How to Find a Lost Dog: Tried & True Methods, and Some You Haven’t Considered

September 24, 2013

lost dog istockphoto2This week’s post is a follow-up to Five Things to do Now, Before Your Dog is Lost. If your dog isn’t currently lost, check out that blog, then come back and print out the tips that follow for future reference. Some of these are standard procedure, and others are a product of my years working with dogs in shelters, rescue, and training. My sincere hope is that you’ll never need them.

Search your neighborhood:

Search area: 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. You will cover the paths where you normally walk your dog, and then move gradually and methodically out to surrounding areas.
Dogs are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. You’ll want to search at other times as well, but focus on those two time periods.

Walking search: Grab a leash and take along some super-stinky, yummy food you know your dog loves, such as sardines, hot dogs, or fresh pieces of roasted chicken. If your dog has a favorite toy, bring it along. Toys that make noise, such as ones that squeak or jingle, are best. If you have another dog, bring that dog along, too. If your dog is an only dog but you have access to another yours is friendly with, ask the owner to walk with you.

Call out your dog’s name as you go, jingle the toy, and keep the stinky food exposed to the air. Do visual sweeps, paying careful attention to places such as bushes, the undersides of cars, and other areas your dog might take cover if he’s sleeping, injured, or frightened. Brainstorm about local places your dog might venture, such as the local dog park, woods, or fields where rabbits or other wildlife are found; or, in a more urban environment, perhaps your dog might head for a neighbor’s house where a canine friend lives.

Driving search: If possible, have someone else drive so you can focus on searching and calling out your dog’s name. If you’re alone, drive slowly and keep your eyes on the road as you do intemittent visual sweeps of the area. Keep the windows rolled down and call out your dog’s name as you go. If your dog knows, “Wanna go for a ride?” call his name followed by the phrase, uttered in the same happy tone you’d normally use. Whether you are searching by car or on foot, if your dog knows a recall cue, use his name and call him to come to you. Even though you’re understandably stressed out, remember the happy voice!

Photograph: Bring a few recent photos along, preferably one head shot and a few full body photos. Show them to everyone you encounter. If your dog is currently wearing a different collar, harness, or other “clothing” than what’s shown in the photos, say so. Ask whether anyone’s seen your dog, and give them a way to contact you.

Get the word out:

Inform your neighbors: If you feel it’s safe, knock on doors and explain, and/or leave flyers. If your dog is not people-friendly, don’t expect people to attempt contact. Instead, supply them with the phone number of your local animal control agency along with your cell number, and ask them to call both if they spot your dog. Even if your dog is friendly, ask people not to chase him, but to turn their body to the side (and even crouch down with body turned sideways if they’re willing and able) and clap gently, using a high-pitched, happy voice to lure your dog to them. If they have a yard or other potential containment area, ask them to coax your dog inside, close the door/gate, and then call you. Let people know too whether your dog is dog-friendly, in case they have a dog of their own.

Post “Lost” flyers around your neighborhood, using your targeted map as a guide. Keep the text large so it’s easily readable, and post strategically so motorists passing in both directions can spot them; be sure to post at traffic signals and stop signs, where motorists will be more likely to have a moment to read.

Include a clear photo, preferably in color. The word “REWARD” should appear prominently. (Positive reinforcement works for people, too.) Now, I know some will disagree with this, but I also recommend printing “NEEDS MEDICATION,” whether the dog does or not, as it helps to dissuade those who believe in a “Finders, Keepers” policy from keeping your dog. Create small tear-off tags at the bottom of the page with your phone number so the tags get removed and the flyer remains up.

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

Distribute flyers to your local postal workers and delivery drivers. They’re the ones who cover your neighborhood in a comprehensive way daily, and have the best chance of spotting your dog. Give flyers to kids who are playing or hanging out on the street and let them know there’s a reward. Alert local dog walkers, since they are not only out and about in the community regularly, but will have other dogs with them who might attract your dog. Other people to hand flyers to include bus drivers, taxi drivers, highway workers, utility workers—you get the idea. Give ‘em to anyone who’s spending time in your neighborhood and is willing to help.

