LIFESTYLE

Lost Dog: How to Cope With Every Dog Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Poster of a lost dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

No dog owner ever thinks that they will lose their dog. It is one of those horrible things than none of us like to think about so we tuck it away at the back of our minds while telling ourselves that it will never happen to us. However, despite this school of thought there are millions of dogs who end up getting lost and who are never reunited with their owners. This is truly tragic. As much as losing our pets hurts us, it pales in comparison to how our lost dog might feel. These animals are among the most loyal creatures on Earth and they love their humans with all of their heart.

When a dog is separated from their owner they don’t understand what is happening and will pine for their owner for extended periods of time. It pays to be prepared should this happen so let’s take a look at what you should do in the event that your dog is lost and a couple of tips for making sure that it it less likely to happen to you.

First steps to take if you lost your dog

As soon as you know that your dog is lost, you will need to take action. The sooner you start the wheels turning, the more chance you have of getting your beloved canine companion back home where he or she belongs. The first thing to do is get in touch with your local shelters and rescue centers to see if your dog has been handed in. You should be able to leave them a photograph and your details so that they can get in touch if the dog is brought in after you have been in touch.

You should also contact the local police stations and your council. It may even be worth alerting local vets and animal hospitals. These are all of the places that stray animals are most likely to be handed in to. Ideally, you should have someone make these calls for you from your home in case the dog returns there while you organize a search of the area where your dog got lost. Dogs do have homing instincts and if your dog has simply gotten spooked and run off then hopefully it will make it back to your home on its own without getting truly lost.

How to search for a lost dog

If you have contacted the places mentioned above and your dog has not yet been handed in to any of the usual places then you will need to go ahead and search for your lost dog. The most effective way to do this is to take a three pronged approach. The three aspects that are important in terms of how to find your lost dog are publicity, searching the area and taking practical steps to encourage your dog to come back home. Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail.

Publicity

Publicity is a key element of finding a lost dog as it is going to let as many people as possible know that your dog is missing and you are actively searching for it. Not only will this alert local people who may see your dog running loose in the area, but if someone has found and kept your dog (or even stolen it) then they will know that the owner is looking and will be unlikely to keep the dog for fear of being caught! This could result in the dog being handed in to a local shelter or police station.

Lost dog poster

The traditional way to publicize a lost dog is by passing out fliers or putting up posters around the local area. The more posters you can get up the better so ask local stores and community buildings. You may need to get permission from the local authorities to put fliers up on public property like bus stops and lampposts. It can get expensive printing large quantities of posters, but if you have pet insurance then it is worth checking if they will cover part of the cost as some policies will.

These days we also have an amazing free resource at our fingertips that can help in the search for lost dogs – the internet, and more specifically social media. Making a post on your social media accounts and asking all of your friends to share it is a great way to get the word out about you missing pet. You could even have local pet rescue centers and shelters share the post for you as well. There has been a recent trend for people to set up buy and sell groups on Facebook for local areas and many people use these as a way to publicize lost dogs in the area.

It is also worth getting in touch with local newspapers and radio stations. Larger media outlets may not have any interest in a lost dog story, but smaller independent ones just might and it is another good way to get the word out in your area.

Searching the area

As well as publicizing that you are looking for your dog, you should make an effort to go out and search for it.  See if you can gather a few friends and make a search of the area where your dog got lost. Search on foot and call out the dog’s name to try and get a response. Widen your search a little bit and check out places you often visit with your dog in case it has headed to familiar territory.

It is also worth looking in sheds and outhouses in case the dog has gotten inside and then been trapped. If there are empty buildings in the neighborhood then check those out as well. In short, you need to cover as much ground as possible and check everywhere that you can think of.

Taking practical steps

The final step in what to do if you lost your dog is to take practical steps to encourage then to return home. Sometimes a lost dog can become disorientated, especially if it has been involved on an accident or has eaten something poisonous. This can make it hard for the dog to follow its homing instinct and return to you. We can take steps to help with this issues. The best option is to make sure there are plenty of familiar smells around the home.

This could mean leaving s favorite toy or blanket in your yard where the dog may catch the scent. You can even try spraying a little of your perfume or aftershave which the dog will recognize as your smell. For the same reason, emptying your vacuum cleaner out in the yard can also work as it will contain their fur and scent which will help guide them home.

How do dogs end up getting lost?

You may think that your dog will never get lost, but there are actually a number of scenarios where even the most careful of dog owners can end up becoming separated from their pet. The most common reason why dogs get lost is via an accidental escape. This happens when a door is left open or a gate is not latched and the dog – following its natural inquisitive nature – wanders off and gets disorientated and is unable to find the way home.

