It’s been a busy week for Missing Pet Partnership. On Monday August the 2nd we helped recover a skittish Boston Terrier named Bitsy (Case 10-258). One week later on Monday August 9th we were called out to help a woman named Joni search for her Boston Terrier “Lucy.”
Lucy escaped from her pet sitter and bolted in a panic. MPP volunteer Jim Branson responded with his search dog Kelsy and attempted to track Lucy’s scent, conducted an Intersection Alert, used Neo-Markers to tag Joni’s car, and provided Joni with several neon REWARD LOST DOG 5+5+55 posters.
Although it took four days, I’m happy to report that Lucy was found and is back home. She was recovered for two reasons: the florescent signs (which generated the sighting that put Joni in the gully where her dog was hiding) and the fact that Joni listened to our instructions and she did NOT call her dog!
Let me explain.
We knew that Lucy was skittish dog. Dogs with skittish temperaments that become displaced typically will RUN AWAY from people who call them. That’s usually because they quickly encounter well-meaning people who try and capture them by calling them. It makes sense, right? You call a dog and it will come to you. WRONG! What most would-be-rescuers don’t realize is that their body language (looking directly at the dog with eye contact, walking directly towards the dog, stalking slowly at the dog, or moving suddenly towards the dog) will cause a skittish dog to panic! Before you know it anyone who calls out to the dog (even the dog’s owner!) triggers that immediate adrenaline rush / panic response that will cause the dog to run.
Missing Pet Partnership recommends that instead of calling a stray dog that you try to lure the dog to come to you. You would do this by ignoring the dog, by using “Calming Signals,” and by focusing on yummy treats instead of the dog. Make lip-smacking and “nummy, nummy” noises while dropping treats on the ground (we use hot dog pieces in a small crinkly potato chip bag). Sit down and focus on the treats that you’ve dropped, nudging them around with your fingers. The dog will hear and see this behavior but they won’t feel threatened and won’t feel a need to run away. Why? Because you’re fixated on yummies and you’re not even paying attention to them. Instead, they will be curious, calm, and they will likely become enticed by the prospect of food. This can also work with toys if you have a ball or Frisbee crazy dog. Check out the testimonial story about KoKo, a chocolate Labradoodle, who was calmed and captured by being ignored while his owner played catch with an MPP volunteer.
I was on CLOUD NINE when I found out that Lucy was back home. However, within an hour the phone rang and we had a new case to work. This time it was the search for Lacey, a skittish white Pomeranian (a puppy mill rescue) who bolted from her home in Federal Way. After tagging my car and assembling several neon posters, I rushed over to meet with Erica, Lacey’s owner. We made arrangements with Erica for a K9 search the next morning with Jim Branson and his dog Kelsy. I stressed to Erica the importance of NOT CALLING Lacey if she should encounter her and gave her the nummy-noise instructions.
Imagine my surprise when Jim called later that evening to say that Erica had Lacey back home! Based on a tip from her lost dog posters, a neighbor said they saw Lacey enter a backyard of a house just 4 blocks away. Oh and guess what. Another neighbor had called out to Lacey but she ran. Erica started combing the neighborhood and ultimately spotted Lacey in the corner of a backyard but thankfully she DID NOT CALL HER DOG. Instead, she sat down and sang the Elvis song that Lacey was named after: Chantilly Lace. Apparently Lacey liked Erica’s singing because she didn’t bolt and run. She came up to Erica and is back safe at home where she belongs.
It is important to remember that dogs are animals and they do not think and act like we do. Do some stray dogs come when they are called? Yes, of course! However, for the dog with a skittish temperament it is an entirely different game. Direct eye contact is a threat to them. Walking directly towards them is a bold, dominant behavior. Even creeping slowly at them is the same body language that predators use before they pounce on their prey. All of these behaviors will trigger that “fight or flight” response.
There are many ways to catch a stray dog but the LAST thing that you want to do is to call it. That might work for Lassie, but certainly not for the skittish Lucy’s and Lacey’s of the canine world!