How To Find Your Lost Dog


Statistics show that less than 16% of lost dogs are returned to their rightful owners. This number can be discouraging to lost dog owners but instead it should be a motivator for them to follow the experts' advice when searching for their lost dog. Most people rely on one or two methods to find their lost dog. As the statistics would show, 84% of the time it's not that easy. We recommend that you use each and every recommendation in this guide to aid you in finding your lost dog. Your dog can be found, and you have the ability to make it happen.

Your Dog is Lost

Before you start searching

Before you step a foot outside your house in the search for your missing dog you should first confirm that your dog is actually lost. If you're reading this guide you have probably already done this but it doesn't hurt to reiterate the point. Check the backyard. Check the back corner of your property. Check the other side of the fence. Is he hiding? Is your dog hurt by the back fence? Is he laying in the shade under the bushes? Make sure that you really have a lost dog, and not just a dog with his head stuck in a pipe; it happens.

How did he get out?

Once you confirm that your dog is indeed lost it can be helpful to understand how your dog got away. Did he escape under the fence? Did he get through an open gate? Did he run through an open front door? Did he chew through a leash in the backyard? Answering this question can give you guidance as to which direction to start looking, and also to understanding what mindset your dog was in when he left. A dog that simply slipped out an open front door is more likely to be sniffing flowers at the neighbors than a frustrated dog that chewed through his leash to set himself free. A frustrated dog that dug a hole under a fence is more likely to be a mile or more away than the dog that simply walked off because the back gate was left open. Also try to pinpoint the amount of time the dog has had to roam the surrounding areas. Obviously, the dog that has been lost for 20 minutes will not have the opportunity to get as far as the dog that has been missing for over an hour. Use this information to help formulate your search plan.

The First Search

Someone should stay behind

A member of the family, or a friend, needs to be at your residence in case your dog wanders back home. Someone should be home waiting in case your dog's "finder" calls the number on the dog's tag or simply shows up with the dog after reading the address on his tag.

Take a flashlight

Be sure to take a flashlight with you on your search to look under bushes, behind cars, etc. Even if you start searching during the day you might find yourself searching for hours into the night and will wish you had a way to see through the shadows and darkness to locate your dog.

Take a picture of your dog with you

Be sure you take a picture of your dog with you so that you can show the people who you encounter what your dog looks like. If you don't have a picture of your dog, bring a picture of a dog that looks similar to yours. You can find dog breed pictures online and print them out to take with you. Many people don't know the difference between a Golden Retriever and a Labrador Retriever so it can be a great tool to have a picture and simply ask, "Have you seen a dog that looks like this?" If you don't have a picture of your dog or a similar dog to take with you, try to describe your dog to people as what you guess they would think his breed is. If your dog is not a well-known breed it is actually best to simply describe him as looking like the most common breed of dog that is similar. Your Whippet, for example, should be described as looking like a Greyhound. Don't get caught up in the pride you have for your dog's pure-bred originality and focus on what information you need to reveal to get your dog returned to you.

Take a whistle

Take something with you on your search that makes noise. A whistle could get your dog's attention if he's in the woods, or behind a house. If you own a dog training clicker or a squeaky toy these could also be helpful tools to create a unique sound that could bring your dog out of hiding.

Time to regroup

If your first search did not bring your lost dog home, it's time to regroup. If your dog has been lost for more than 2 hours he's probably already at someone's house and probably being carefully taken care of. Being organized for the next search is more important than losing sleep wondering where he is, or if he's OK. You must understand that you are much more concerned about your lost dog is than your lost dog is concerned about being "lost." Although he will definitely be happy to see you when you find him, he's probably enjoying his adventure at the present time. After all, this is why dogs go missing; they enjoy a good adventure into the unknown world.

Where do lost dogs go?

Before you organize your search you should understand the places where lost dogs go, and where they can end up. This section will open your mind to the possible locations where you might find your lost dog. Read this section first to get an understanding of the possible places that your dog might be found, and then use the instructions in "The search plan" section to organize a search of these locations.

Down the street and miles away

In most lost dog cases dogs are found just down the street, or within a mile of their home. On occasion they do travel for many miles before being picked up, and can travel for hours before deciding to take a rest. Even if your dog only made it a few blocks away on foot, the person who found him might be on his way home from work and take the dog a few miles farther from your neighborhood on his way home. Never assume that "that's too far" for your dog to have gone...but focus your search in the immediate areas first before branching out.

