GRAHAM THOMPSON, Technical Editor of Trail Magazine is also a fully qualified pet behaviour counsellor. This month: dogs and owners can easily become separated in the hills.
“Bella, Bella, Bella … come on Bella … Bella, Bella, Bella” is the desperate call of someone trying to find a dog that, only moments ago, was by their side. Such instances happen frequently in the hills, and thankfully most of the time dog and owner are successfully reunited. But, sadly, simply calling your dog’s name does not always work. Retracing your steps and asking other walkers is not always successful either. This is not only traumatic for the owner, but the dog will also be lost and anxious and may even become injured or worse while trying to find their owners.
The good news is that a lost dog can be just a phone call away, so the number one priority is that that they can be easily identified. A collar and identification tag is the easiest means. The tag should have phone numbers that can be used to contact you while you are on the hill, and also when you return home, plus your surname and address with a postcode so the dog can be traced to your home. This method of identification is so important that it has been made into law, with the Control of Dogs Order 1992 stating that any dog in a public place must wear a collar and ID tag that clearly displays the name and address of the owner and a phone number. Obviously it is important to check the tag has your current phone number and address, and replace it if it is hard to read or has out of date information. Your local vets can often provide information on how to get a new ID tag.
But collars do break, and tags may become lost or out of date, so an additional method of identification is important. Microchips can be placed under the dog’s skin that allow the dog to be identified with a scanner, and these can provide detailed information that make it easy to reunite dogs with their owners. Again, this method of identification is so important that under the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 it is now compulsory for all dogs over the age of 8 weeks in England to be fitted with microchips. It is important to note that this is in addition to a collar and ID tag, so the dog has two methods of identification. As with ID tags, it is important to update the information held on the database for your pet if you change your address or phone number. Your vets can provide information on how to microchip your dog.
So, with your dog now easily identified, it’s important to have your mobile phone on the hill so anyone finding your dog can call you instantly. However it’s going to be even less stressful if your dog doesn’t get lost in the first place. How about some additional preventative measures?
Dogs run off for many reasons; gunshots in the shooting season, fireworks in the winter months, the whirling of wind turbines, or low flying jet aircraft. Dogs may also chase moving targets; vehicles, cyclists, runners, wildlife or farm animals. If your dog reacts to any of these, it is important to gain qualified professional help as these problems often develop over time, and may be tolerated or managed rather than treated. It only takes one sudden noise, or the appearance of a moving target for a dog to run off and get lost.
Keeping dogs on a short lead, a 5-10 metre training line or an extending lead should prevent a dog from running off or getting lost. But very frightened dogs can escape from collars or harnesses, particularly if they don’t fit well, so additional care is needed.
Teaching dogs to come when called sounds easy and obvious, but most dogs I see for behavioural problems also have very poor recall. The problem is that dogs follow their owners, and generally wander back when called, but the real test is whether you can call your dog away from a proper distraction. That takes training, and lots of it. Practicing at least 20 recalls on every walk, from distractions, with food or praise as rewards, is essential basic training that all dogs should have throughout their lives. If the dog still doesn’t come when called, or if problems persist for more than four to six weeks, then more targeted practice is needed and professional help sought.
Small changes in how we manage our dogs can prevent them getting lost, but if they do disappear then we can make it easy to find them again leading to happy dogs, happy owners and many more happy walks in the countryside.
Useful contacts: abtcouncil.org.uk, doglost.co.uk, petlog.org.uk, gov.uk/report-stray-dog
26 June 2017 by GrahamThompson
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