I bet you know the feeling. First, you hold your breath, listening for a faint huff, crackle of broken twig, tinkle of collar tag. But only the whisper of breeze interrupts the eerie silence. Then the doubt starts eating at you. When did I last see him? Where was he headed? Why didn’t I call him back? You have no answers.
You listen, squint, yell, blow the whistle, and it finally hits you. Your dog is well and truly lost.
For his sake and yours, now is not the time to panic. Or get mad at him. It’s time to implement your plan. Here’s mine for finding a lost dog.
Step 1: Hasty search
Get your buddies if they’re in the field with you, and spread out. Leave the other dogs on the ground – they will cover a lot more territory than humans. Head into the wind. A lost dog has often been tempted by scent, usually from upwind. There’s a good chance you will be heading in the same direction he went. Once off that scent he’ll generally head back to his starting point. If he encounters a friendly dog on his return trip, all the better.
Every few minutes, stop and listen carefully. If he has a beeper or bell on his collar, you have a better chance. Even collar tags can be heard from quite a distance if you hold your breath for a minute and listen. Watch for dust clouds, wildly flushing birds. Then call, or blow your whistle. Listen again, then keep walking.
Step 2: Head for the truck
If an hour of searching doesn’t produce your dog, take an article of clothing you’ve recently worn and bowl of water. Place both in the area where you last saw him. Don’t put out food, which attracts unwanted critters that may actually keep your dog from hanging around the spot; even a lost dog can go hungry for a couple days without harm.
Keep searching, looping back to the water/clothing every few hours for several days if necessary.
If you know of temptations in the area, head there in your expanded search. Cattle, water sources, nearby homes with dogs are all worth a look. If you passed a carcass, check it. Look for circling vultures or a mob of ravens or magpies for carrion that might tempt a dog.
Step 3: Notify
Post “Lost” flyers with a photo of your dog in as many places as possible, including taverns, stores, post offices, gas stations, within 10 miles of the area. I keep an envelope of them in my truck, with thumb tacks and tape. They have my mobile phone and home phone numbers.
Give a copy to delivery drivers, mail carriers, the propane guy, and anyone else you can flag down. Reach out to veterinarians, animal shelters, law enforcement, conservation and wildlife people in the area (sometimes, the nearest office is quite a distance, but staff will be in the area periodically, so make the call).
Step 4: Prepare for next time
Invest in a GPS collar, it’s a small price to pay for your peace of mind and hunting buddy’s safe return. Have him microchipped. Keep a collar on him (believe it or not, many hunters don’t). Hang a tag from that collar with your contact information.
You might have better luck getting a lost dog returned if you change the information on his collar tag. Leave his name off – fewer bad guys are interested in stealing a dog whose name they don’t know because he will be less likely to respond to the thief’s commands. Avoid engraving “Reward,” as I used to do, even if you intend to provide one to a Good Samaritan. It could encourage ransom requests.
Instead, put “Requires Daily Medication,” then your mobile phone number. Good-hearted folk will work hard to return your dog, and baddies will avoid a dog that might cost them money.
Then go back to the first step. Keep searching. Good luck.