Families' Homes

Most lost dogs in suburban areas start out in a finder's home. Someone sees the dog strolling down the street and brings him inside to give him water and make sure he's safe. Many finders decide against taking the dog to an organization, shelter, or vet and instead keep the dog in their possession to give the dog special attention in trying to find his owner. Most finders give themselves a day or two to find the dog's owner before they consider taking it to an organization. This is why the first few days should be concentrated on poster distribution. Hit the neighborhood hard with posters the first few days. In-depth information on "Lost Dog" posters is included later in this guide.

The Vet

Some people who find lost dogs immediately think of the local vet as a good place to take a lost dog. Usually these are the finders who do not own dogs themselves and really don't know what to do to care for someone else's dog until the owners are located. Of course, the vet and its employees are a safe place for your lost dog to be taken care of, but this is not always the location where lost dog owners think their dog might have ended up after setting himself free. You should call your local vets to inquire about your lost dog and to give them the information on your dog. If your dog is not there now, he may be dropped off there in a few days and it's very important to know that the local vets are aware that you're looking for your lost family member.

SPCA / Humane Society / Animal Control

In a perfect world all lost dogs would end up at one of the local SPCA, Humane Society, or Animal Control locations AND these organizations would be funded well enough that they could keep lost dogs indefinitely until their owners are located. Unfortunately, neither of these conditions is existent in the real world, so your dog may not end up at one of these designated organizations; and if he does he may not stay there for long. If your dog ends up at an SPCA, Humane Society, or Animal Control you have a good chance of being reunited with your dog as long as you visit the locations to look for your dog. The SPCA's have the systems in place to take dogs in, enter their information into their computer systems, and allow receptionists and other workers to do quick searches for found dogs that have been logged in the system. But, nothing is fool-proof. Although all of these organizations will work with you over the phone, you must visit these locations in person to really see if your dog is at their location. You should visit these locations every three days for the first two weeks, then once a week for the weeks following. It's imperative that you bring along posters with a picture of your dog and leave one or more copies with the receptionist, as well as posting one on their bulletin board.


Dog shelters, and especially breed-specific shelters, are one of the least obvious places for owners to look for their lost dogs, but these locations should not be ignored. Although someone who found a dog might search the Internet for ideas as to where to take Boxer they found, lost dog owners often don't know to search for local Boxer rescue / shelter groups when searching for their lost dog. Dog shelters and rescue groups can be hard to locate due to their low-profile business appearance, but if you're looking for your lost dog you should take the extra time to find and contact these organizations. Even if the local rescue group doesn't have your dog you should trust that they are talking to other owners of dogs, and are online reading breed-specific web forums. This gives you many extra eyes keeping a look out for your lost dog. As with the vets and organizations you should make sure to leave some posters with shelters and rescue groups.

The search plan

Get organized

After you've done the neighborhood search and have decided it's necessary to organize a more thorough search, it's time to get organized. Know ahead of time where you will be going, and what you will be doing. Don't just head out in your car expecting to stop at every pet store and dog groomer in your city. Use the information in this chapter to organize and plan an effective search. It's important to have your supplies with you. Pictures of your dog, Lost Dog posters, and your dog's leash in case he is found that day.

Drive the neighborhood

You may have already combed the neighborhood, but you should do it again the day after your dog is lost. Take the supplies listed in the previous chapter with you again and cover the same areas you did before. Get out of the car to check the park, pool, wooded areas, etc. This is the first step of the more elaborate, more organized, search.

Post "Lost Dog" posters

Posting "Lost Dog" posters for your dog increases the chances of his return by over 200%. Someone in your neighborhood saw your dog, had your dog, or currently has your dog. Any tip you receive from your posters will be useful, and will give you an idea of where he might be. Sadly, most of the "Lost Dog" posters that individuals create are not optimally designed. When designing your poster consider that people must be able to read the "Lost Dog" poster while driving by. If someone has to get out of the car to see what kind of dog is missing then your poster is not doing its job. The only information you need on your post is the words "LOST DOG", a picture or clip art of your dog - or his breed, a color description, and a phone number. Anything else is just taking up important space on the poster. Make the fonts as large as will fit on the page. The most important line on the poster is "LOST DOG" and secondly your phone number. You do not necessarily need to list your dog's gender, whether he or she is neutered or spayed, or if he takes medicine daily or not. Don't list whether the dog had a collar on or where he was last seen. This extra information is most likely not going to help you find your dog. It's only going to force the important text to be smaller in size on your posters. Keep it simple. As sad as it may be, adding a reward for your lost dog does increase the chances that your posters will help return your dog to you. Many times a family who finds a lost dog might have a moral dilemma in deciding what to do if they realize the new member of their family, who they've fallen in love with in the past two weeks, is actively being searched for. Don't give them a chance to make the wrong decision, even if it means appealing to their natural feelings of selfishness. You would rather them be selfish and take your $500 than be selfish and keep your dog as their pet. In other cases, it's simply an incentive for people driving in your area to keep an eye out for the dog with a $500 reward. It gives people an extra reason to remember what the breed / color of the dog was and to glance down streets as they pass by. One thing to remember in this time of stress and sadness is that you could be the target of a lost dog reward scam. Never wire or mail anyone money in exchange for the return of your dog. There is a common scam that has been used for years to con lost dog owners out of their money. The scam starts with an individual contacting the family saying that he is a truck driver and was passing through your city when he found your dog. He continued on his route and is now back at his home in a city far away but found your contact information through your newspaper ad (or some other means). He promises to return your dog through an air delivery service and requests you send him the reward first so that he can cover the costs of sending the dog. As you probably would guess, you send the money and your dog never shows up. This classic scam has even spread to the Internet lost and found dog sites. As with any scam, variations on the concept are numerous, so be cautious. No matter what, never exchange money with someone until you actually have your dog back in your possession. Any Good Samaritan will understand and comply with your request.

