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Dog waiting on the street

The essentials

  • Remember that time is of the essence — The first 12 hours are the most important and have the highest likelihood of you finding your lost dog. It is vital to get the news out as soon as possible using flyers, lost posters, and social media.
  • Reach out to your social network and neighbors — Don’t wait to contact your neighbors with updates. They can help you search and point you to local animal control agencies that might have your missing pet.
  • Be patient with yourself and your pet — If your dog is missing, they are likely just as confused and scared as you are. Don’t give up hope; most dogs find their way home within 30 days.

It goes without saying that if their beloved pet goes missing, most pet owners will want to get them back as soon as possible. It can be a heartbreaking experience not knowing where your best friend is, but acting quickly and showing persistence can be rewarded. Having a plan in case your pet goes missing during an emergency situation is also a good idea.

How to prevent losing your dog

No one wants to be the next person putting up lost and found ads on the street intersections in their town. Following this advice can keep you from being them and can help you be a good samaritan the next time you see someone in this situation.

  • Microchip your dog. Having your dog microchipped through companies puts them in a searchable database that can be activated if they go missing. A photo of your dog and their relevant information will be sent to other pet parents in your area.
  • Use proper identification. It is important that your dog has an ID tag that has their name and your contact information on it. This can include your telephone number or email. Companies such as FidoAlert offer tags that can help with locating your missing friend.
  • Ensure your yard is secure. If you let your dog out in your yard unsupervised, it is important to take the time to keep an eye on them and check on them occasionally. Additionally, check around the property weekly to ensure the fencing is still secure and safe. If you suspect your dog is climbing or jumping over the fence, make sure nothing is near the base and look into making it taller.
  • Practice leash training and obedience. Making sure your dog knows how to walk on a leash can keep them from ever getting loose. Untrained dogs are more likely to get away from you and dart away.
Empty dog collar and dog tags

How to find your lost dog

Communication is key when it comes to finding your missing animal. The sooner you tell people that you’ve lost your dog, the quicker you’re likely to receive the good news that they’ve been found.

Take immediate action

Most of the time, lost dogs will take refuge in places they are used to or comfortable in. Sometimes, they get distracted by something and are simply stuck or lost without being that far from home. Due to this, it is important to check with your neighborhood to see if they have seen your dog nearby.

Additionally, you can take out an ad in the local newspaper and put your pet’s details and your contact information so that people can get in touch with you. When searching for your dog, make sure someone stays home in case your dog makes their way back on their own.

A dog standing in the street

Notify local authorities

Get in contact with the animal services in your area to alert them to your dog being missing. This allows them to contact you if they find your pet. You can also check with your local animal shelters to see if any new arrivals could be your lost dog. Contacting your local veterinarians can also be helpful, if someone came in with your injured dog.

Use social media and online resources

You can join local Facebook groups and pages that are meant for alerting the community to missing pets. Providing them with a clear photo and description of your pet can get more hands on the task of finding your animal. There are also websites such as Petco Lost Love that can help put your dog on a wider search radar.

Additionally, websites like FidoAlert can alert a network of people, which enlists more help in searching for your pet.

Since that advent and wide use of Facebook and Twitter, more animals can be found quicker and/or track their movements by people documenting. The FidoAlert program and such companies as HomeAgain have made the process better, including the micro-chipping and routine scanning for chips at humane societies, shelters, and veterinary hospitals. Some still end up permanently lost or injured and not recovered, but these numbers are improving in my opinion.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Collaborate with local dog rescue organizations

Getting in touch with local rescues and shelters gets your name out there so that they can be notified to contact you if your dog shows up. However, they are generally busy and overworked, so it would be best to check with them frequently. They understand you are missing your friend, and polite persistence can be very helpful.

Missing dog poster on a glass wall

Photo: Neil Theasby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Create flyers and posters

In addition to online resources, it is important to tell people about your missing dog through word-of-mouth and physical outlets. Flyers and posters are cheap and easy to make, and you can put them up at places including veterinary hospitals, pet supply stores, grocery stores, and other areas people frequent. It is essential to give a good description of your pet, a recent and clear photo, their name, and reliable contact information they can use to reach you. In addition, offering a financial reward could help motivate people to go out of their way to look.

What to do when you find your lost dog

We all believe we know what to do when we find our missing dog: hug them and love on them like never before. Unfortunately, there are important things you need to do before then.

Check for injuries. Depending on how long your dog was lost, there is no telling what they have been through. Check them over for any obvious injuries and treat them to the best of your ability. Then, make a vet appointment for a check-up soon after.

Reestablish a sense of security. Your dog will be scared and likely very shaken up after this traumatizing event. It’s important they realize they are safe with you, so speak calmly and do not punish them for running away. Positive reinforcement and patience will help them be comfortable again.

Thank anyone who helped. If you promised a reward, promptly pay it and thank the people that helped. If something like this happens again, you want to be able to count on them to help.

Work on prevention measures. Think about what happened that let your dog get loose in the first place. Whether it was poor leash etiquette or a fence in need of repair, plan to fix the issue.

Empty grass field

Frequently asked questions

What do you do if you lose your dog?

If you have registered your pet with a pet ID network, it is imperative that you alert them as soon as possible. Then, enlist the help of your friends and family members to put up flyers, posters, and posts on social media with your contact details, a current photo of your pet, and any other helpful details. Finally, check with your local animal shelters to see if anyone picked up or turned in your dog.

What are the chances of finding a lost dog?

A survey by the ASPCA shows that 93% of lost dogs are eventually found and returned to their home, safe and sound. Don’t lose hope or jump to unhealthy conclusions. Whether it takes hours, days, weeks, or months, your animal companion is out there and wants to come home.

What do you do if your dog is lost at night?

Make sure to carry flashlights or some other source of light as well as reflective clothing. It wouldn’t serve your pet very well if you get hurt while trying to find them. Bring your cat or dog’s favorite treats, and move calmly. You don’t want to startle them and cause them to run off.

Can a dog find its way home?

Missing dogs have a chance of returning home completely on their own using their scent or in search of food. If they are already on their way home, it means that they will likely be somewhere close to your home. This makes it easier to find them with your neighbors’ help.

Should I call out to a lost dog?

People often think it is best to call out to or whistle at lost dogs, but this is a bad idea. Most lost or stray dogs tend to be fearful dogs spooked by something, and loud noises like calling out to them can trigger their “fight or flight” response. It is best to sit down and try to be as non-imposing as possible to show the dog you are not a threat.