You go to the local shelter. You spend hours walking through the kennels until you settle on that perfect dog. You buy him a new collar, a new leash, a bed, some toys…and within hours of getting him home, he escapes.
You feel terrible. I know, because I saw your devastated posts to Facebook. I know that you’ve spent hours putting out flyers and seaching for him. Depending on where you live, I may very well be out there helping you search.
Here’s the thing…it probably didn’t have to happen.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to scold you or make you feel bad. You already know you screwed up. So let’s talk about how you can keep a new pet from getting into trouble in the first place.
When you adopt a new dog, you really don’t know right away what tricks your new baby may have in store. Err on the side of caution until you have a good grasp of exactly what he’s capable of.
He might be a climber or a digger. I once had a mutant poodle who could clear a 6 foot chain link fence in seconds. He would also go through hot wire. I’ve seen others who could dig out of or wiggle under a fence by way of a space that seems impossibly small.
He might be a harness houdini. I’ve had several pets who could slip a collar in seconds, but one of my Pekes has an extra trick. She is very adept at kicking her front legs forward and shimmying out of a body harness. It took a little work, but I learned that she can’t get out of the figure 8 style.
He might be a runner or a door dasher. Your new pet is in an unfamiliar place. He’s probably scared to death after moving from his original circumstances to a shelter to adoption events to you. Some animals will just run until they exhaust themselves. Some will seem perfectly calm, but at the first sign of an open door, they bolt.
Once a newly adopted pet is in the wind, getting him back can be a real challenge. And while he’s out there, he’s in terrible danger. He could be hit by a car, attacked by an animal, or hurt by a human. Or he could simply disappear. None of those options is acceptable, so let’s talk about how to make sure he doesn’t get out there in the first place.
Rule 1: Never, ever leave your new pet unattended in the yard. If he’s outside, you’re outside. I don’t care what kind of fence you have, or how many existing pets it contains easily. Your pet has to learn the boundaries of his new environment. And for the first several days, I would strongly recommend leash walking him when you’re outside, even in a fenced yard. It will reinforce that he needs to pay attention to you, and it will help him to feel secure and safe.
As your pet settles in, you can begin to give him more freedom in your fenced yard. As you allow him off leash, watch him closely to make sure that he doesn’t zero in on any weak spots in our fence. Observe him to be sure he doesn’t find any potential hazards you didn’t notice. Don’t assume that just because your other dogs didn’t get into trouble, this one won’t either.
Rule 2: Put him on a leash or confine him before you answer the door. I have seen so many sad posts caused by door dashers. Keep a leash by the door so you can keep him out of trouble.
Rule 3: Make sure his collar or harness fits properly and has easily legible identification. This may take a little experimentation to find out what style works best for a particular dog. Martingale collars are a good choice, as they’re harder for a wiggly dog to slip out of. My own dogs all wear harnesses, because two of them can slip any collar you try, and the third sometimes needs a little help with balance, which is easier with a harness to grab. My two little dogs wear figure 8 style harnesses instead of the traditional harness with two vertical links between the neck and chest bands; they’re both very deep chested with short legs, so the figure 8 fits more comfortably.
Rule 4: Give him time to settle in before you start exposing him to new stressors. Don’t haul a nervous new dog to the county fair, soccer practice, and the dog park the first week you have him home. Give him time to learn that he is home. Give him time to bond with you, and then add outings slowly. Start with short, low stress outings and work up as his tolerance level permits.
Here’s the bottom line: it’s easier to keep them safe than it is to get them back. Supervision and proper containment are the keys, followed closely by training. I really don’t want to see another post that begins with “Help me find my new baby.”