Written by: Kathy "Kat" Albrecht, Copyright 2005
When looking for a lost dog, keep in mind that several variables may influence the distance that a lost dog will travel, as well as their recovery circumstances.
How a dog behaves towards strangers influences how far it will travel (when lost) before someone intervenes and rescues it. There are three primary behavioral categories into which lost dogs are classified: Gregarious Dogs, Aloof Dogs, and Xenophobic Dogs.
Wiggly-butt, friendly dogs are more inclined to go directly up to the first person who calls them. Depending on the terrain and population density where the dog was lost, these dogs will generally be found fairly close to home or will be picked up by someone close to the escape point.
Dogs with aloof temperaments are wary of strangers and will initially avoid human contact. While these dogs can travel a great distance, aloof dogs eventually can be enticed with food and patience, typically by experienced rescuers. In addition, these dogs are often not recovered for weeks or months after their escape.
Xenophobic (Fearful) Dogs:
Dogs with xenophobic, or fearful, temperaments are more inclined to travel farther and are at a higher risk of being hit by cars. Due to their cowering, fearful behavior, people assume these dogs were "abused," and even if the dog has ID tags, they might refuse to contact the previous owner. Some of these panic-stricken dogs will even run from their owners.
Unusual or scary events may cause a pet to run and break out of their normal enclosure. A dog that bolts in panic due to fireworks or thunder could take off at a blind run and go for several miles.
Extreme weather conditions (snow, hail, rain, and/or sweltering heat) will decrease the distance that a lost dog might travel.
A dog that escapes in a residential area will not travel as far as a dog that escapes in a mountainous area. Barriers will influence a dog's travel since a dog will tend to take the "path of least resistance" when traveling.
What a dog looks like can influence how quickly it will be picked up by a rescuer. Also, size matters: people are more inclined to pick up small dogs. In addition, people are more likely to attempt to rescue a purebred, which may be perceived as having greater value (and a reward) as opposed to a mixed breed.
When dogs escape into areas with a high number of people, their odds of being found close to the escape point are improved. Also, a dog that escapes in the middle of the night will travel farther before being seen than a dog that escapes during rush hour traffic.
Human Success Factors
The level of human animal bond (HAB) will influence the recovery efforts of a lost dog. People with a strong HAB will go to extremes to find their lost dog. They will accomplish the "impossible" task of visiting all shelters, posting flyers, and contacting rescue groups while maintaining a full-time job and other family commitments. They also realize that the first few hours are vital to locating the dog (or witnesses who saw the dog).
Information provided by the Missing Pet Partnership. For lost pet behavior recovery tips, visit lostapet.org