What to Do if You Lose Your Dog in the Woods and How I Learned the Hard Way

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Willow at Peachland Lake

My 16 year old deaf border collie cross went missing on a camping trip just last week on May 20th, 2018. She was gone for 5 days and 5 nights and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. This is something I never thought that I would have to be prepared for. By sharing the advice and experience I collected along the way, I hope I can help someone else going through this.

Share on Social Media!

Share photos and details about your dog and the area they went missing on Facebook. Ask your friends to share the post. Share it on local rescue pages, shop and swaps, and any groups that have a lot of members in the area. The more people that are aware, the better. Someone who sees your post might spot your dog later. Now they will know to either try to catch them or to notify you of the possible sighting.

My original Facebook post was shared over 900 times, and resulted in an outpouring of support and advice. It also caught the attention of two local news websites. They called me and wrote articles about Willow, getting the word out even further. I was shocked to run in to people out hiking in the forest and finding out that they had driven an hour just to look for a dog they’d never met.

Put up Posters in the Surrounding Area

There are two types of posters you should make. The first are smaller ones that include photos and a good description of your dog and the area they went missing. These can be put up in stores and bulletin boards, and shared online. The second are big, bright signs to hang up on the side of the road and at intersections near where your dog went missing. Make sure that you write in big letters, and that it is short and to the point. This is so that people driving by can easily read them.

I hung the smaller posters up at recreation campsites and lake resorts on the way back to where we had been. For the bigger signs I went to Wal Mart and bought several sheets of bristol board in bright colours. I wrote “Missing Dog, Black/White & Deaf, 778-***-****”. I’ve read in a lot of places that posters and signs are the most important thing. This, along with social media shares, creates the awareness necessary for you to get the help you need. You would be surprised how many perfect strangers are willing to help look for your dog.

Missing dog posters

Leave Your Scent

This is by far the most common piece of advice I heard while looking for Willow. It also seems to be common practise for hunters who’s dogs go missing. They leave their jacket in the last spot they saw their dog and return the next day to (hopefully) collect them. Make sure the clothing you leave behind is well worn and would have a strong scent of you for your dog. Your scent will stay between 48-72 hours if it doesn’t rain, so continue to leave clothing as days pass. Touch everything around your camp to leave your scent, including the ground and shrubbery that would be nose-level for your dog.

In my search I left many articles of clothing at our campsite. I would leave what I wore that day hiking (sweating!) looking for her, clothes from my dirty laundry, and clothes that I had slept or worked out in. I also left her bed and a blanket, going back every day hoping to find her in it.

clothing hung on tree to attract missing dog

Be Safe!

Always have someone with you when searching. Carry bear spray and check yourself for ticks when you get home. On one of the days while I was searching with my friend Greta we saw a grizzly bear. I saw lots of bear prints, moose poop, and signs of other animals I wouldn’t want to come face-to-face with.

Note on a stick

A note left behind by a wonderful man named Ross who looked for Willow and kept me up to date on where he had searched.

Look Near Water

Your dog will be on the search for water so find the nearest flowing streams or lakes. Look for prints near the edge and if you find some, leave an article of clothing there and follow the direction of the prints. Speaking of water – leave a big bowl of clean water by ‘base camp’. Even if there is lots of water sitting around, clean water would be a nice change!

Have a Fire and Get Cooking

Take a break from your searching and start a fire at base camp. Cook up some smelly meats that might catch your dog’s attention. Be safe, as this could also attract other animals.

Take Care of Yourself

Try your hardest to get some sleep and eat. You are only one person! Try to get help from friends hanging posters and other things that don’t require you to be there. I know how hard it is to try and stop for sleep, but you will just end up burning yourself out. It’s been 5 days now since I’ve had Willow back and I am still exhausted and eating everything in sight after 5 days of not sleeping and eating very little.

Some things to keep in mind…

  • I was given conflicting advice about whether or not to leave food behind. I chose not to, so as to not attract other (scary) animals. Water is more important, dogs can survive quite a while without food.
  • Investigate sightings, but don’t let that derail your original efforts. When I heard that Willow might have been seen near the entrance of Dee Lake Resort I stopped focusing on the other direction which is where she ended up being found.
  • Females especially, beware of anyone saying they have your dog! If your post is being shared on social media, your face will be attached to it. There are lots of creeps out there. If someone says they have your dog, ask for confirming details (what colour is her collar, what does the name tag say, etc.). Always bring a friend with you when going to meet anyone who says they have your dog.

Willow came home relatively unscathed. I eased her back in to her regular diet and fed her pumpkin for the first few days. I have also been giving her Joint Formula, Liver Care, Trauma Recovery, and CBD Oil. While I was searching for Willow I used Outdoor Spray on myself and never came home with any ticks – except for the day that I forgot it! In honour of Willow receive 30% off any of our Dr. Maggie or NaturPet products with coupon code WILLOWSHOME.

Special thanks to Wayne Dorman of Dogzies Pet Services Inc. and Kim Taylor of Remote K9 Search and Rescue for the help and lots of the advice in this article.

Amber Bahm
Amber Bahm
Amber came from a small town in Saskatchewan where she grew up with horses, a cat, and her dog Willow. When she moved out West to Kelowna she brought Willow along and has since adopted a rescue dog from Mexico named Chica. Amber combines her love for animals with her knowledge of design, computers, and technology while working at NaturPet.

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