How to Find a Lost Dog

A black dog wanders through the woods alone.

If you are reading this article because you just lost your dog, take a deep breath and do your best to remain calm. The idea of your dog facing busy streets or being scared in an unknown environment is understandably distressing, but it’s important not to panic. You’ve got some work to do and it’s ideal to start the moment you know your dog is missing.

Start Looking In The Immediate Area Your Dog Was Lost

Even if your dog took off like a shot, chances are he won’t have kept up that pace for very long or stayed on a straight path. The majority of lost dogs are found within a two-mile radius of their home and many are found even closer. Be sure to look on your own property and surrounding properties, in particular around the homes of any neighbors you and your dog are friendly with. Check in open sheds, in crawl spaces under porches, and in dense bushes. If your dog was frightened by a loud noise, he may have sought out a quiet den for safety. If you two have a usual walking route, or a nearby park you enjoy regularly, retrace your beaten path, calling your dog’s name in a friendly, upbeat way.

Keep your cell phone charged and on hand. Ideally, your dog was wearing a collar with identification tags, a personalized collar with back-up tags, and/or was microchipped so you can be reached easily by anyone who finds your dog. If he slipped free of his collar before he was lost, don’t despair, the chances are still good you will find him if you are persistent and thorough in your search.

Bring Treats When You Search For Your Dog

Take a minute to gather your best bud’s favorite treats and dog toys before you head out to look for him. Put a few of his favorite snacks into your pocket. Grab a squeaky toy he adores and squeeze it as you search. If he’s within earshot, the sound will likely draw him to you.

Check The Local Animal Shelter For Your Lost Dog

While you are searching in your neighborhood, call the local shelters, police departments, vet offices, and animal control centers. Give them a detailed description of your dog to see if he has already been picked up or dropped off. If he has not been found, let them know you will be dropping off pictures of your dog later.

Ask For Help Finding Your Dog

Searching for a lost dog can be an overwhelming task on your own, especially when you are distraught. Enlist the help of family, friends, and neighbors who know your dog well to widen the search and give you a much-needed break if the search drags on. This way you can create lost-dog posters, while another family member retraces your usual walking route and a friend visits neighbors to ask if they’ve seen your dog.

How To Make A Lost-Dog Poster

Follow these tips to create an effective lost-dog poster:

  • Use a big photo of your dog. It should take up at least half the area of the poster or flier. Using a close-up picture of your dog’s face is most effective, unless he has very distinctive markings, in which case a full-body photo is best.
  • Use large, brightly-colored poster board or paper.
  • Write in bold, neat, large lettering using permanent marker that will stay visible after rain.
  • Make the most prominent words descriptive. For example, write “Lost Dachshund” or “Large White Poodle” instead of “Lost Dog.” People will absorb the description fastest, and if they see your dog later those words are more likely to pop to mind.
  • Include only your cell phone numbers and an alternate number of a friend or family member.
  • Make a lot of posters and fliers. Put them up in the area where your dog was lost and at major intersections in the surrounding areas. Put them up at the local police station, all animal shelters in the area, veterinarians offices and at local businesses. Carry fliers with you as you walk around the area so you can give them to people and expand your search party exponentially.

Post The Lost Dog Information Online

Repeat all the information from your posters on the many websites and apps that people can search if they’ve found a lost dog.

Don’t Give Up

Keep visiting animal shelters. Broaden your search. Replace lost-dog posters that have been covered, removed, or ruined by the weather. People have been reunited with lost dogs months after they have gone missing.

What If Someone Calls About Your Dog?

If a person you don’t know calls to say they’ve found your dog, request that they meet at a local park or dog run for the reunion. Bring a buddy along and be wary of anyone who asks for money to return your dog.

If You Spot Your Dog, Don’t Run To Him

If your dog got lost because something scared him or if he’s been lost a long time, there’s a good chance he’s extremely frightened. Running towards him and hollering may spook him and set him dashing off again. Entice him to come to you. Say your dog’s name and call to him with friendly, familiar phrases. If you are near your driveway and your dog loves a car ride, open the car door and say “Let’s go for a ride!” or whichever phrase you would normally use. It’s also a good time to offer him one of those treats in your pocket. If your dog seems extremely skittish or fearful, sit down and pretend to be very interested in something on the ground. This unexpected behavior can disrupt his fear and make him curious enough to approach you.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Getting Lost Again

  • Review how and why your dog got loose. If there was a gap in your backyard fence, fix it. If he dashed off because of a loud noise, keep outside doors closed when a thunderstorm is brewing or your town is putting on a fireworks display. If your dog is bored, make sure you give him more opportunities for play and exercise.
  • Make sure his dog collar is sturdy, well-fitting and has ID tags personalized with your cell phone number and proof of rabies vaccination. Even if your dog is microchipped, personalized ID tags on his collar are the fastest way people can reach you if they find your dog.
  • If your dog frequently bolts for the door, consider indoor dog gates so you can open outside doors without worry.
  • Train your dog to “come” on command so he’ll return when you call if he gets loose from your yard or slips out of his collar.
  • Spay or neuter your dog so s/he doesn’t have the urge to wander off in search of a mate.

What To Do After You’ve Found Your Dog

When your dog is finally back in the fold, be wary of unloading the pent-up stress of the search upon your dog. Don’t yell at him or punish him. The impetus for his setting off in the first place is long forgotten, he may still be terrified after his ordeal, and he needs to feel safe and secure with his human again. Shower him with love and enjoy the sweet relief of your reunion.

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