Home > Animal Rescue, Lost Dogs, Missing Pets, Shelties > Lost Dogs and the Importance of Using Scent Articles

Lost Dogs and the Importance of Using Scent Articles

September 14, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments


As I read about one more lost Sheltie last night, I could not help but be sad.

One more dog was running scared in a neighborhood she did not know.

One more owner was suffering the anguishing fears that every lost dog owner feels when their dog goes missing.

Fortunately, she was caught in one of our traps overnight, but it is not always this easy to catch a lost dog, especially a shy one.

When a dog is lost an owner must do everything they can to bring their dog back:

  • Pass out flyers far and wide so that every person in that area can keep an eye out for her and call you when he/she get a sighting.
  • Post signs on every possible high-traffic street area so people can be alerted to a lost dog while driving around the area.
  • Post on Craigslist so anyone who should;d happen to find your dog can reunite you both as quickly as possible.
  • Call all vet clinics, shelters and animal-related businesses to give them a heads up that there is a lost dog in the area.
  • Rally the troops – family, friends, rescue groups – and spread the word.
  • Set out clothing and familiar bedding that contains smells the dog is familiar with. Many dogs will return and lie down on them because it comforts them to have something that smells so familiar to them that nearby.

The last item is an important one because it has been successful in bringing back many a lost dog. I still remember the evening I received an urgent phone call from a friend who runs a rescue out east. She asked me if I would be willing to speak to one of her adopters, whose dog had gone missing in a heavily wooded area near her house. I said I would.

The owner told me that she suspected her dog was in the area, and may have even been watching her and her family from the woods, but she thought she might have been too scared to come out. I suggested several things to her (same as those listed above), but it was the dog bed she left outside on the front step that led to her safe return. The morning after she put her dog’s bed out on the front step, she found her lost dog sleeping on it. It was a happy reunion.

More recently, in September of thus year, a friend I had met on Instagram reported that her dog had gotten lost when she let her off leash for just a few minutes. She searched everywhere with no luck. She was quite worried and upset. I could totally relate. I left her a message telling her to take an article of clothing or a blanket or her dog’s bed out to the park and to leave it there and check it in the morning. Even though she thought it was a crazy idea and thought it would never work, she took her blanket out there anyways. She left it near she had last seen him. A couple of hours later, she went back out to the park, back to where she had left the blanket, and guess who was there? Her sweet, and very scared, lost dog. Boy was he happy to see his mom!

A familiar scent can be such a powerful piece in your search for your lost dog. Even in the middle of winter a scent article can be used to draw a lost dog home or into a trap.

A few years ago, we had a lost Sheltie who had been missing for several cold winter days. She was found after her owners left a scent article in the area she had last been sighted. It was a jacket her dad wore. The next morning, she was found, sleeping on the jacket.

It appears that someone is sleeping in Daisy's bed.

A dog’s bedding (and crate) have familiar scents that may draw a lost dog back home.

Just leaving a scent article is a good idea when you’ve lost a dog, but I’ve learned a few things about how to handle scent articles during a couple of nose work classes Daisy, Jasper and I took this summer. Keeping the scent article free of other smells when you need to transport it to another location is important. When we went to class, we were asked to bring all our scent articles (socks, shirt, etc.) in a sealed plastic baggie so as to avoid contamination by other smells.

It turns out that this is not all that new in the search and rescue world. They try to keep scent articles free of other people’s scents too. This prevents the dog from being confused by other smells of other individuals, including those scents of dog handler herself!

You can read more about scent articles and the importance of not contaminating them here, but the most important piece I hope you take from this is this …

If you lose your dog or cat, don’t forget to place their bedding, your bedding, your pajamas, the dog’s blanket, or your blanket, outside. It could be the thing that brings them home. 

  1. September 15, 2014 at 6:21 AM

    Great idea!

  2. Victoria Carter
    September 15, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Great information! Thankfully we’ve not had the stress of dealing with a lost dog (loose yes, lost no), and can’t imagine the heartache. Considering how many people we meet on walks (we don’t walk in our neighborhood due to the amount of reactive dogs that live on our street) that stop and ask us if our dogs are part wolf (which they aren’t) I worry that they would be hurt by someone who didn’t know any better, especially since all our dogs are giant teddy bears that love kids and people.

    • Mel
      September 18, 2014 at 6:50 AM

      Your dogs sound beautiful. Yes, it can be quite a heartache. I have experienced if myself and never want to go through that again.

  3. September 15, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    Excellent tip to use scent articles, I’ll have to add that to my repertoire of tips for finding a lost pet! I never thought of using traps for dogs, only on cats for TNR purposes. Interesting.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Cathy, Isis & Phoebe

    • Mel
      September 18, 2014 at 6:47 AM

      Oh yes Cathy. Traps are often the only way to catch a lost Sheltie in many cases. We usually have 3-4 we can call in, if needed. They make a huge difference.

  4. September 15, 2014 at 8:18 PM

    Such a great idea. Dogs often do try and find their ways back home; this would help tremendously.

    • Mel
      September 17, 2014 at 6:45 AM

      We just had one travel 7 miles to get back home. He was gone for two weeks and showed up at home yesterday. Amazing.

    • Mel
      September 18, 2014 at 6:46 AM

      It has worked more times than I can count Jen. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell.

  5. September 17, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    This is SUCH a helpful post. I never thought about scent articles – brilliant. Of course, I hope I never have to use it, but it’s good to have that filed away!

    • Mel
      September 18, 2014 at 6:41 AM

      Thanks Maggie! Another thought is to save a scent article for any dog who is a flight risk. That way a tracking dog can help find them.

  6. Jeanne Masanz
    April 13, 2016 at 4:00 PM

    Please tell me where you got sunny from ? I gave up a dog sunny that looks just like him same name. My heart is truly broken if that’s him he never runs I trained him very well he would chase dogs that it

    • Mel
      April 15, 2016 at 1:14 PM

      Sunnyy is not my dog. He belongs to a family from another state. He was obtained when he was a puppy.
      I am so sorry your Sunny is gone.

  7. pat powell
    April 12, 2017 at 12:16 PM

    These tips work for cats, too. I had a Siamese cat get out during a thunderstorm, and was gone for a week. When I put his blanket out on the fence, he was home within hours.

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