How to Find a Lost Dog - Tips & FAQs to Help Your Search
Discovering that your dog is lost or missing is a terrifying prospect. Here are some helpful tips on what you can do to find them and bring them home safely.
When your beloved pup is usually by your side, the sudden realization that they have gone missing is a terrifying experience. Sadly, it’s an all too common situation that approximately 15% of pet owners will go through.
The good news is, if your pet has an ID tag and a microchip, they have a good chance of finding their way back to you. Microchipped dogs are twice as likely to be returned home compared to an unchipped dog.
Why do dogs run away?
Whether losing track of their surroundings in pursuit of an interesting scent, getting spooked by a loud noise like fireworks, or giving in to their instinct to run, there are a number of reasons why your dog might run away.
What should I do if I lost my dog?
First things first – if you’ve lost your pet and they are microchipped, you should report them as missing ASAP with 24Petwatch. That way, our Lost Pet team can start the recovery process and check that your registration is up to date so that you can be contacted with any updates about your dog. Submit a lost pet report here, or log in to your account at mypethealth.com. Our Lost Pet team will run a real-time search of all the animals reported found in our database to see if there’s a match.
Before panicking, take a moment to thoroughly search your home and yard. Has your dog gotten accidentally locked in a closet or garage? Once you’re sure they are not on your property, ask your neighbors if you can search their yards too.
How to find a lost dog?
When searching, consider these do’s and don’ts to help you investigate efficiently.
- Bring strong-smelling, irresistible treats like cheese or hot dogs and items from home, like a blanket or favorite toy to help coax your dog to you if spotted
- Bring a leash or crate so that you can safely transport your dog home if found
- Search at different times of the day, including early morning and early evening
- Look under sheltered spaces, like decks, porches, or sheds. If your dog has been injured or feels vulnerable, they may seek refuge there
- Stay easily contactable. If someone found your pet, you’ll want to be able to respond quickly. Keep your phone charged and with you at all times
- Check listings at your local shelter regularly to see if any dogs matching your pup’s description have been posted
- If you have more than one adult family member in your home, have one person remain home while you search. It’s possible your dog will find their way back on their own, and you’ll want someone ready to catch them if they do
- Don’t chase your loose dog. This can kickstart their instinct to run and cause them to wind up even farther away
- Don’t leave food outside to try to lure them home. This can attract wildlife and scare off your dog
What do I do if I see my lost dog?
A lost dog on the run will behave very differently than the beloved pet you know and love. They likely feel vulnerable and scared, and their fight or flight instincts will be in full effect. If you do catch a glimpse of your pet it’s important to remain calm. Get low and try to coax them to you in a non-threatening way. If you’ve brought supplies like items from home or food, try gently offering these to lure them to you.
If your dog is being elusive and not responding to your efforts, put in a call to your local animal shelter, animal control agency, or rescue groups. They may be able to come and help you with special tools and equipment. Try to keep tabs on your dog from a distance until they arrive.
Where should I search? How far do dogs travel?
The distance your dog may be able to travel depends on their size, breed, age, health, and the local environment. Oftentimes, dogs are found within a few blocks of their home whereas other times, dogs have snuck into delivery trucks or somehow found themselves miles from home! In general, unless you have reason to suspect that your dog has traveled far, start searching in their last known location, and then begin to broaden your search radius from there.
Consider your dog’s personality and breed to try to narrow down their reason for wandering. Are they a friendly, social Australian Shepherd who is always looking for someone to play with? In that case, they may be no farther than your neighbor’s house or the park. Are they an active endurance runner, like a Husky that can cover incredible distances at a time? Your search may be a little more complex. Are they a nervous, timid Chihuahua? You may want to consider hiding spots, like decks, shrubs, or other covered spaces.
How to create and distribute an effective lost pet poster?
If you’ve searched and searched and your dog is not immediately found, it’s time to enlist help. A lost pet poster is one of the easiest ways to put your community on alert. Here’s a generator that you can use to make a quick and effective poster.
A good lost pet poster should include a clear, bold heading declaring your dog as lost, a recent color photo of your dog, your contact information (including your phone number), your dog’s name, last known location, and any relevant behavioral or medical information.
