the woods. They prefer to lurk on the edge of civilization, near food sources. In hot weather, they will need a reliable source of water. (In winter, they will eat snow). Toby needs a quiet place to hunker down during the day with an easy path to travel at dusk and dawn, when he is likely to be moving about for food and water.

Concentrate your flyering on places like this:

Houses that back onto wooded areas or parks

Tall grass or marshy areas

Cemeteries

Golf courses

Campgrounds and Picnic areas

Sporting fields

Industrial parks and abandoned factories

Quiet cul de sacs

Decks, old cars, old machinery, boats – especially with overgrown grass

Junkyards

Untidy yards and farm yards

Abandoned barns and sheds

Wooded areas behind restaurants, bars, grocery stores and convenience stores – anywhere food is sold or served

Shy lost dogs will often have sore, raw feet from their initial bolt, or from travelling. They will usually avoid roadways and instead travel on railroad tracks, jogging and biking trails, power lines and along the edges of fields and streams.

Look at satellite imagery using either Google maps or Mapquest and examine a one to five mile radius of where he went missing from. Look for the sorts of places listed above as well as the possible routes of travel, and get flyers and signs in these areas. Again, you aren’t looking for Toby – you are looking for the place that Toby may be hiding or may choose to hide tomorrow. You are going to ALLOW him to have this hiding spot, but you are going to try to make sure he stays in one area. Once you determine where he is, you can implement a strategic plan to catch him.

Stay tuned! With all of your hard work of flyering and signs, you will soon have a sighting and you will need to know how to handle it.  Part 5

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of  successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

I Got A Sighting! Now What? Part 5 of a series

Toby is a shy Australian shepherd, spooked by the July 4th fireworks from a house other than his own. He bolted and has not been seen since. He has four of thefive risk factors that will make him an elusive dog to catch. You have enlisted the help of friends and family, not to “search” for Toby; but to help implement the steps of Five Things To Do If You Have Lost Your Dog.

And it worked! You got your first phone call! Time to rush out there with all your friends and bring Toby home! Right? Wrong…. Not so fast. Make sure you read and understand these steps thoroughly BEFORE you get that first sighting call. Because how you handle sightings can mean the difference between a successful recovery, or the failure to capture Toby safely.

Get yourself a small bound notebook to keep all of your sighting information in. This will be your Sighting Journal and you need to have it handy at all times. You never know when you will need to add to your notes or refer back to them. Just like a good police officer takes notes, so does an effective lost dog owner. Keep a printed map of the area with your sighting journal. Even though you may transfer your map information to Google Maps or Mapquest (more on this later) – it is useful to be able to quickly refer to a map when you are on the phone with a sighting.

Make it EASY for people to call you. Answer the phone on the first or second ring. If it has to go to voicemail – change your voice mail message so that the caller knows they have dialed the right number. Dogs lost from shelters, rescues, vet clinics or boarding facilities should not use their regular office line. This is confusing to callers and when the facility is closed, the call will be several hours old before it is received, wasting valuable time. People with sightings will usually only make one attempt to call you – make sure you get that call!

Be prepared to ask the right questions and get the correct information. Many owners get overly excited and in an attempt to rush to the sighting location, they forget to ask important questions. Make sure you get the name and phone number of the caller so that you can call back if you need more details or have forgotten something.

Think of this as an interview, ask questions and listen. Ask the following:

  1. Where did you see my dog? Ask them to be specific. For example: the dog was going north on Ash Street towards the Bay City Mall. On the other side of the street was Walmart.
  2. When did you see my dog? Again, ask them to be specific.  The dog was seen at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, July 7th.
  3. What was the weather like when you saw my dog?
  4. Can you describe my dog?
  5. What was he doing? Was he trotting, running, darting in and out, sleeping, playing with other dogs, walking, etc?
  6. Was he wearing a collar? What color is the collar? Did he seem okay?
  7. How was he carrying his body and tail? Was he low to the ground – almost like crawling? Was his tail up or down? Was it wagging?
  8. Thank the caller and ask if it is okay if you call them back if you think of something else.

After each sighting – post it on the map. These sightings will help determine where to continue to pass out flyers and post signs; set up a feeding station and trail camera; and possibly set a trap.

You NEVER want to disclose a sighting location publicly – on a Facebook page, in a blog, or to the media. Keep the location confidential because wanna-be heroes, reward seekers, and curious people can derail your plans very fast. Then you will be picking up and starting all over again. It is very frustrating and easier to avoid problems by keeping the details confidential.

Next, you want to visit the location. But again, preparation is everything. Make sure you take everything with you that you need including:

  1. Your sighting journal
  2. Your cell phone (set to vibrate only)
  3. A stack of flyers
  4. Smelly food (small cans or containers of pop-top cat or dog food work great) Do not use dry kibble. It doesn’t have enough odor.
  5. Water jug and a small bowl for water
  6. Familiar scented articles (your dirty sock)
  7. Smelly dog treats that you can put in your pocket
  8. A leash and collar
  9. A trail camera and supplies if you have one already (more on this in a future article)

When you arrive at the location, don’t slam the car door! Stay calm, if your dog feels your nervous energy, he may take off again. Make sure that if you have a helper with you, they also understand how important this is. It is your job as the owner, to keep control of the situation and to keep your emotions in check.

Never have a large group convene at a sighting location. You may need friends to help you deliver more flyers shortly – but have everyone meet at a coffee shop or other location, away from the sighting.

IF you see your dog – possible, but not probable: sit or lay down on the ground by yourself and scatter tasty treats around you and WAIT quietly.  It may take minutes or hours for the dog to creep towards you. You have to be patient. Any sudden moves will very likely send him fleeing again.

If you don’t see your dog – (very likely), don’t waste time driving around looking for him. Open a small can of cat or dog food and put it in a safe location away from the road. In hot weather, also put a bowl of water nearby. Then immediately begin to go door to door and flyer – speaking with everyone. If one person saw your dog, it is very likely that somebody else did also, and you may get some more information. Don’t just put these flyers in the newspaper boxes. Knock on every door and talk to someone.

If no one is home – leave a flyer at the door that you have written on: SEEN! 10 a.m. July 7th “right across the street” or “corner of this block” or “edge of your property”.  This will give the homeowner the sense of urgency that your dog is very close. Or course, your flyers have already been printed with the words, “Do Not Chase or Call” on it, right? And you aren’t offering a reward, right? Both of these steps are very important for the shy dog or the dog that has been lost from a stressful situation because the LAST thing you want people to do is to chase your dog out of the area in their attempt to catch them.

Before you leave a sighting location, check back on the food and water you have left. Has it been touched? If not, you are going to set up a feeding station: a fancy name for a blob of smelly food on the ground and a bowl of water. Try to replenish this twice a day.  If your dog has been in the area once, it is very likely he will return and you want to encourage him to stay in one area. Leave just a small quantity, it should be enough to keep the dog from leaving the area, but don’t overfeed him! You want him to visit the feeding station regularly.

Pat yourself on the back and go home and write more notes. Transfer your sighting to an online map and rest. You have done a good job with your first sighting and now you have a point of reference to start from.

Next, we will talk about monitoring your feeding station effectively.  Part 6

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

Use A Feeding Station to Help Capture a Shy Lost Dog – Part 6 in a Series

Feeding stations are an important tool in the toolbox of shy lost dog recovery. It is a fancy name for a blob of smelly food on the ground, a bowl of water and a way to monitor the two. You can also leave an article of your clothing at the feeding station. Remember, lost dogs are drawn by smell – not by sight or sound. This is why it doesn’t do any good to call or whistle to them, and may in fact drive them farther out of the area.

Shy lost dogs that have gone into survival mode are only concerned with three things:

  1. finding food and water
  2. finding hiding places or shelter in inclement weather
  3. avoiding predators: humans. Yes, this means you, the owner. Don’t take it personally!

