You know what to do if you're interested in meeting the neighbors: Get a dog.

You know what to do if you're interested in meeting the neighbors: Get a dog.

Dogs make people friendly. Take the stranger who's lived next door for two years, the one who's never spoken, even though you share the same demographic, the same driveway and the same trash collector.

You have more common denominators than a math textbook, and yet not one word has passed between you.

Then you appear with a dog, and your neighbor all but jumps the hedge in his rush to say hello, ask what kind of dog it is, if it's a rescue, what you named it and so on. Never mind that he directs these questions at the animal and not at you.

The point is, just like that you're best friends, and all it took was a dog. In this respect, a dog is like a glass of wine: It loosens up awkward types, gives the shy something to talk about and causes serious adults to prattle like children.

But we all knew that. What I didn't know until recently was this dog rule addendum: to connect with the entire neighborhood, lose a dog.

Or wait until he gets himself lost, as we did. Our dog's adoption profile called him a border collie, but anyone could see that while a border collie might have lifted a leg in his gene pool, so did several other breeds.

His ears aren't triangles that look like blackened pizza slices, his chest fur isn't long and lush, reminiscent of Merlin's beard, and above all, the herding instinct that defines the border collie seems nonexistent. He's no more interested in herding and gathering than he is in flower arranging.

What he wants to do – wants to do and will do, despite all attempts to dissuade him – is sniff out a trail. Interesting smells intrigue him. An interesting smell that goes somewhere pulls him like industrial chain attached to a tractor. He's at the mercy of his nose, and his nose was immediately implicated recently when Pip disappeared five minutes after putting paw outside.

He's done this before and he's always returned, sometimes in a few minutes, other times in a few hours. But this is no guarantee he'll always return, and each absence sends my husband and me into a new set of tailspins.

It's not that Pip wants to leave. We once owned a dog who would sneak out of the yard even when all of us were outside calling him back. He'd literally look over his shoulder, then keep going. Since he always went to the same place, another house several miles away, we'd give him time to get there, then go bring him home.

But Pip is different. He's thrilled to come when called; he all but hugs himself with pride when our voices bring him back to the porch. A compelling smell, however, is his undoing. Training goes down the drain and Pip goes where his nose leads. His recent disappearance was the scariest; he melted into the towering cornfields and didn't come back, though we shouted and clapped and banged metal against metal.

Finally it was almost dark. We had eaten a tasteless supper and I had attended a meeting at which I was morose and useless before we finally started calling the neighbors. We called houses to the south, west and east. I had notified our daughters of the crisis in progress, and when the phone rang, I assumed it was one of them, calling to commiserate.

It was a neighbor to the north. We hadn't considered north because an enormous field of eight-foot-high corn lies between our house and anything over there. Surely Pip couldn't cover that distance. Especially, neither of us mentioned aloud, considering the coyotes that claim the field as their territory.

But he had covered it. Our neighbor explained that he had just come home to find a strange dog waiting by the garage door. Within minutes, the neighbor had examined Pip's tags, found our number and called it.

Meanwhile, my husband was trading dog anecdotes with a neighbor to the east. A neighbor to the northwest searched her yard when I called; another neighbor called back later, wondering if we'd found our dog yet. It was like a party, like a reunion, like a neighborhood get-together without the beer.

It was especially party-like when Pip scrambled into our truck, dirty, tired and thirsty. But home.