Twenty Tips for Finding a Lost Dog

The Lost Dog notice you see here was posted recently on Facebook by a wonderful trainer I know. This dog is very special to her, and my heart sank when I saw it. I remember years ago when Soko, my German Shepherd, managed to escape our suburban back yard. I’d been working in an office at the time, and when the call from a neighbor came in saying she’d spotted Soko running down the street, I left so fast that my co-workers must surely have wondered whether my house was on fire! And it is an emergency situation when a dog is lost. Fortunately, we found Soko within a few hours—she was standing outside a yard with a dog in it, blocks from our house. Hopefully Isabella the lost Husky will be found soon as well. As this is such a dire, potentially heartbreaking situation, I want to share some ideas for finding lost dogs. There are some you probably already know, and others you might not have thought of. I suggest holding on to the list for future reference, although I hope you’ll never need it.

1. Search your neighborhood both on foot and by car. Dogs are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Search at other times as well, but focus on those two time periods. Cover the paths where you normally walk your dog, as well as surrounding areas. Draw a circle on a map with your home at the center. Extend the radius out a few miles so you can cover the area in a comprehensive, methodical way.

2. Grab a leash, and take along some really stinky, yummy food you know your dog will love. If your dog has a favorite toy, bring that along as well. Toys that make noise, such as ones that squeak or jingle, are best. Whether you’re walking or driving, go slowly and shout out your dog’s name in a happy voice. (If you’re in a vehicle, having someone else drive so you’re free to shout out the window is advised). Assuming your dog is familiar with the phrase, “Wanna go for a ride?” say your dog’s name followed the phrase, uttered in the same tone you’d normally use. If your dog is trained to come when called, try calling their name and then giving the recall cue, also using the tone you’d normally use for the exercise.

3. If you have another dog, or have access to another dog yours is friends with, take that dog along on searches.

4. Bring a photo with you, and show it to everyone you pass. (If your dog is not currently lost, be sure to have a photo handy on your cell phone or printed out, just in case. You might also need it to claim your dog if he’s ever impounded at a shelter or humane society.)

5. If your dog is not friendly with people, you can’t very well ask anyone to try to contain him; in that case, give out the number of your local animal control agency, and your cell number, and ask people to call immediately if they spot your dog. Even if your dog is people-friendly, tell people that if they do see him, not to chase him. Ask that they turn their body to the side (and even crouch down with the body turned sideways) and clap gently, using a happy voice to lure your dog to them. Ask that if they have a yard or other containment area, to coax your dog inside and then call you. Let people know if your dog is dog-friendly, in case they have a dog of their own. And don’t forget to mention the reward; positive reinforcement works for people, too.

6. Be sure all of your neighbors are aware of the situation. If you feel it’s safe, knock on doors in your area, explain the situation, and leave people with a flyer.

7. Post “Lost” flyers all around your neighborhood, using the map you marked up as a guide. Don’t crowd the flyer with text, as it should be easily readable by passing drivers. Include a photo, preferably in color. The word “REWARD” should appear in large letters. It’s also a good idea to add the phrase, “Needs medication.” This not only imparts a sense of urgency, but dissuades those who might believe in a “Finders, Keepers” policy from “adopting” your dog. It’s best to have small tear-off tags with your phone number at the bottom of the flyer, so that people take a tag rather than tearing down the entire flyer.

8. Place a Lost Dog ad in your local papers, and be sure to search daily through the Found ads. Do the same for Craig’s List online, and any other classifieds sites local to your area.

9. Give flyers to your local postal workers, and delivery drivers for services like UPS and FedEx. They’re the ones who are all over your neighborhood daily, so they have the best chance of spotting your dog. Give flyers to kids who are playing out in the street, and make sure they know there’s a reward. Alert local pet sitters, since they too are out and about in the community, and normally have other dogs with them that might attract your dog. Give flyers to anyone you can think of who spends time around your neighborhood—bus drivers, taxi drivers, highway workers, utility workers, etc. Tell local trainers too, in case someone decides to keep your dog and then get him trained. The more people you tell, the better the chance someone will call you when your dog is spotted.

10. Post flyers at your local veterinary offices, emergency clinics, shelters, humane societies, groomers, pet supply stores, kennels, any other dog-related businesses, and dog parks. Post too at laundromats, supermarkets, community bulletin boards, and anywhere else that will allow it.

11. Spread the virtual word! Share your information on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to include a photo.

12. Let local rescue groups know, too. If your dog is purebred, someone might try to turn him in to the breed rescue group rather than dropping him off at a shelter. Even if he’s a mixed breed, make sure local rescue groups have your phone number and a description/photo of your dog.

13. Search your local shelter, and any that are within roaming distance, daily. Don’t just call—you must show up in person. Often the office staffer who answers the phones will not know what dogs are in the actual facility. Also, your dog might have been marked down as the wrong breed upon intake. Be sure to search not only all of the runs (they may have misidentified the gender—it happens), but the medical area as well. If your dog was hit by a car or otherwise injured, that’s where he’ll be, and yet most shelter officials won’t tell you to look there. Find out the number of days your shelter holds lost dogs before they become available for adoption (or worse, euthanized), and be sure that you or someone shows up within that time frame on an ongoing basis.