Stuck dog

The next most common would be that the dog somehow ends up getting trapped somewhere like a neighbor’s garage, or down a loose drain cover.  Lastly, dogs get lost by way of human intervention. This actually covers a wide range of scenarios including someone assuming your dog is a stray and taking it in, an animal warden picking it up, theft and other scenarios.

Steps to make finding your lost dog easier

There are steps that you can take to make finding your dog easier in the event that it ever gets lost. For starters, your dog should wear a collar and id tag at all times which gives information about how to contact you if someone picks it up. In some areas this is a legal requirement, but even if it isn’t it is a good idea to add a tag anyway as it could make reuniting you with your dog so much easier.

In addition to your dog having an id tag on the collar, you should also have your pet micro-chipped. This acts as a fail-safe in case the collar is ever removed either accidentally or maliciously. The majority of vets, shelters and police stations have the means to scan dogs for a microchip which means that you will be contacted as soon as possible to come and collect your pet. Make sure that you update your details if you move house or change your phone number otherwise the chip will be useless.

How to minimize the risk of losing your pet

In an ideal world, no dog owner would ever have to experience the pain of a lost dog. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be controlled, but we can do certain things that will help reduce the risk of it happening to you and your pet.

Stainless Steel Pet Id Tags

You can find a great list of the best dog tags you can put only our dog’s collar to guarantee he doesn’t stay lost for very long.

We have already talked about why your dog should be wearing an id tag and should be micro-chipped, but an additional step that you can take is to write your phone number on your dog’s collar in permanent marker in case the tag gets lost. This means the finder can call you without needing to find a shelter to scan the microchip.

Microchipping infographic

If you’d like to know how the process works, you should read our article on microchipping your dog, which includes a video of the entire process.

Another tip for minimizing the risk of your dog running off is to have it spayed or neutered. Often dogs get hormonal urges which can make them want to wander off in search of other dogs to mate with. Statistically, most dogs who are killed in automobile accidents are not spayed or neutered. Having this done will stop your dog having these urges making it less likely that it will go wandering. It is also the responsible thing to do if you are not intending to breed the dog.

When you go out in public with your dog, always have it on a leash. This is the responsible thing to do. There is no real reason for your dog to be running loose. Even dogs who are well trained in recall can get spooked and run off unexpectedly or can be frightened by other dogs. You can always use and extendable lead to give the dog a little more freedom while still having it under your control at all times.

Another option is to place a GPS tracker on your dog. There are both internal and external options, so please read more in our article about dog tracking GPS chips.

Your yard needs to be secure for your dog so make sure that you have good fencing at least six feet tall and that you check it regularly for damage or weak spots where your dog might be getting out. You also need a gate with a latch and should be checking that it is shut tight before letting your dog out in the yard. If at all possible, you should not leave your dog unattended in your yard as this makes them vulnerable to thieves.

Creating a lost dog action plan

The chances are that when you need to know how to find your dog you are going to be emotional and not thinking clearly. That is why it is a good idea to devise an action plan before this happens. It is far better to be prepared and never need your action plan than to not be prepared and then find yourself at a loss as to what you should be doing.

Start by creating a list of the places listed above that you need to contact such as the vet, shelters, police and so on where your dog may have been handed in. Having these numbers to hand is going to save you time and effort. Also make a list of places that you regularly visit with your dog so that you will find it easier to come up with a search plan to help find the dog.

Finally, attach a picture of the dog so that you have one handy to create posters and social media alerts. Keep all of this safe in a place where it can easily be accessed, such as with the rest of your household or family paperwork.

Dog with tag collar

In conclusion, it pays to have an action plan in place and to carry out preventative steps so that you are not at a high risk of losing your dog. However, if you do end up in this situation hopefully these tips will give you a good idea of how to find your lost dog.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Seth Weaseley

    I’m not sure I’d be able to cope at all… I’d probably go wild :(

  • Leny Brown

    My neighbor lost her dog a month ago and it was heartbreaking for the whole community! But thankfully, her lovely poodle has been found by an elderly couple who made sure they were not releasing the pet to a stranger. They’ve asked for photos of the dog for identifying marks and everything, whew! But it the end, the dog and its owner have been reunited with all neighbors joining in the celebration.
    It would’ve been easier if the dog has microchip. Is putting microchip in your dog expensive?

  • Amber Hart

    So we’ve lost a few of our dogs a couple of times in the past, but they’ve always turned up because of this specific advice: bring water, and an article of clothing that you’ve worn at least a day to the last place the dog was seen. Leave the clothing there, though you can leave a note that requests the items to be unmoved/left alone. This tactic always worked for us in the past, our dogs can pick up the scent no matter what. Don’t forget to check every day, after a day or two your dog will turn up, I promise.

  • Putting a microchip in your dog is not cheap, but it pays for its price in the long run because it keeps your pet secure and easily located if ever it gets lost.

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