Call and visit the SPCA, Humane Society and Animal Control

It is extremely important to visit the local SPCA, Humane Society, and Animal Control to look for your lost dog. Although most of these organizations should know the difference between a Golden Retriever and a Labrador Retriever some dogs can be incorrectly marked in their system, or were recently brought in and haven't made it into their computer system yet. Because of this you need to actually visit the organization and look through all of the found dogs they have in their kennels. Don't rely on phone calls to the organizations to search for your dog. Although we recommend that you visit these locations, you should make a preliminary call to each of them first. The reason for calling the locations first isn't to rule any of them out, but the exact opposite. If you call the local SPCA and they are 100% sure they have your dog, then you should start there first. This will save you time and save you some frustration. Before you arrive at the location that might have your dog prepare yourself for a possible letdown. There are a lot of dogs that look similar and your description of your dog may not be enough to discern whether the dog they have is really your dog or not. Just be prepared that you may be introduced to a different German Shepherd, and one that doesn't respond to "Barkley." You must take "Lost Dog" posters with you to the organizations. Leave a few copies for the office to post or use as a reference.

Call local vets

You should use the same process with the local vets as you do with the local organizations. Although most vets will not keep a healthy found dog on location, they often allow employees to foster a lost dog at their home. It is again important to bring a poster to each vet you visit. Leave the poster with the vet's office so that they can post it inside the office, or give you a call if they hear about your dog being found.

Call shelters

Using the Yellow Pages or Internet search engine find local dog shelters and call all of them. Finding a breed-specific shelter has multiple benefits, as mentioned previously. When visiting these shelters you should bring a stack of "Lost Dog" posters with you. Leave the posters with the shelter with the hopes that they might be able to distribute them to other dog-related businesses that they associate with.

Post online

Although the percentage of lost dog owners who are reunited with their dogs via the Internet is low, the ones who do find their dog this way would not have found their dog without it. These owners truly understand the power of the Internet as it brought home their beloved pet when nothing else worked. "Lost Dog" posters didn't bring him home, the shelters, vets and organizations didn't have him either. The family that had their dog luckily posted him online. The online classifieds site is used by many people to post free classified listings. Although some cities or areas have a much higher volume of users you should add your lost dog to your city's Lost and Found section of Craig's List.

Place an ad in the newspaper

Most major newspapers allow people to post lost dog listings for free or at least at a discounted rate. Be sure to run the listing for at least 2 weeks and longer if you are allowed. Just like your "Lost Dog" posters, keep the ad simple. Only list the dog's breed, color, and your phone number. Leave the location in which you lost your dog out of the ad. You will want anyone who found a dog similar to yours to call you even if they think there is no way your dog traveled that far. If you register your dog on Fido Finder you can include the URL,, with the dog's ID number, for example "More info - Dog ID# 12345".

Tell your neighbors

Even if your neighbors know and love your dog, and would have contacted you if he was in their backyard, be sure to personally visit each neighbor to tell them that your dog is lost. Many dogs get out from time to time and neighbors might not realize that the wandering dog they saw yesterday never made it back into its backyard. Tips from neighbors might help you decide where to search for your dog. It's also good to have your neighbors keeping an eye out for your dog. They can also be on the lookout for "Found Dog" posters in your area. The more people in your area that know your dog is missing the better off you are; they can do a lot of the simple work for you.

Wait...then search again

After spending a few days searching for your lost dog you will be emotionally and physically exhausted. Take a day or two to rest and regroup. Collect data online about potential places to check for your lost dog, respond to people online who have found similar dogs, and plan your next search. After your rest, start the process over again. Check the same organizations, visit the same vets, and post more / new posters in your area. Don't give up.