Post flyers to your neighbors, and distribute them at local parks and dog parks, bus shelters, grocery stores, local bulletin boards, and telephone poles. Place some at kid height – children are naturally curious and engaged and will be more likely to keep an eye out for your missing dog. Consider dropping copies off at your local pet supply stores, animal shelters or kennels, and vet clinics as well.
You can also post your posters online. Some online spaces to consider include:
- Local lost and found pet Facebook pages and groups
- Buy and sell apps, such as Kijiji, Craigslist, or Next-door that allow you to hone in on your neighborhood
- Your Twitter or Instagram accounts, using location hashtags and tagging any local lost pet accounts that will re-post or re-tweet your poster
How to find a lost dog without a microchip?
If your dog is not microchipped, you’ll need to be more proactive in your search as finders won’t have a surefire way to know that your dog belongs to you, especially if they are not wearing an ID tag. Check found pet and adoption listings at your local shelter, animal control, or pet rescue every day. Call the facilities to let them know your dog is missing and provide a description with any unique identifying details. Your lost pet poster becomes even more important in case a Good Samaritan finds your pet. With no other forms of identification, the poster could be the only way of tracing your dog back to you.
Should I offer a reward?
The decision to offer a reward is a personal one. On one hand, it can encourage more people in your neighborhood to actively search for your pet, especially kids. The more eyes on the situation, the better. On the other hand, it can unfortunately make you a target of lost pet scams as scammers try to take advantage of your desperate situation.
If someone is asking for money in exchange for your lost pet, do your due diligence first. They should be able to send you a photo of your pet (not the same photo from your lost pet poster, or a photo you’ve posted on social media already) or meet in person with your pet. Bring a friend with you and opt to meet in a public space, like a mall or the parking lot of a police station.
When to seek professional help?
If you feel like you’ve exhausted all your options, and your search has yielded no sign of your beloved dog, there are paid and volunteer services that can help. Pet detectives, pet trackers, and recovery specialists may be able to help. Sometimes they use tracker dogs to help follow your pet’s scent, other times they use equipment like live traps, aerial surveillance, or trail cameras to catch an elusive dog.
There are also volunteer networks that mobilize large community-wide search parties and create custom search plans based on your dog’s behavior, circumstances of becoming lost, and sightings. These groups operate on a volunteer basis, relying on donations to continue their efforts, and can be an invaluable source of information.
What do you do when you’ve found your dog?
If you’ve found your dog – hooray! There’s no better feeling than being reunited with a beloved pet who you feared lost. Although you probably want to head home and put this whole stressful ordeal behind you, there are a few things you should do first:
- Take your dog to the veterinarian’s office – even if they look fine, it’s important to have them checked out by a professional. In addition to a nose-to-tail assessment, your vet may want to check for parasites, fleas, ticks, or any other less obvious sign of stress or injury
- Ease them back into the transition home – especially if you have other pets at home, you’ll want to make sure your found dog hasn’t picked up any bugs during their adventure that can be spread to your resident pets
- Spay or neuter your pet – if your dog has not been spayed or neutered, you may want to discuss this procedure with your vet. Spayed and neutered pets are less likely to run away in search of mates
- Check their collar and ID tags – if slipping out of their collar is what caused your dog to get lost in the first place, it may be time for a new one! Visit your local pet store to get a properly fitted collar. Make sure that their ID tags haven’t become lost or illegible during their time on the run
Preparing for the worst
Unfortunately in some situations, lost animals become injured. There are all kinds of hazards they can come into contact with, from wildlife, to traffic, to exposure to the elements. Although you shouldn’t jump to the worst-case scenario, it’s important to mentally prepare yourself for this outcome. If a shelter or animal control service comes across a deceased pet, they will usually scan the pet for a microchip to provide the family with closure. Some shelters also post listings of pets that they have found deceased, as do many local lost and found pet groups on social media. Although it can be difficult to look at these listings, it is ultimately better to know what became of your beloved pet so that you can begin to heal.
If you’ve lost your dog, we know how scared, stressed and emotional you may be feeling. Time is of the essence, so move quickly to report your pet as lost with 24Petwatch, begin searching the area, and spread the word to your community. Remember, our Lost Pet team is available 24/7/365 to report your pet as missing and help facilitate a happy reunion if they are found.
We wish you the best of luck in your search, and hope for a speedy, safe reunion with your beloved dog.