This is instinctive for dogs and it gives them the ability to live out indefinitely on their own. Never, ever underestimate your dog’s ability to survive.

The key to a successful recovery is to provide the dog with these three needs. Once these needs have been met, he will start to settle in to a predictable routine. He will start to return to a more domesticated state of mind. This can take a few hours or a few months. A feeding station is an integral part of this process.

Most owners make the mistake of not putting food out at a sighting location or if they do, they abandon it after a day or two. Big mistake! If a dog has been in an area once, it is very likely that he may return to that area, and your feeding station will help draw him there.

For a little humorous break in an otherwise serious topic, here are the top ten reasons people have given us why they won’t leave food out for their shy lost dog:

  1. Raccoons will eat it
  2. Cats will eat it
  3. Other dogs will eat it
  4. Skunks, possums, rats, aliens will eat it
  5. Will attract coyotes and foxes
  6. The lost dog will get loose stools or an upset stomach because it’s not his regular dog food
  7. The lost dog will get some rare deficiency disorder from eating cat food
  8. Food will get wet if it rains
  9. Don’t have a dog food bowl handy
  10. Too expensive to put out food for their dog

To which we say “So What? Your dog will be eating road kill soon.”

So, put your excuses aside and put the food out. The only place that you can’t legally put out food is a public park because that would be considered feeding wildlife. Almost everywhere else, if you politely ask permission and explain what you are trying to do, property owners are generally very eager to help. If you can’t get permission, set up your feeding station at the nearest point to the sighting where you can get permission, and use really smelly food.

We like to use small containers of canned cat food or inexpensivecanned dog good because it is cheap and can easily be stored in the car, but you can be creative. Rotisserie chicken pulled off the bone, canned tripe, grilled brats, bacon. Think about what would be smelly and delicious to a dog. If you have rushed out to a sighting and forgotten the food, stop at the nearest convenience store and pick up a hot dog that is cooking in one of those mini rotisseries. You don’t even need the bun. Try explaining that to the clerk!

If you are using a bowl, it is always a good idea to drizzle some of the drippings onto the ground as well. That way, if a cat or raccoon does eat all of the food, the dog will still be attracted by the smell on the ground. Don’t use dry dog food or raw meat. It doesn’t have enough odor. You want your offering to be more delicious and tempting than the restaurant dumpster or roadkill down the street.  Part 7

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

Trail Cameras Help Monitor Lost Dogs Behavior – Part 7 in a Series

Monitoring the feeding station that you have set up for your lost dog will give you important clues to his behavior and condition. Here are a few different ways that it can be done, both low-tech and high-tech.

You can visually check the area every day when you replenish the food and water. By placing the bowls in some wet sand or mud, you will be able to check for dog tracks. In the wintertime, tracks will show up well in the snow. You can also sprinkle fireplace ash or cornstarch around the bowls, or place a damp white towel under the bowls to watch for footprints. Just make sure that you don’t disturb the location so much, that you make your dog suspicious and he moves on. Try to make your feeding station blend into the landscape.

Very low tech – using wet white towels checking to see if the dog was coming to the trap to eat food out of dish inside of the trap. Capture paw prints.

These simple methods have been used for years and are very effective, but they require the owner to have some basic knowledge of identifying tracks and understanding wildlife and domestic animal behavior. Trail cameras eliminate the need for this knowledge and are easy and fun to use!

In the last few years, the popularity of digital trail or wildlife cameras has exploded. These cameras are often used by hunters, but they are also popular with wildlife enthusiasts who enjoy seeing what visits their backyard at night. There are now dozens and dozens of makes and models available everywhere from Walmart.com to higher end hunting and sporting goods stores.

If you have lost a shy, elusive dog try to beg, borrow or buy a trail camera. You may have a friend that has one that will let you borrow it or you may have to purchase one – but they are now readily available for less than $100, sometimes as low as $60 if you happen to catch a sale.

It doesn’t need to be a fancy model, and actually, simpler is probably better. It does need to have the ability to take daytime and nighttime pictures (infrared flash) with a date/time stamp.

You aren’t looking for gallery quality photos – you just want to see if it is your dog that is eating the food, and what time of day he was there. Insert fresh batteries in the camera, and a blank SD card. Make sure the time/date stamp is set correctly and affix the camera to a solid object like a tree, or an overturned milk crate. You can also make a simple stand to hold the camera steady, such as the one in the picture.

You may have to fiddle with the camera position the first few days to make sure it is aimed well and getting the pictures you want. The camera instructions are usually written for deer, so bear this in mind when you are determining the height you place it at. It is better to have the camera set too low than too high. Try to get the camera far enough back from the food so that you can determine which way your dog is entering the scene and which way he is leaving.

When you check and replenish your feeding station, bring along your digital camera. Simply pop the SD card out of the trail camera and into your digital camera and review the pictures. If you see something but are having trouble determining what it is – take the SD card home (put a replacement in the trail camera) and check the pictures on your home computer. Sometimes looking at them in a darkened room will help. You may only see a tail or an ear, but it might be your dog!

Using trail camera pictures as a tool in your search will help you in two very important ways:

They will help you plan a strategy to catch your dog.

They will give you motivation and hope to continue. Your lost dog is there. You have the proof in the pictures. He is depending on you to safely bring him home.  Part 8

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of  successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

 

Monitoring Your Feeding Station – Part 8 in a Series

Your lost dog is visiting your feeding station! You are seeing him on the camera and you want to rush right out there and scoop him up and bring him home! Not so fast! You have worked so hard being patient and diligent. Don’t mess it up now by scaring him off. Then you will have to start all over in a new location. Now is the time to carefully strategize your next move.

Never, ever post the exact location of a sighting, your feeding station or a trap location on Facebook, Craigslist or any kind of media. Keep your cards close to the vest. You don’t need wanna-be heroes, or curiosity seekers trying to “help” you out by visiting the area. This can pressure your dog to move on again.

Don’t be alarmed if your dog doesn’t visit the feeding station every day – especially at first. He will probably come at dawn and/or dusk. At first he may just grab a bite and run off; or he may take the whole bowl and carry it off under a bush or deck, to eat in hiding. You will have more success if you position your feeding station so that he has some privacy, but also an easy escape route if he feels threatened.

Remember that the pictures you see on the camera may at first glance, not look like your dog. Study them carefully to be sure. You can download them into a photo editing program (most computers are sold with a simple one already installed) and lighten or enhance the pictures. Colors can be distorted, especially in the nighttime pictures, and dogs can look smaller or larger than they really are depending on the height of the camera. If your dog did the grab and dash; you might only get a glimpse of an ear or a tail. Generally in a few days, they will be more comfortable at the feeding station and you will get better images.

Your dog may be sharing the feeding station with other animals. No worries. We see this all the time and it makes for some pretty interesting trail camera photos. It has no bearing on whether or not you will catch your dog, so don’t let it bother you. In fact, the presence of other animals coming and going may be reassuring to your dog. It must be a safe place if other animals are there, right? You may see skunks, cats, raccoons, possums, crows, and even other lost dogs on the photos. Switching to beef-based foods may reduce the number of other visitors.  If you are having lots of cats and raccoons visit, try switching, especially if you have been using fish.

While you are waiting for your lost dog to fall into a predictable pattern of a behavior, you want to be thinking about the next step: capturing him.

For some dogs, especially those that are extremely bonded with  their owner, the owner may simply have to sit on the ground, close enough to the feeding station that they can see the food bowl, but far enough away that the dog doesn’t feel threatened. Plan your visit when you expect your dog, judging from the pattern of the date/time stamp on the pictures. Bring a book and your tasty treats, collar and leash,  and sit quietly on the ground. Read, sleep, or check emails on your phone. But set your phone to silent and don’t talk on it! Be patient. Your dog may appear and approach you. Don’t make any sudden moves. It may take a few days of this, but your dog might crawl right into your lap, when the lightbulb suddenly goes on in his head.

