Monday, 2 July 2012

Tracking a Lost Dog with Maps

Guest Blog written by:

Ruth Firth
Muttz Dog Boarding (Bledlow Ridge and surrounding areas)

I first heard that Quigley was missing via the Doglost website.  His story immediately struck a chord with me when I read that he was lost while being cared for by a home dog boarder. 

I set up my home boarding business in 2010 and my main priority has always been the safety and welfare of the dogs I care for.  Of course, the dogs that board with me must feel comfortable and enjoy being in my home.  But, because I take safety seriously, I employ the use of stair gates, separation of boarders at night or when alone, and daily walks of boarders on 30 foot long leads.  

Some dog walkers disagree with me for not letting dogs off lead, but for me this works because I can sleep at night knowing that I have done everything in my power to ensure that the dogs go home safe and well at the end of their holiday.

My Experience with Tracking Quigley 

The search for Quigley has been a steep learning curve for me. Never having been in the position of searching for a beloved lost dog, I had no idea what it would entail.  It required me to learn a whole new set of skills.

 In the first couple of weeks, I followed Quigley's search daily.  When it appeared that he was heading in my direction I joined in the search and quickly became a member of the elite "Team Quigley." I started by postering further afield to the areas that I thought he may reach.  When he was sighted locally I walked, postered, followed tracks in the snow and sometimes, along with other members of Team Quigley, just sat on a hillside with a pair of binoculars and watched.

Over the early days and weeks, as Team Quigley established itself,  I quickly became known as the ‘map person’.  There were a few reasons for this.  First, I owned OS maps and large scale footpath maps for the area.  Second, because of my nature to leave no stone unturned, I began to plot absolutely everything on a google map so I could see Quigley's movements and try to establish a pattern. 

Using Maps to Help Track a Lost Dog


When your dog has gone missing it is a priority to get as many posters up as possible which will hopefully lead to calls about sightings.  As sightings come in, I think it is important to appoint a member of your team to log onto google maps and create a sightings map. 

Start by plotting the place where the dog was originally lost.  It is important to discover this place because dogs tend to return to the place they were lost because it might be familiar or have the scent of their owner.  Next, layer the maps with sightings as they are called in.

Label each sighting by date.  If you take meticulous notes on each sighting, it is also very helpful to add, as notes, the time of the sighting or the direction the dog was going in when he was seen. 

As time goes on, and sightings are added to the map, you might see a pattern forming – usually this is a triangular route.  Once you have a pattern, you can draw lines between the points to give a sense of the actual route the dog may be traveling.  I've learned that unlike humans, dogs won’t necessarily stick to roads or public footpaths (make sure that posters are up along the entire route so that everyone is aware). 

You may be surprised by the size of the triangle a dog can make.  You can roughly figure this out by measuring the mileage along each side – as the crow flies is usually much less than you expect it to be on a glance.  If you are getting a good number of sightings you may even be able to see how long the dog is taking to travel this route.  If his triangle is small, he may do each of the sides in a day or two.  If the triangle is large he could take a week to cover one side and therefore he may not return to the same area for another three weeks. 

When you have established your dog’s route, look to see if there are any rivers or railways that the dog would have to cross – bridges or tunnels can be ‘funnel points’ by which the dog might commonly pass.  It is a good idea to mark these on the map as they are great places to set up wildlife cameras so that you can try to get footage of your dog. You may also use the map to look for streams and ponds; obviously a dog running free needs water so they will be drawn to both of these. Dogs may also follow the path of a river or stream so this could be represented in the route as well. 

In google, if you switch to satellite view of the map, you can zoom in and search the area for barns abandoned shacks, etc. where the dog may be bedding down.  You may also look for buildings where he may be getting food (e.g. farms or pubs where he could raid the bins). 

Although Team Quigley laughs about this now, I spent several evenings plotting electricity pylons onto a map.  The idea came to me because during one evening’s search, a helper asked whether or not it was possible that Quigley would follow the pylons.  I decided that it wasn't really a bad idea since he could have been following the humming noise that they make and certainly a few of the sightings were near pylons.  I went home and proceeded to zoom in on the satellite map so that I could actually see the shadows of all the pylons.   I was able to mark the pylons and all the power lines on the map. Ultimately, it proved that Quigley’s route was not related to the power lines but it just shows what can be done if you have set up a map in this fashion.

When the search for Quigley had been going on for a few weeks and the sightings were mounting up on the map, I decided to colour code the sightings by month.  It was only then that we realised that, from one month to the next, ‘Quigley’s area’ had in fact moved a few miles north-east.  I have carried on with that method and it certainly makes the map easier to read.  One can see the most recent sightings quickly, even if they are in the middle of a bunch of older sightings.  Any sightings that were called in, but not confirmed as Quigley, were still added and colour coded on the map.  These sightings do not have a dot on the marker.  There were also several sightings that were called in and on first impression seemed to be in a strange place, but when marked on the map they made perfect sense.

This is the link to Quigley’s sighting map and it includes all the possible sightings that have been called in since he went missing six months ago. 

If you wish, you could do most of this on a large scale paper map but the benefit of using google maps over an ordinary OS map is that you can share it with anyone who is online.  All you need to do is email them the link to the initial map – whenever you update it they will see the updated version.  Also, you can access it on your smart phone or iPad while you are out.


  1. Hi Ruth, So great to read your story and how you have been helping in the search for Quigley - was he ever found? I would love to speak to you more about this story and the potential to film a small piece about it?

  2. Its really informative post you have shared with us, for finding the loving pet while they missing. You can simply also use the dog microchip reader to find your loving pet.