Lost Dog: What To Do

Author:Pet FBI
Author's Website:https://petfbi.org
Published: Sat Mar 22 2014
Last Updated: Sat Jan 27 2024

By the time you read this, you may have already taken many of the steps suggested below. But please review them and follow through on anything you may have overlooked. Also, read about the tips on finding a lost dog based on the pooch's personality. The behavior of a friendly, outgoing dog that gets lost will be different from that of a shy and insecure dog. They should be approached differently as well.


If you are contacted by someone claiming a connection with Pet FBI and offering "pet-finding" services for a fee, BEWARE! Pet FBI is strictly non-commercial. We are all volunteers and we never charge for any services.

Beware also of the numerous legitimate-looking contact service web sites ready to exploit your desperation. Before engaging any pet recovery services for pay, look for independent reviews and check the Better Business Bureau where they are located, Some pet recovery businesses offer useful services and actually do what they say they will. Post card mailings are pricey but may be worthwhile if your pet has been missing for awhile. Robo-calls to neighbors or shelters, even emails and faxes, are much less effective. It is necessary to check shelters often and in person. (Please read our blog about shelter recovery. )

Finding a lost dog - First Day: First Few Hours

Friendly Dog

Martini the Friendly Dog

  • Search yard, house, call by name
  • Call out expressions dog responds to, like "Treat!" or "Go for a ride!"
  • Leave dog's bedding, or clothing with your scent by location dog left from (t-shirts, pajamas and pillow cases work well)
  • Leave food and water and crate
  • If practical, leave doors open to house, especially doors dog is used to going in and out of.
  • Recruit neighbors and friends to search by car, foot or bike
  • Tell people not to chase
  • If you have 2nd dog take with you to search.
  • Carry leash, treats and photo of dog to show people

TIP: Drive around with your flashers on and have a sign in the window that says "Lost Dog"

Shy Dog

Shy Dog Sheldon

  • Tell people not to chase, Write "Do Not Chase" on your signs and handouts.
  • Do not yell dog's name
  • Use calming signals - if dog is spotted, sit quietly
  • Avoid eye contact (perceived as threatening by distressed animals)
  • Stay low, stoop as you approach
  • Lure dog with food, just drop and walk away or toss to the dog's side, not directly at it.
  • If dog won't come to you, it may be necessary to use a large humane trap and set where dog was last seen. You may be able to borrow one from animal control or a local shelter or rent one from an equipment rental store.(See our page "Advice on Trapping a Runaway Dog" for excellent instructions on baiting and setting a trap.)
  • When searching carry with you treats and slip leads that can go over the dog's head quickly without needing to fasten a leash to a collar.

TIP: Run, jog or walk away from the dog to see if it will follow. This is less threatening than the direct approach.

  • Notify animal control, vet offices, dog shelters, humane societies (Learn how to identify and get contact information for these agencies on our Whom To Contact page)

  • Contact microchip company (if pooch is micro-chipped)

  • Create an email blast with Facebook friends

  • Use various internet resources; recruit tech savvy friends to help

    • Search and post at PetFBI.org
    • Research Facebook pages dedicated to lost pets in your area and post (You can find them by using a search engine and keywords: lost and found dogs in [your area, city or state]
    • Create a dedicated Facebook page
    • Post and search on Craigslist.com
    • Check other lost and found web sites (See our page Other Online Resources)
    • Notify neighborhood associations, if any
  • Print small handouts with your dog's photo and contact info

  • Create highly visible signs to post. Use the Pet FBI flyer template, slip into clear page protectors and mount on a bright colored poster board.

  • Record a special outgoing message for any devices with voice mail. "If calling about our lost dog, please leave a message. If you are calling to report a sighting, please give time, location and directions and your number."

Flyer / Handout Created By Pet FBI Template

Recovering a lost dog: things to do away from home as soon as possible

  • Distribute the small hand bills in your neighborhood: neighbors, mailmen, garbage men, joggers, kids
  • Post your signs to utility poles at important intersections, Secure to utility poles with shipping tape

Search actions after the first day

Organize a team of friends and family and recruit helpers through Facebook or other social media to split up duties

  • Post more flyer in areas farther away
  • Consider the demographics in your area, Maybe post some flyers in Spanish.
  • Expand the internet campaign (Craigslist, Facebook, Email blast)
  • Continue patrolling on foot and by car, armed with leash and treats and handouts. Intensify your search between 5 am and 8 am and 6 pm and 9 pm.
  • Pay special attention to areas where a dog might feel safe: parks, cemeteries, farms, wooded areas
  • Check pounds in your area, and continue to check at least every other day IN PERSON. Do not assume you will be contacted because you left information.
  • Go door to door in neighborhood, leaving hang tags on doors
  • Put a sign in your car window and ask friends to do same

Dog in Shelter

After Day 1: Tracking sightings on your lost dog

  • If calls with sightings, post lots of flyers in that area
  • Keep track of locations and dates (noting areas with signs and sightings on a map)
  • Increase range of posting 1 mile a day
  • Devise a strategy — Use Google maps. Note brush, water, forests. Divide into zones A,B,C,D- Check Satellite photos to see paths dog cold travel like railroad tracks, jogging trails, or other paths of least resistance

More Tips and Tricks for Finding a Lost Dog

  • Order yard signs. Ask people in area where your dog was sighted for permission to post.(Use a search engine to locate sign companies)
  • Order a banner to hang in your front yard.
  • Try "Moving Billboards", people holding signs at intersections, for more visibility
  • Concentrate search by car or foot in early morning 5 am to 8 am and evening 6-9pm
  • Talk to all fast food staff in area on different shifts.
  • If you suspect your dog is in a certain area, set up a portable grill and cook something aromatic (Obtain any necessary permission first!)
  • Think creatively to get word out about missing dog
    • Community Newsletters
    • Community Facebook page
    • Bus stops
    • Gas stations
    • Dog Parks
    • Fast-food places/restaurants (Hungry lost dogs will be attracted to dumpsters)
  • If at all practical, leave doors open to house, especially doors dog is used to going in and out of.

If your dog has been missing for a long time

  • Don’t give up—Dogs can survive cold, and are resourceful. Family and friends may begin telling you to quit, saying the dog might have been eaten by a coyote, or someone took it in,etc. Nothing succeeds like persistence! Read about how a Columbus woman recovered a lost dog by being methodical and persistent.
  • Contact sanitation department to see if deceased pet found
  • Continue sharing on Facebook to keep face of dog present.
  • Contact Highway Patrol and neighborhood police forces
  • Continue checking shelters
  • Check and renew ads on Craigslist and lost and found pet web sites

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