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How to Search for Lost or Missing Dogs


If your dog is lost or missing, the time for action is now. Waiting a few hours means losing valuable time to search. Anyone can lose a pet, even in spite of the best preventive measures. Don't beat yourself up about it. Now is not the time to lay blame on yourself or others. As soon as you realize your dog is gone, your search begins.

Determining the reason your pet disappeared may help with your search. Dogs that have run away due to fear or phobia are likely to be hiding at first. Dogs that disappeared after chasing something (like a cat or rabbit) may have lost their way and traveled quite a distance. Some dogs take off when an opportunity presents itself (like an open gate) while others will do whatever it takes to escape. Curiosity takes over, and they might end up wandering far away. A lost dog can travel several miles in a day, so be prepared to search a five mile radius in the first few days. Over a period of weeks, a dog may travel as much as 100 miles or more.

Get started with the following steps to find your beloved missing or lost dog.

Time Required: Hours to Months

Here's How:

  1. Search the area for your dog. Think about places that might attract your dog: nearby friends, homes with other pets, parks, buildings with dumpsters, food establishments, etc. Ask neighbors, family and friends to help search on foot and in the car. Everyone should have a collar, leash and treats. If your dog likes squeaky toys and other dogs, these can be helpful. Use flashlights to check under buildings, vehicles and other dark spots. Searchers should call your dog's name in an upbeat manner, squeak toys, and maybe try a loud whistle to get your dog's attention.

    Visit LostDogSearch.com for more search tips.

  2. Create signs and fliers. Signs should be highly visible and simply worded. Use brightly colored poster board for the background. Fliers should be similar, though smaller and on regular paper (colored is best). "LOST DOG" should be in very large black letters. If at all possible, you should offer a reward for information leading to the recovery of your dog. The most important information to include is a color photo of your dog, a simple description (e.g. "large brown dog" or "white terrier") and your contact information.

    For helpful, detailed advice on making effective signs and fliers, visit MissingPetPartnership.org

  3. Distribute posters and fliers. Cover a five mile radius around where your pet was last seen. Post signs at major intersections in the area, and make sure they are secured to poles with heavy duty tape. Hand out fliers to neighbors and other people in your area, including mail carriers and delivery persons. Ask as many local businesses as possible to post your fliers in visible locations. Visit local dog parks, handing out your fliers and posting one or two on the premises. Talk to anyone you encounter about your dog and hand out a flier - you never know who might have spotted her.
  4. Contact local animal control, pet rescue groups and animal shelters. Go in-person to the local animal control and as many pet rescue groups and animal shelters as possible. Bring along your fliers and take some time to look through the facility for your dog. Making phone calls is not ideal, because the people answering the phones might not have up-to-date information. Visit AnimalShelter.org for listings in your area.
  5. Contact veterinary clinics and pet-related businesses in the area. For starters, go to your vet's office and let them know what is going on. This will allow them make a note in your dog's chart and can prepare them if your pet is found injured and needs to be seen quickly. Bring fliers for them to hang in the lobby and the staff areas. Next, contact other vet offices, pet groomers, and pet supply stores in the area and ask them to hang fliers. Animal professionals tend to find a lot of lost pets, whether it is in the workplace or on their own.
  6. Post listings in local newspapers and on websites. Most newspapers will list a lost pet ad in the classifieds for no charge. In addition, there are many websites that post lost pet listings and offer tips for finding lost pets. Some are free, others charge a fee for special services. The following websites are some good places to start (listed alphabetically):

    Lost Pet Services: Fee-Based (listed alphabetically)

  7. Utilize Social Media The use of social media has helped recover many lost pets. Posting listings to the online community is like virtually posting signs in the neighborhood. Reach out to your contacts via Facebook and Twitter to put everyone on the lookout. Contact local community sites like Patch.com and Examiner.com to see if an entry about your lost pet can be posted. Your online contacts can easily re-post your story to their online contacts, creating a huge amount of exposure. Also, people can easily post updates if, for instance, they spot your dog in a specific area.
  8. Beware of scams. Sadly, there are criminals who see your misfortune as an opportunity to gain money. Avoid posting the reward amount on signs and fliers, and do not give out your full name or address. If you receive a tip about your lost dog, do not send money until you have your dog back in your arms. Never go alone to pick up your dog from a stranger. Bring along one or more friends, and tell others where you are going.
  9. Don't lose hope. Dogs are survivors. There is a good chance your lost dog is out there somewhere. He might be hiding or simply wandering. He could have been taken in by an individual or rescue organization. Keep getting the word out, and you will increase the odds of finding your lost companion. There are plenty of stories about lost pets being found several months or even years after they went missing.


  1. Do not chase your dog if he is spotted, as this may cause him to run away (whether out of fear or playfulness). Make sure other search party members also know not to chase your dog. Make sure everyone knows how to approach a shy or fearful dog.
  2. Leave fresh food and water outside your home along with a dog bed and shelter if possible. If your dog is still nearby, it might attract him back.
  3. Periodically visit the locations of signs and fliers to see if they need to be replaced.
  4. Post one of your large signs on the back of your car. Ask if friends and family members will do this too.
  5. Keep track of the places you posted signs in the area so you can remove them once your dog is found. Also keep a log of the online listings you posted. When your dog is found, it is nice to go pack and post an update.

What You Need

  • Neighbors, friends, family
  • A good full-body color photo of your dog
  • Extra leashes and collars
  • Your dog's favorite treats
  • Squeaky toys (if your dog likes them)
  • Flashlight
  • Other dogs, if possible
  • Brightly colored poster board
  • Paper and black marker and/or computer
  • Patience and determination
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