Alert local trainers and groomers in case someone decides to keep your dog and engages their services. Let local rescue groups know, too. If your dog is a purebred, alert the breed rescue, even if it’s not in your immediate area. Even if your dog is a mixed breed, alert the breed rescue for his predominant breed, as well as mixed-breed rescues.

Spread the word online. Post information and photos on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media you subscribe to, and ask that it be shared.

Place “Lost dog” ads in your local and surrounding newspapers, and on Craiglist.

Search Shelters and Humane Socieities:

Search shelters in your area, and any within roaming distance, daily. Depending on where you live, strays may be euthanized after just a few days of not being claimed. Don’t just call—you must show up in person. Often the office staffer who answers the phone 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 all of the runs, even those reserved for the opposite sex (every now and then a mistake is made as to gender). And don’t skip the medical area! If your dog was hit by a car or otherwise injured, that’s where he’ll be. Ask a shelter staffer whether you’re allowed inside; if not, give them a few photos and ask them to take a look. Also, ask in the main office where to locate the Found postings.


If your dog is a purebred or a mostly-purebred, keep a vigilant watch on the website of any local groups who specialize in that breed. Check the websites too of any local mixed-breed rescue groups.

If you’ve got a GPS tracker on your dog, use it. Be sure you know how wide of a geographical range the product covers.

There are companies that will, for a fee, help 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 or unable to conduct a full-on search on your own. Depending on the state you live in, there may even be services available where a bloodhound or other breed can help to track your dog.

If you spot your dog:

Hopefully, you’ll soon spot your dog. Although you’ll be thrilled to see him, since the outside world is one big Doggie Disneyland, he might not be inclined to run directly to you. If that happens, try to get him to chase you instead. If you’re near your home, have him chase you all the way into the yard, then close the gate; if not, try to maneuver to where you can grab him gently. Another trick you can try is to fall down and pretend to cry. Use a high-pitched, distressed tone. Many dogs will run to their owners in that situation.

The most important thing:

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 him in for a few months and then gave the dog up to a shelter. Keep looking, keep spreading the word, and stay strong. Here’s to your dog getting home safe and sound.

Print this Checklist:

____ On a map, circle a radius with your residence as the mid-point.
____ When searching, take: treats, toys, your other dog, a familiar dog.
____ Create a “Lost Dog” flyer. Photo, large text, tear-off contact info.
____ Post flyers at:
– street corners
– veterinary offices
– groomers
– kennels
– shelters
– dog parks
– pet supply stores
– non-pet-related stores
____ Give flyers to:
– passersby
– kids hanging out/playing in street
– bus drivers
– delivery drivers (e.g., UPS, FedEx)
____ Inform:
– local rescues (breed-specific if applicable, too)
– trainers
– groomers
– boarding kennels
____ Post online to social media and other groups.
____ Place ads in local newspapers and on Craig’s List.
____ Search shelters thoroughly and regularly.
____ Monitor local rescue websites, especially if your dog’s a purebred.
You can find all of Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs and products at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

5 Things to do Now, Before Your Dog Becomes Lost

September 18, 2013

ID dog for HPNo owner wants to think about their dog going missing. But during the course of your dog’s life, even with the best management and vigilance, it could happen: dogs become spooked during fireworks and bolt; they run off when fences are downed in natural disasters; and, sometimes they simply run through a gate that’s been left open.

In the spirit of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, here are five things to do now, just in case:

1. Make sure your dog’s microchip and tags are up to date. Many people change their address or phone number without thinking twice about updating their dog’s chip; the microchip company should be informed. (If your dog isn’t microchipped, get it done right away; almost every veterinarian and shelter now has a scanner capable of reading them.) Speaking of identification, even if your dog’s ID tag info is up to date, when’s the last time you took a look at it? My dog Bodhi had been wearing the same engraved metal tag for years. Recently, when I went to adjust his collar, I noticed that the text had been all but worn off, rendering it unreadable.

2. That ID tag isn’t worth much without a well-fitted collar. If your dog is a puppy, resize periodically as needed. If your dog is an adult, check regularly, but especially after events like being groomed (the groomer will remove it temporarily) or having medical treatment. A correctly fitted collar allows for two fingers to lie flat between it and the dog’s body. You should not be able to pull the collar off over your dog’s head, even with moderate tension. If you’re worried about leaving a collar on your dog when you’re gone, because of potential entaglement with another dog or getting hung on a fence or object, consider a breakaway collar.

