What to Do if Your Dog is Lost or Missing

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Your dog's missing. Though this is an upsetting situation, it's important for you to not panic. In many of these cases, dogs who don't come home on their own get picked up by good Samaritans who just want to reunite the pup with their family. As a dog parent, you'll want to make this process as easy as possible.

Here are some tips on how to do just that, as well as how to find a lost dog, how to prevent your dog from getting lost in the first place and what to do with a lost dog if you find one.

My Dog is Missing or Lost: What Should I Do?

Human hands putting a red bandana collar on a small Maltese puppy.>For starters, stay calm. As frightened as you may be for your dog, keep in mind that they may be unharmed and just having a fun adventure. By not panicking and taking the time to come up with a plan, you'll boost your odds of finding your pup. Additionally, consider these steps for how to find a lost dog.</p>
<h3>Check Your Home and Property</h3>
<p>It's possible that your dog is not actually lost but, rather, hiding or trapped, says <a href=FidoFinder. Check closets, basements and cellars. Look under beds, porches and crawl spaces. Don't rule out any places; dogs can get into almost anything and anywhere if they're determined enough.

Gather Search Tools

It's tempting to immediately start searching for your dog if they've left your property, but you'll want to gather a few tools first. Consider items that'll make your search easier, such as photos of your pup to show others, a flashlight to peer into bushes, and a whistle or squeaky toy to get your dog's attention. Bringing a treat with a powerful smell or a familiar sound can also lure your dog back to you.

Ponder How They Escaped

Did someone leave the gate open? Did your pup bolt out the front door after a cat? Did they dig under the fence to visit a buddy down the street? Determining how and why your dog may have escaped can shed light on what they were thinking when they went missing, says Petfinder. This can help you assess whether they're exploring the neighborhood or if they've gone somewhere to hide, which allows you to begin your search on the right foot.

Search Your Neighborhood

Comb through the areas your pup's likely gone and, if possible, enlist help to cover more ground. Search by car and on foot, calling out their name, and have someone stay behind in case your dog returns. Ask everyone you encounter to keep an eye out for your pup, showing them your dog's photo for reference.

Flag Your Dog's Microchip

If your pet is microchipped and registered with a database, alert the organization maintaining the database that your dog's gone missing as soon as possible. If your dog was stolen, this can let any veterinarians or groomers know that your pup is not with their family. For this reason, it is important to always make sure your pet's microchip information is up to date, including your current address and contact information.

Create and Distribute Fliers

Even in the digital age, physical lost dog posters are still one of the most effective way to find a pup, says FidoFinder. Your flier should include:

  • A heading saying "lost dog" in large, bold letters.
  • A clear and current picture of your dog.
  • The best way to contact you.

Offer a reward if you can. This provides an incentive for people to look for your pup and to return them safely, instead of keeping your cute pet for themselves. Post fliers around your neighborhood and distribute them to animal shelters, vet clinics and groomers — anywhere someone would take a lost dog.

Use Social Media

Viral social media posts can be effective for reuniting dogs with their pet parents. Include a photo and the same information as in your flier when posting, as well as where your pup went missing. Share your post in neighborhood groups and lost dog groups, asking your social network to do the same.

Contact Animal Shelters

It may be difficult for shelter workers to identify a dog based on a description given over the phone, so your best bet is visiting shelters in person to see if your pet was received. Ask to see the dogs they've recently taken in, leaving a flier so they can call you if your pup shows up. Many shelters also have the ability to look up a dog's information from their microchip, so let them know if your dog is chipped to make it easier to identify them if they get brought in.

Use the Classifieds

Online classifieds and those in your local newspaper can be an effective way to locate your dog. Besides taking out an ad about your missing pup, be sure to regularly check the found section to see if someone has your dog.

Enlist a Pet Finder Organization

These can be especially helpful if you lose your dog away from home or while traveling. When you can't remain in one place to look for your dog, these organizations can keep the search going for you.

How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Lost

Black lab rests head on white indoor baby gate.Reinforcing fencing is one of the best ways to prevent your dog from running away. Block off areas where your pup can dig under the fence, close any gaps they can squeeze through and extend fences so that they can't easily jump or climb over them. Move dog houses, picnic tables and other objects your pup climbs to ascend the fence.

Additionally, training your dog to not dig, as well as to stay in your yard are good reinforcement behaviors to help keep them there. Even if you have a fenced in yard, it is a good idea to check on your dog every few minutes to make sure they are still just playing or taking a dog nap outside. This is particularly important if your dog has escaped in the past.

Other ways to prevent your dog from getting lost include:

  • Using indoor pet gates. Before opening external doors, place your dog behind a gate to prevent them from bolting.

  • Not leaving them in unattended cars. This eliminates the likelihood of them squeezing through a cracked window or catching the eye of a dognapper.

  • Keeping them on a leash. Though this is especially important when you're away from home, it can also be crucial in your own backyard. If you can't trust your pup to remain inside the fence, it's best to take them out on a leash to prevent any escapes.

Having your dog wear a collar with their ID, vaccination tags and your current contact information helps to ensure they'll be returned quickly if they go missing. Microchipping your dog and registering them with a database can also help with safe returns. If you're particularly worried about your dog getting out, consider purchasing a GPS collar or collar attachment. These devices will allow you to track your dog's whereabouts at anytime just to help keep them safe.

What to Do With a Lost Dog

If you're a good Samaritan looking to return a lost dog to their home, here are some quick steps you can take:

  1. Check for tags. Look for an ID with their pet parent's contact information. If you come up short, check to see if they have a rabies vaccination tag. This way, you can contact the vet listed on the tag, who can put you in touch with their family.
  2. Talk to your neighbors. Chances are, they may recognize the dog and be able to point you in the direction of their home.
  3. Visit a vet. Not only can they scan the dog for a microchip, but they may have already received calls about a lost pup matching this one's description.
  4. Pay attention to lost pet fliers. Really look at the fliers posted around your neighborhood, studying the photos and pet descriptions. You may find that someone's already looking for the pup you've found.
  5. Check classifieds and social media. Post pictures of the dog in neighborhood social groups, to let everyone know you've found them and that you're looking for their family.
  6. Take them to a local animal shelter. This is one of the first places their pet parent's likely to check. You can call ahead first and ask if anyone has called them to check-in.

By remaining calm and following these steps for how to find a lost dog, you'll be in the best position to locate your pup. Be patient, though, as tracking down a lost pet takes time and persistence. For more extensive help on what to do, check our full article.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet lover, freelance writer and novelist. She currently lives in the Ozarks with her husband and their gaggle of four-footed dependents, where she enjoys watching a wide array of wild animals in her backyard while drinking her morning coffee.