Keeping track of dogs

old buff cocker wearing a sweaterI wish I had a dollar for every recently adopted or foster dog who goes missing. If I did I’d spend it on one of the new GPS tracking devices available to pet owners.

A day doesn’t go by without seeing notices of these lost dogs on my Facebook or twitter feeds. I’ve had it happen myself and the sinking gut feeling of knowing a dog you have been caring for and care about, is out running scared, a potential victim to cars, weather, starvation or predators, is an emotional response I can do without. My blogger friend Mel recently experienced this with her foster dog Lady. Mel’s story is a good example of the fact that things can go wrong despite any precautions or responsible steps we have taken. Lady’s adventure has a happy ending, but many similar stories do not.

People who adopt a dog, especially one with any fearfulness, often do not understand the flight risk their dog poses. Either they are not having it impressed on them by the people organizing the adoption, or they are ignoring the warning. It may be a case of bad luck and timing. A door is opened and a fearful dog, who has been looking for opportunities to escape, does. Or something startles a dog and once they’re on the run, are difficult or impossible to get control of.

Having ID on a dog is a no-brainer. If an unidentified dog is found it’s likely going to end up at an animal shelter and what happens then will vary. Some shelters will make efforts to locate the dog’s owner, while at others the dog enters the queue of dogs who will be euthanized if not claimed or adopted within a set period of time. Even ID is no guarantee that a dog will be returned to its owners, unfortunately. When my dog, who had been living with my mother ran off I visited the local ‘pound’ and found her. I would have gone there days earlier except that my mother had called the facility and been told that no dog matching her description was there. She also had up-to-date town license tags on her collar.

All my dogs have an ID tag on their collar with my name and contact information on it. Should a good Samaritan find my dog they can contact me directly, perhaps sparing my dog a stay at the shelter. An injured dog with ID is more likely to receive timely medical care because a vet can contact the owner to approve what might be costly procedures.

My fearful dog Sunny’s tag has his name as ‘Bosco’. A dog’s name should predict good things, and for most dogs this is true, but often not the case for people-shy dogs. Being spoken to by name predicts an interaction, which is scary to him. In training classes I discovered that it was difficult for people not to talk to my dog, even after I specifically asked they didn’t.

“This is Sunny, but please don’t talk to him.”

Before class was over this was bound to happen.

“Isn’t he is a pretty boy, does Sunny want a treat?” spoken by well-intentioned classmate.

So instead I tell people his name is, “Bosco, and please don’t talk to him.” He is still uneasy if strangers approach and talk to him, but if they do not use his name, he is less so. Bosco means nothing to him.

Technology will continue to improve and one day I hope that all dogs go to their new homes with a tracking device on them. In the meantime we can help our fearful dogs so that not only are they kept safe and secure, but we create a positive, trusting relationship with them so they are less inclined to run away from us should opportunity knock and leave a gate open.

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20 comments so far

  1. 47 on

    I wouldn’t mind a tracker for my two. It’s not that they escape frequently, but if they did, I want to be able to find them!

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s a great product for any dog that’s for sure!

  2. Ann M on

    Although our wooded yard about a half acre is fenced, we took our fearful rescued eskie out on a leash for the first 5-6 months after we quickly realized coming when called was not in her capability at that time(and for yrs after!). Eventually we did let her loose in the yard. About 9 months after we got her a tree fell and crushed one section of fence unknown to us. I was on my way out the door when my husband told me Tinkerbelle was out in the powerline easement behind our property. Panic was my first response, my second was to call work and tell them I’d be in when I found her! My husband had an idea where she was in the waist-high grass and weeds, but she would not come to him. I could see her jumping in the grass and proceeded toward the last spot she had been visible. By then my panic had subsided as I realized she had panicked by not being able to find a familiar area. I got down on one knee, in my hosp uniform(!) and called her in what I hoped sounded cheerful and inviting. Tinkerbelle came thrashing thru the weeds and grass and put her head under my arm as I held her little shaking 18#s. I think she was more grateful than me. It was a big moment in more than one way:Tinker had chosen me/her home over freedom, she had responded to her name, she seemed to realize she was wanted and we realized how much this little orphan off the streets of Georgia had wormed her way into our hearts. Being a fearful, scared fear-biter out in the country alone would probably been a death sentence for her- looking “vicious”, blindly running from people trying to help, coyotes, some high speed traffic within running range- it is too scary to imagine even now yrs later! That is one reason why, whenever I transport for rescues all dogs are double leashed/collared before opening the car door.
    PS.all my dogs have microchips, but Tinkerbelle wears her license and rabies tags 24/7

