Dog-Gone Doggie!

May 10th, 2008
Dog yard proof

Thousands of dogs go missing across Australia annually. Last year alone the RSPCA took in more than 66,344 dogs some were surrendered voluntarily, while others were discovered wandering the streets. The good news is, 33 per cent of these dogs were reclaimed by their owners.

To find out what to do if your dog goes missing, Dogs Life caught up with Jane Speechley, communications manager for RSPCA Australia.

As a first step, she suggested a careful, thorough search of your property and surrounding areas, then a search of neighbouring areas. Act quickly. Don’t wait to see if your dog decides to return home. If he is on the loose, he is at risk of being stolen or hit by a car, she said. Ask your neighbours if they’ve spotted your dog and visit areas you frequent with it, such as local shops or parks. If lost and confused, your dog may be drawn to familiar locations.

  • Its also important to:
    – Visit your local dog pound. Don’t just call, as descriptions of dogs and breeds can be  very subjective.
    – Contact neighbouring councils in case your dog has been stolen and then runs away.
    – Visit other animal refuges or welfare societies.
    – Advise local vets and ask if you can put a poster in their window.

Once your initial enquiries have been made, check regularly with welfare societies and pounds, just in case someone does not hand your dog in straight away, Speechley said.

She also suggested printing out flyers with an enlarged, recent photo of your dog and enlisting the help of friends and family to do a letterbox drop. It can also help to contact your local media. Place an advertisement in the newspaper and ask your local radio stations to make an announcement.

Speechley said you need to provide animal agencies with a detailed description of your dog, including your dogs name, breed, age, sex, colourings, any distinctive markings or scars, any unusual traits and neuter status.
Sadly, warned Speechley, some people will target worried pet owners and play cruel hoaxes, so be a little wary of crank callers.

Provide as much detail as possible on leaflets and other notices, but hold back one key piece of information about your pet that’s not visible in photographs, such as a white tail tip or other obvious marking, which may help you determine whether the reply is genuine, she said.

Register your dog with the council

If your dog is registered with your local council, there is a far greater likelihood your pooch will be returned to you.
Costs vary from council to council; some offer lifetime registration fees, while others have yearly registration renewals. If your dog is desexed, it will generally cost you less.

Microchip your dog

A microchip with a unique and unalterable numeric/alphanumeric code, usually 10 to 15 digits long, is electronically imprinted on your dog between its shoulder blades. Using a needle, its a relatively simple, straightforward procedure that takes a matter of minutes. No anesthetic is required.

There are four national microchipping registers: Petsafe, Central Animal Records, The Australasian Animal Registry and The National Pet Register. If someone finds your dog, a vet can scan the code and contact the appropriate animal register, which will then contact you. Your register will also cross-check with other microchip registries. The microchip will last for the life of your dog.

Making microchipping the law

According to the RSPCA, its been compulsory for dogs in NSW to be microchipped since 2002, and from May this year the same applies to all dogs in Victoria (except for farm working dogs and Greyhounds). The RSPCA is currently lobbying other states and territories to follow suit.

Microchipping is a safe, effective means of increasing the likelihood that your dog will be returned to you, Melaine Robinson, coordinator of The National Pet Register, told Dogs Life. After you have your dog microchipped, its important that the details are kept up-to-date. This means notifying your register of any change of address.

Microchip technology is evolving. By the end of this year, you’ll be able to have a microchip fitted to your dog that also takes its temperature, Peter Firkins, Petsafe managing director, told Dogs Life.

No longer will we have to go through the business of sticking a thermometer up the nether regions of a dog, he said. Now that’s news that is sure to put a big smile on furry faces across Australia. The innovative American technology will be available from your veterinarian.

Tag your dog

To improve the chances of locating your dog, it can also help if it is wearing a collar and tag with a contact number. Organisations such as Dog-e-Data can help. When a dog goes missing, the finder can contact a 1800 number on the dogs collar, after which they are put in touch with the dogs owner.

All four national microchipping registers also offer tags with a free-call number, so if someone finds your dog, they can simply call the number 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Danger times

According to Central Animal Records, more than 60 per cent of pets disappear on a weekday, compared to 22 per cent during the same hours on a weekend. This indicates a stronger likelihood that the majority of pets stray when owners are at work or school.

Animal behaviourist and veterinarian Dr Debbie Calnon told Dogs Life that for many dogs, separation anxiety or lack of stimulation is the catalyst for wandering. Keep your dog entertained in your absence with a variety of stimulating chew toys, she said. The key is to keep boredom at bay by making your own yard enticing, so your dog isnt tempted to escape.

Is your yard escape-proof?

If your dog is a happy wanderer, you’ll need to track down his escape route. Poor-quality or inappropriate fencing can leave opportunities for dogs to disappear, Speechley said.

Is your dog a jumper or a digger? The reality is, many dogs can jump over, dig their way under or push aside what you might think is sturdy dog-proof fencing. If your dog is digging under a fence, try burying chicken wire at the base (carefully rolling over sharp edges) or placing large rocks along the fence line.

If your dog is climbing the fence (many can do this by stepping up on the cross palings), add height to it, but make sure it is tilted inwards with no irregularities where a paw or a collar could become trapped, Calnon added.
Its also important to ensure you have a gate that closes securely and that all members of the family and visitors understand the need to keep the gate firmly latched, she said.

Many dogs can also escape when a front door is left open. Training and socialisation can help to teach your dog how to behave so he or she doesn’t bolt towards the door when you come and go, or when visitors arrive, Speechley suggested.
If your dog is escaping from your yard to visit the dog next door, why not suggest to your neighbour that the dogs have regular play dates or install a gate between your properties? It may deter your dog from escaping, Calnon said.
Even if yours is a house dog, there is no guarantee it wont become an escapee. If your dog is afraid of storms, ensure fly screens are intact and windows are closed.

If you can’t discover how hes getting out, ask your neighbour for help. In most cases, your dog will escape while you’re away. Your neighbour may just be able to catch him in the act. Did you know desexed dogs are less likely to stray? Making sure your pet is desexed (unless you intend to breed) can really reduce their desire to wander, Speechley said.

No matter what precautions you take, you might happen to own a born escape artist. For this very rare breed, the outside world simply holds too much opportunity and excitement to resist, Speechley said. If this sounds like your dog, you really will have to take extra care in making sure your backyard and fencing are escape-proof for your pooch.

Consult your nearest RSPCA if youd like some advice on how to achieve this, she said.

Keeping your pet safe during storms

Many dogs are terrified of thunderstorms or fireworks, and will escape because they are trying to outrun them. If your dog is frightened of thunderstorms and you are not going to be home, keep it inside the house and try crate training.
A crate gives your dog the feeling of security a safe haven to escape to, veterinarian and pet psychiatrist Dr Jacqueline Perkins said.

The crate should be just big enough for the dog to stand up and move around in. When preparing the crate, rub an old dog towel or one of your own over the crate to eliminate the new smell. Place your dogs bedding inside, tie in some favourite toys and pop in tasty slow-release food, such as a Kong chew toy stuffed with treats. Start by introducing your dog to the crate for short periods, then feed it exclusively in the crate for a two-week period, Perkins suggested.

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