3. Do regular inspections of your yard with an eye toward potential escape points. If you have wooden fencing, check that the slat bottoms haven’t become so worn that your dog could dig under or push through. Chain link fencing should be checked for areas that have become curled up or pushed out. Regardless of fence type, ensure that you don’t have tall garbage cans or other obejcts positioned too close to the fenceline, as they could act as makeshift stairs.

4. If your dog is a known escape artist, consider purchasing a GPS-style tracking product. Now available from various companies, the device sits on your dog’s collar, and tracking is done via an app on your mobile device. There is a monthly service fee that varies depending on the company.

5. Keep a few current photos of your dog handy, including a head shot and full body shot. Should the worst happen, those photos will become crucially important, as you’ll use them to create flyers and online posts.

Stay tuned for Part II, which offers tips on what to do if your dog becomes lost, including a few I bet you haven’t considered!

You can find all of Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs and products at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Social Facilitation: When Two Dogs are Better Than One

September 3, 2013

babies english cockerNoises from the upper floor of the house; unfamiliar people; sudden movements. Those were just a few of the things that scared Buster. The buff-colored Cocker spaniel lived with his human parents and dog-sister Betsy in a two-story condo. His owners had called for help in rehabilitating Buster so he could go through life without being chronically anxious. At our first session, he appeared to be as frightened as they’d reported. Although he was clearly food-motivated, he was afraid to approach me. Everything in his body language broadcasted a hesitancy to interact. Where, I asked his owners, was Betsy? They’d locked her away in another room so as to reduce distractions during training. I suggested we let her out. I wanted to see whether Buster’s behavior might change with her there.

To say a transformation occurred would be an understatement. As soon as Betsy entered the room, she ran over and jumped on me for attention—and so did Buster! It was hard to believe this was the same dog who had, minutes before, practically been afraid to breathe the same air as me. With Betsy in attendance, I was able to work successfully hands-on with Buster. As our sessions progressed, we worked gradually toward his feeling confident without Besty present; but having her there at first was the key that allowed me to get a foot in the door.

Social facilitation means that one dog’s behavior amplifies or changes another’s. For example, one dog howls or barks when another does, or one anxious dog’s behavior in the vet’s waiting room causes another dog to become upset. But social facilitation can work to a dog’s advantage too, as in Buster’s case. Studies of thunderstorm phobias, for example, have shown that the presence of another dog who is relaxed can actually calm the phobic dog, whereas whether the owner was nearby or not didn’t seem to make much difference.

I’ve employed social facilitation with clients whose dog was afraid of a family member. Unfortunately, the trigger in these cases is usually a man (sorry guys, it’s the testosterone—you’re bigger, have deeper voices, and tend to be scarier to fearful dogs). Behavior modification programs can go a long way, but sometimes bringing another dog into the picture can move things along a lot more quickly. (Be sure the dogs get along first, and don’t invite another dog over if yours is territorial.) The scared dog sees the other dog approach the man; the man pets and plays with the friendly dog, and feeds treats. The scared dog will, more often than not, begin to approach the person as well. Even if he doesn’t get involved in the action the first time around, chances are, with repeated exposure, he’ll learn from the other dog that the person is no one to fear. (If the second dog doesn’t like the man either, I might start to wonder about the guy…I’m just sayin’.)

For a dog who’s frightened of pretty much everything in the great outdoors, assuming the dog is dog-friendly, inviting a friend with a confident dog to walk alongside can help. Just as with Buster, it could help the dog to see the world as less of a threatening place. There are so many types of situations where one dog can alleviate the stress of another. I even know of a woman who’s second dog was allowed to spend the night in a cage at the vet’s office with the one who was recovering from surgery, since the second dog served as a sort of security blanket for the first.

Social facilitation is one more “tool” to keep in your toolbox of things that may help your dog. Or, to put it in common terms, sometimes two dogs are better than one!

For “Help for Your Fearful Dog,” more books/DVDs and Nicole’s seminar schedule, please visit

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