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I can imagine the dread you felt with her out there. Sunny slipped out the door behind me about 2 months into his time with us. Up until then he’d never been off leash, and was still very afraid of us. I didn’t even realize he was willing to walk down the stairs he came down to follow other dogs out the door. Early evening we spied him out in the yard and I managed to lure him to me with roasted chicken and grab his harness. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to capture him had I missed getting a hold of him. But it was also a good sign that he had not strayed far from the house.

  3. Bluff Country Canine Rescue on

    Bosco. What a great idea!!!

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      The story behind the name was that when Sunny first came to live with us his paperwork had him as ‘Sunshine’. My husband said he liked the name ‘Bosco’ and in my effort to humor him said that we could call him ‘Bosco’ though I never could bring myself to do it, not being a fan of the name.

  4. Lizzie on

    I guess I am lucky with Gracie that in the early days when she was so afraid of the outside world and I was attempting to take her for a walk; if something spooked her she could slip her collar and harness (I used to use both) in the blink of an eye and run back to the house from where ever we were! She sussed out where she lived from the word go seemingly and it was such a relief to see her head back home, even though she had to cross two roads. Even now, I can leave the garden gate open and know that she will not cross the threshold because it’s just too scary out there.

    When we go out now she still wants to run away from me and head home when she feels under threat but we are working hard on her recall and making good progress, so long as there are no people around that is!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sometimes their reluctance to do something works in our favor. Early on I never worried about Sunny being inappropriate with people. But as he gained confidence he became more willing to get closer to people, too close for a fearful dog, and I began to see aggression 😦

  5. Tegan on

    Regarding collars: I have always been quite worried about dogs being caught by their collars and strangled. Because of this, I advocate the Keep Safe “Break Away” collars… Especially for multi-dog households where wrestling is common practice. I’ve seen far too many stories of dogs being strangled to death, by collar, by dog-dog interactions.

    • Debbie on

      That is a great idea. I share your concern. The players in my house go naked when we’re home. I knew there were break away collars for cats and had thought of how one could be designed for dogs but never even bothered to look for one.

  6. Lizzie on

    Re collars: I too share your concerns, and my dogs only wear them when they go out. I have never used the buckle kind preferring the quick release plastic clip ones.

    One of the reasons for this was that my last Lab was a Therapy dog and we frequently visited special needs children. Some of the more challenged ones could grab at her collar and not want to let go; not that Lucy would ever react in a negative way, but simply for obvious safety reasons I sometimes needed to get her away from a particular child so I would just flick the collar off to release her.

    Another point re names; I have always been advised not to have the dog’s name on a collar, that way if ever he/she did go missing or escape, no one would be able to lure them by name. Not that that would apply to Gracie!
    It is sufficient in the UK to simply have the the owners name and telephone number on a tag. I always have my vets number on it too, in case of injury.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I like the vet number on there as well. I hope I remember the suggestion next time I need a tag, I’ll do it.

    • Ann M. McHugh on

      Tinkerbelle has a leather/chain martingale collar -it can only go so small, like a buckle collar, but she can’t back out of it. It has her license and rabies tag on it. We needed a strong collar for our peace of mind as she is also “reactive” in fear situations and a breakaway collar would NOT work with a lunging, barking fear-biter. The clinking also tells me where she is …her nickname is “Tinker-Blinker” as we used to put one of those little blinking lights on her so we could find her in the yard in winter -a little white dog in a yard full of snow and trees is very hard to find in the dark!

      • fearfuldogs on

        I haven’t looked at break away collars but I was thinking that they’d have a way to ‘override’ the break away for leash walking. I have an image in my head as to what that would look like, a couple of D rings on either side of the buckle that a leash would clip to. Anyone making something like this?