If you lost a newly acquired dog or foster dog that isn’t bonded to you, it might not be so easy; and you should probably consider using  a humane trap. Now is the time to start inquiring about where you can rent, borrow or buy one. Check your local animal shelter or animal control facility first. They may have one available that they will rent for a small fee.

Does your dog generally like to go into a crate or kennel? Dogs that are very comfortable being crated are usually easier to trap.

Is your dog fearful of a kennel or crate? Check to see if  there a fenced yard, tennis court, ball diamond, or garage nearby that you can lure your dog into. Or maybe you will want to slowly set up some temporary kenneling.  Again, patience is the key word. Slowly moving the food bowl, day by day closer to an enclosure until your dog is finally eating in the enclosure can be a very successful method.  If you proceed too quickly, you risk scaring him off to another area. Starting all over is always slower than being methodical and patient, so take your time.

Next we’ll talk about humane trapping – because we have many tips to share that will help you maximize your chances for success. Part 9

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.

Humane Trapping, Before You Begin – Part 9 in a Series

Ellie, shy basset hound missing 30 days, trapped in a humane live trap.

We have been following the story of Toby, a shy lost Australian Shepherd who bolted from the sound of fireworks on July 4th. We hope we have given you some tips and ideas on how to effectively lure a shy, lost dog either back to where he went missing from or to a safe location where you can implement a plan to catch him. Remember, throughout the entire process, you should always keep your dog’s bed, smelly food,  water and familiar-scented articles at the spot he went missing from – even if it is not his home. Many lost dogs do return on their own; so make it easy for him to find his way back.

This is the first of a few articles on humane trapping your lost dog. It is  meant to be used for reference to help an owner whose dog is already coming reliably to a feeding station.  If you aren’t at that point; please go back and read the previous articles first.  We are going to begin at the end – what can go wrong, because it is important to understand the liability and seriousness of trapping BEFORE you begin.

Although humane trapping can be very successful it comes with a lot of risk and expense.  If you are not prepared to commit to the process, don’t begin it. Come up with another strategy to find your dog.

Many owners want to rush out with a trap, throw it down on the ground, and expect POOF! their dog will be in it the next day. It is rarely that easy.

You MUST understand the risks. Remember: It’s a trap! It’s not a cage or a crate. The door comes down fast and hard and can injure or kill something that it strikes. Animals that are entrapped can panic and injure themselves.  What all can go wrong?

  • The lost dog can get injured or killed
  • Neighborhood pets or children can get injured or killed
  • Wildlife can get injured or killed
  • Traps can get stolen or dogs can be stolen from the trap
  • Owners or helpers can get bit resulting in costly medical bills and possibly the euthanization of the dog (if it is a foster dog owned by a shelter or rescue)
  • Transporting large dog traps (4 to 6 feet long x 2 feet wide and high) can damage your vehicle or cause injury while lifting

How long does it take a trap to work? You may catch the dog in an hour. Or, it may take days, weeks or months. You won’t be able to trap in extreme weather conditions (heat or cold), so be prepared for lengthy delays; during which you must still replenish the feeding station and monitor the trail camera. Make sure you are prepared for the time, emotional and financial commitment involved with trapping.

You will need to check the trap several times a day. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have a reliable vehicle?
  • Can I commit to the time required? Can I get time away from work and family commitments to check the trap several times a day?
  • Can I afford to cover the cost of trap rental, gasoline, bait, bedding and other trapping supplies for several days, weeks or even a month or more?
  • Can I afford to cover the cost to replace the trap if it is stolen or damaged? ($400 to $500 for a large dog trap )
  • Do I have a support system in place if this turns into a long time endeavor?
  • Do I have personal liability insurance and health insurance to cover myself if something goes wrong? Do the people helping me have insurance?
  • Is trapping legal where you live? Check BEFORE you begin.

