How I Spent a Lot of Time This Weekend…

In a rather serendipitous act, I decided to take last Friday off work.

Early in the afternoon, I received word from a friend about a straying dog just outside of Workington.  My friend asked me to go and put some food down in the area the dog was last seen in, in the hopes of keeping him in that area and thus catching him.  As it happens, Friday is one of Scott’s days off work too, so he followed me up to the area and we had a look around for him and as luck would have it we saw him, but were unable to catch him.

Saturday arrived, and I was due to be in that area again so I checked the food I’d left out, and put some more out.  On my way home, I drove around to see if I could spot him, but had no joy.  Just as we were finishing our tea that evening I got a phone call, my friend and a vet nurse (who was there by luck, not design) had the dog almost caught, but members of the public had frightened him away, and would I go and help them.  I grabbed some treats, a slip lead, and a muzzle and went to find them, followed by Scott.  Cue a fraught couple of hours as we first had to find him again, then we followed him down a dual carriageway, then down the Distington bypass (I was on foot by that point), once he’d came back we got him away from the main roads, then had him pushed back  on to them, and eventually lost him.

Sunday saw a fruitless hour or so searching for him, after seeing him curled up asleep on my road end before running off; and then yesterday we came close to getting him, but he’s quite evasive.

All of this has made me think: what behaviours could I teach Inka, firstly to reduce the chances he will ever become lost; but secondly, if he were to become lost or separated from me, what could I do to help other people catch him?  Especially as we had a lot of help from motorists on Saturday evening when the dog was on the bypass.

Firstly, a recall is a must; and as Leslie McDevitt says in her books, the “leave it” cue is a key component of recall – a dog must be able to leave something alone before it can orient and move towards his or her handler.  A good off-lead ‘heel’ would be good too – teaching Inka that he can walk alongside me even without his lead, that way I could recall him from a situation and not need to immediately leash him up to keep him with me.

So, if his leave it, recall, and/or off-lead walk to heel don’t work; or Inka becomes lost in some other way; what things could I teach him that would help him to be caught and returned home?

The first one that struck me, was I really need to work on his Crate Games training.  A humane trap was left out for our stray friend, but he didn’t go anywhere near it – perhaps with a little bit of crate training he would have seen it as a safe place and  gone right in there.  After that, or perhaps before depending on the situation and availability of such tools; what cues would I want Inka to know that could help someone to catch him?    Well, something to stop him moving would be good, perhaps a sit or a down (though he still struggles with any sort of cue for ‘down’, bless him); or a stay or a wait cue would be good too, perhaps even a ‘stop’.

One thing that changed this from a ‘stray dog’ to “that dog which half of town has seen” was a photo – someone got a photo of the dog which I put on Facebook & tagged some friends in, and a friend tagged some friends in; and it really has rocketed from there.  Now, everyone knows who we’re all looking for.

The overall message here, teach your dog things like a recall to prevent him or her from becoming lost; teach him or her cues to stop movement that a member of the public could know.  Take photos, lots of photos, of your dog(s) – ensure you have easy access to them – put at least one recent photo on Facebook, or Flickr,  or anywhere else you can share it with other people from.  Bite inhibition is also important – any dog can bite, and a scared dog is potentially  more likely to bite, but an inhibited bite that doesn’t break the skin is much better to receive than an uninhibited bite that does break the skin and cause both you, your dog, and their potential rescuer a lot of trouble.  Collar tags, and/or a microchip are also important – and in the UK your dog must have a tag on his collar which has the owners’ name and full address on it, any other information is optional.

Have any of you been separated from your dog, what did you do to get him or her back safely to you?  Do you have any training or plans in place for if your dog should become stray?