      • Ann M. McHugh on

        I have seen harnesses with the two d rings where you clip them together OVER the breakaway clip which would work for a harness. Not sure who would leave a harness on a dog 24/7 or for even more than a walk unless it was also used as an aid to lift an unstable/disabled dog.

  7. Mel on

    Thanks for writing this Debbie. I meant to comment on it a while ago, but forgot by the time I got home. My experience trying to find Lady (real name is not Lady btw) was an education. I have had a fearful dog before, but not one quite like Lady. I also lost her too early on for her to bond to me as much as Daisy has.

    This post is educational and accurate and right on. I hope people take heed and listen to your advice.

    BTW – I’ve been considering a GPS collar for Lady. Better safe than sorry.

  8. EngineerChic on

    I’m new here, and late to the conversation, but we have an eskie-mix who is fearful. He’s getting a lot better but early on I knew that if he ever got loose we’d probably never see him again because he’ll never approach a stranger.

    I know I might be blasted for this but my solution was to enroll him in a class for off-leash training that used the remote collars that hunters use. It feels like a TENS unit & the stim level is variable from 0-100 so you can use the slightest level possible. He usually works around 12, I only correct when he does not obey. He has a 100% reliable recall now. To be honest, I’m still uncomfortable with having to hit the button even though I know I’m not hurting him. I can’t feel a correction until I turn the dial to around 20 (I’ve tried it on myself, of course, and this thing is nothing like the Invisible Fence collars – those things HURT). But this tool allows us to walk trails with him and know that even if a scary group of humans appears on the trail … he will turn and come to me instead of running away. The usefulness of this tool is limited, I would never use it for trick training – we use treats for that. No one’s life is at stake if he doesn’t circle or bow when asked to, but with his inherent mistrust of humans I couldn’t take the risk of him refusing to COME on command.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing. One of the risks of using punishment- and it must be punishing in order for it to work the way punishment does, and that is to stop a behavior, in your case- running away, is that of contextual conditioning. That means that anything the dog experiences along with the shock can be associated with the pain or fright. So a dog’s mistrust of humans is not likely to decrease if they experience punishment when people appear. If it isn’t painful to the dog, or scaring the dog, then it’s being used as a cue for a behavior, and that’s different. It depends on how the dog experiences it.

      I do appreciate you risking sharing your story, e-collars are not recommended for fearful dogs because of the potential fallout, which can be devastating. If you haven’t experienced any that’s great, but I would caution others before they thought it would be a solution to their dog’s challenges. There are ways of teaching a dog to come based on using rewards to get the behavior we want, even in the face of triggers. Behaviors practiced enough using rewards can become as ingrained as any hard to get rid of habit. The people appearing become the cue to return to us. Targeting and ‘look at that’ are just a couple of ways to get a recall which in the process can also have the benefit of decreasing the negative emotional response the dog experiences on seeing a trigger. Behaviors taught in this way are not at risk of running out of batteries 😉

      Glad you stopped by.

      • engineer chic on

        I agree with you that it is a punishment – because even at a low level it is annoying (truly not painful, it really does feel like the TENS unit my chiropractor used on me, just at a lower level and a single pulse). But anything that is unpleasant is a punishment. And I think there is an implied threat there – because if he doesn’t respond to my voice then it’s voice + collar at 12, then voice + collar at 13. It doesn’t take a very smart dog to realize that if we go 12, 13, 14… The next time it will be 15. Each time it is MORE annoying, which is where the implied threat comes from.

        I don’t think it’s a tool to be used lightly and my dog and I already had a good bond before we started training, we’d had him for 2 years before I looked into the training. to be honest, if I’d known of GPS collars I would have gone that route instead!

        I hope to be able to take a seminar with you soon, the one in January overlaps with a business trip unfortunately but I’m optimistic there will be other New England opps in the future. Our dog is probably 15% of Sunny’s fearfulness, but we still struggle with some issues (like managing him when strangers visit).

      • fearfuldogs on

        You know your dog best and sound like a caring thoughtful owner. There’s no reason you can’t also be working on building better recall skills using reward based techniques at the same time you keep the collar on your dog. I found early on that with Sunny when he was too scared to come to me, he could wait, often off the trail far enough away from people to feel safe, but still waiting, and I could approach him and get him on leash if I needed to.

        Here’s how I did it.


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