You MUST have a plan in place for when you catch your dog. Think this through beforehand. The worst thing that can happen is you trap your dog and as you are taking him out of the trap, he slips away again. You may never get a second chance to trap him. Traps must be transported with the dog inside to a safe, enclosed place – a garage or vet clinic is ideal. Ask yourself before you begin:

  • What is my plan when my dog is in the trap?
  • Where am I going to take the dog and trap?
  • Do I have enough people to lift the trap and the dog into a vehicle? (Possibly more than 100 pounds) Do I have enough gloves for all of the helpers?
  • Do I have a big enough car or truck to transport the trap and dog safely?

Thinking this through before you begin is imperative to success and your dog’s safety. Next we will talk about choosing the best style and size humane trap for the job.  Part 10

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.


Choose the Right Humane Trap for the Job – Part 10 in a Series

Size Comparison (from Left to Right)
Tru Catch Large 2 door trap – 22″ x 28″ x 60″
Havahart Large Raccoon Trap 15″ x 15.5″ x 42″
Havahart Small Trap 10″ x 12.5″ x 32″ (not recommended for dogs)

You’ve decided that you are prepared to accept the risk and expense of trying to trap your shy lost dog. If you aren’t aware of the risks or financial commitment involved, please read Part 9 of the series before you continue.

Choose your humane trap wisely. You may only get one shot at trapping your dog so make sure you set yourself up for success. You may be limited to what is available to rent or buy in your area, but if at all possible, follow these guidelines.

1. Size: Always choose a trap that your dog can easily stand up and turn around in. Larger is better than smaller. Some dogs won’t mind entering a small enclosed space, but some will: especially those that have been lost a long time or are distrustful and will want an escape route.

2. Doors: If at all possible choose a trap with a front and rear door. The rear door is used to access the bait  and it is very handy. Otherwise you will physically have to crawl into a large dog trap, very awkward  – especially on rainy or snowy days.  With a smaller trap, you will need to have very long arms, or some kind of tongs to position the bait. The rear door can also help your dog become comfortable with the trap, and you can allow him access from both sides and use it as a shelter (more on this later).

3. Design: There are some large coyote traps on the market for a very cheap price at farm supply stores. Don’t waste your money and/or endanger your dog with these. They are flimsy and poorly designed.  The trip plate is set in the middle of the trap instead of almost to the back, where it should be. We have heard of many incidences where the dog begins to enter but then gets suspicious. He has already stepped on the plate (because it is in the middle) and then starts to back out. The door isn’t all the way down so he manages to push his way out, bends the trap all apart, and is thereafter scared to go near a humane trap. Don’t risk it! Remember, you will have one shot at this. If your dog gets scared, then you will have to start all over with a new plan that doesn’t involve a humane trap.

4. Functionality: The trap should operate as smoothly and quietly as possible. Give it a few test runs by setting it and tripping it with a stick. If it isn’t working properly, don’t use it. The wire shouldn’t be all bent out of shape. When it is closed, and a dog inside, the dog shouldn’t be able to push his nose against the door and get it open enough to get his head or neck partway out. He could injure himself and panic.

There are some excellent brands of traps including TruCatch and Tomahawk. Havahart makes a large raccoon trap that is suitable for catching a small dog, probably up to about 20 pounds.  Heart of the Earth Animal Equipment has a good website with a large selection of live traps. Again, make sure, you choose a trap large enough for the dog you are trying to catch.

If you are renting a trap from a shelter or animal control facility, be prepared to pay a deposit, a rental fee, and to sign a liability waiver.  In smaller communities, you might also check with your local police department or town office. If they are in charge of animal control for the area, you may be able to rent a trap from then.  The large raccoon trap from Havahart is available at many farm supply stores.  If you have to purchase a trap  online: start early. Traps are large and cumbersome to ship, so substantial shipping charges usually apply and delivery may be slow. Part 11

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of  lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.