14. While at the shelter, search through the “found” books or postings. Someone might have your dog at home and doesn’t want to turn him in.

15. Search all of the places you can think of that a dog might find attractive. Local dog parks, fields that contain rabbits or squirrels, woods, garbage dumps, and dumpsters behind restaurants are all good bets. When you search on foot, be sure to keep an eye on bushes and under cars, as those are common hiding places for a frightened dog, or one who is napping.

16. There are companies that will, for a fee, search for your dog by generating flyers and employing a voluminous contact list. This can be especially helpful if you work full time or are otherwise too busy to conduct a full-on search effort on your own.

17. This one might seem odd to some, but you might contact a pet psychic. Yes, there are many…let’s say, “non-talented” folks out there calling themselves psychics. But some are talented enough that they can at least let you know the type of setting where they “see” the dog, which could provide the clue that helps you to find him.

18. If you spot your dog on the street, be sure to follow the body language suggested in point #5. You could even try running the other way, encouraging him in a happy voice to chase you, until you get the chance to put a leash on him.

19. For other ideas on how to catch your own dog when he’s off leash, see my blog Stop Chasing That Dog!

20. Think positive. Visualize your dog home safe and sound. Most importantly, don’t give up! I know of a few cases where a dog was lost, and someone took the dog in for a few months and then gave it up to a shelter. Keep looking; organization, hope, and perseverance are the most valuable tools you have. Here’s to your dog getting home safe and sound.

(Feel free to share this post with anyone who might find it helpful–please include at the bottom (c) 2012 Nicole Wilde


15 Responses to Twenty Tips for Finding a Lost Dog

  1. chiluv101 says:

    I hope this woman finds her dog and he is safe and unharmed. Keep us posted. Thanks for sharing great tips on finding a lost dog.

  2. John Vassel says:

    Might I also suggest you call your 911 dispatch center. People often call 911 when a dog is seen running loose, or in their yard. If the dispatchers have your contact info, they can usually pass on info. I guess it all depends on area, but in my area they’re very helpful.

  3. Viva says:

    As someone with a dog that actually needs twice-daily medication, I don’t think that people should falsely claim that their pet does. It’s unfair to those that actually need that added sense of urgency, and it’s not going to work for long anyway- almost all the flyers around here say that. It also makes people less likely to believe it when it is the case- why, when every single poster says that?

  4. Shannon says:

    #12 is very important, and I wouldn’t have thought of that. Rescues have great networking with shelters and other rescues. Good idea!

    #13 I would say go further than roaming distance. Anything can happen – someone may pick your dog up and drive a good distance, then lose the dog again or take him to a shelter in a different area. And in huge metro areas, like Los Angeles, Animal Control covers large and odd territories. A dog picked up in one neighborhood could easily end up at a municipal shelter 10-15 miles away.

  5. These tips are awesome and I have shared them on FB for dog loving friends and family.Iam glad a friend brought me to your blog,I have subscribed 🙂 I started a dog blog in Jan 2012 and love meeting other dog people around the world. You are an inspiration being at it for a few years,well done.

  6. fearfuldogs says:

    Always timely. So many newly rehomed dogs go missing. I hope one day they’ll all have a GPS unit on their collar. Feeding stations & creating hiding places are important too. If you can narrow down the dog’s territory, many will stick close to a food source. Then traps can be set by professionals.

  7. To help with your dog getting found, make sure they never go anywhere without their collar with a) a tag that has a phone number b) a licence c) have your dog tattooed or given a chip- the chips almost never come out and if the dog is picked up without a collar a scan can reunite them in seconds. Our dog ran away once in 10 years and after 2 hours of driving and walking with our other dog in the neighbourhood she ended up being outside a pub less than 4 blocks away. She had gone there and had been sitting there the entire time. She looked so at home none of the worker or patrons had thought she was lost. Forget tip #17, that’s nonsense. There have never been any proven cases where dogs or people have been found with a psychic. But the other tips are great

  8. […] Twenty tips for finding a lost dog – very comprehensive and worth having on hand. […]

  9. Katearicesspooch says:

    Thanks so much for the tips I hope this will help me out tmro!

  10. Nice info….tweeted you about this….thanks…

  11. Nicole, I love your posts!

    I work in a shelter and cover most of these. One additional thing I do is tell people to go DOOR TO DOOR in their immediate neightborhood. Knock on the door, physically hand the person who answers a flyer w/ a picture, talk to them about your dog. There are people who have found their pet (cat or dog) when talking to a neighbor and someone says “Oh my little Johnny was playing w/ so-and-so’s little boy and this sounds like the new dog they have.”

    I also think going door to door helps w/ awareness because so many people seem desensitized to flyers posted and, in some of our city neighborhoods, even desensitized to loose dogs (the “neighborhood” dog that everyone semi-cares for still exists and there is also an element of “I don’t want to get involved”).

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Jeanne,
      Thank you! I think it’s a great idea about going door to door, if you live in a neighborhood where it’s safe to do that. 🙂
      Take care,

  12. pet transporter says:

    I’ve read that if your pet is missing, it’s a good idea to put a sign on your own lawn. That way people will know that a pet is missing from that home, and it helps people who found the pet to possibly find the home easier and not have to go door to door.

%d bloggers like this: