Help! I lost my dog!

How to Find a Lost Dog

Your dog is lost! What should you do? Here is a time line for immediate action, what to do after two hours, two days and beyond. Keep this emergency guide on hand, in case your pet is lost.


  1. Organize a couple of people to help you find your pet. In the first two hours, ask family and friends to search around town and up to a two-mile radius of the location where the dog was last seen. Put posters on lampposts while you’re looking.
  2. Have someone else make phone calls while you’re out searching. Immediately call your local animal rescue, Humane Society, animal shelter, vets and police department. Call the next county, if you’re close to a county line. Alert neighbors so they can be on the lookout near your home.
  3. Contact your local radio and TV stations and ask whether the station makes community announcements for lost pets if your dog has not been found after two hours.
  4. Create an ad with a recent picture of your dog. If you don’t have a photo, and your dog is a purebred, use a picture from a book. Describe the dog so an average person would recognize him, if he saw him. Include information about his dog tags or microchip ID number.
  5. Be specific: “LOST: (Dog’s Name) a brown dog with white face and paws, SPAYED female; 60#, got loose from yard on Dec. 1, 2005 (Location where lost) near the post office in Our town, PA around 4 p.m. Wearing a pink collar with rabies tag and license. Is on anti-seizure medication. Family pet. REWARD. Call (610) 555-0000.”
  6. Get serious if it goes past 24 hours. Make at least 200 copies of your ad. Start posting on bulletin boards and in high visibility areas like gas stations and grocery stores in your neighborhood. Tape flyers to phone poles. Ask friends and family members to distribute flyers door-to-door.
  7. Extend your search after two days have gone by. Go a little farther by vehicle and start spreading the word to your local mailmen, the UPS and Fed Ex drivers, joggers, runners, bikers and anyone else walking around the search areas.
  8. Call area shelters and give them a detailed description of your pet. Drop off or fax a copy of your ad. Expand the radius of your search area by several miles – call shelters that are further out than you think is possible for your dog to reach.
  9. Start visiting the animal shelters and animal rescue leagues to look for your pet every other day. Don’t expect volunteers to recognize one brown dog from another. If the dog is a dirty, matted mess who lost weight, you may have trouble Identifying your own dog. Ask if there is a quarantine area or an area where injured animals are kept, in case your dog is separated from ones shown to the public.


  • Plan ahead for a “lost dog” emergency. Always have a picture of your dog on hand and a record of his tag and license numbers and microchip ID information.
  • Keep identifying tags on the dog at all times, when outside. Consider a micro-chip or visible tattoo that vets and local animal shelters can find with a scanner.
  • Keep these phone numbers handy: your vet, the animal rescue league, the Humane Society and animal shelters in your county and possibly a neighboring county, local radio or TV stations that make community service announcements, the local and possibly, State police.
  • Download a free Pet Record to use to record your pet’s information and various contact phone numbers at Everyday Pet Care.
  • Some people tell you not to put the dog’s name on its tag or dog thieves might easily get the dog to jump into their car. Anyone close enough to read the name tag is probably already holding the dog’s collar. It is very difficult to call for a dog without a name. “Here doggy” just doesn’t cut it for most dogs who are frightened and are often afraid of strangers.
  • A reward tends to motivate people. However, don’t state an amount. If you make the reward too large, like , people will wonder about the dog’s value and some people may not want to return your pet.
  • Always say a female is spayed, whether she is or not. Again, this is to protect the dog from the unscrupulous who might see a breeding opportunity.
  • The same logic applies to a medical problem or genetic defect. People will be less likely to think of breeding a dog that could be perceived as valuable, if they think it has a medical problem. That gives an urgency to the ad, too.
  • FAMILY PET tends to motivate people to look. Advertising it as a “show dog,” “breeding dog,” “therapy dog,” or “search and rescue dog” is not a good idea. Too much disclosure is not always the best policy in these matters.
  • Don’t give up too quickly. Dogs have been re-united with their owners even after a year or more. Keep going back to the shelters showing pictures of your dog.
  • Speediness and thoroughness are essential for bringing your dog home safely.
  • Look in the area between home and another location the dog knows well – a past home or a place you go together often, perhaps a favorite park.
  • Search for your dog on Fido Finder.
  • If you have a purebred dog, check with the rescue organizations for your breed. Many of them have Lost Dog links on their websites.
  • Check with other, smaller, rescue organizations in your area. Some are small and foster rescued stray dogs in their homes.


  • Use tape to post to phone poles. In many places, it is illegal and unsafe to use staples because it’s a danger to pole men.
  • Photocopy your lost dog posters. Photocopier toner won’t run in the rain, while ink from computer printer will.
  • If the dog is friendly, say “Please try and coax her into your garage or fenced yard and call us.” If the dog is not friendly or could be a fear biter say, “Don’t attempt to corner her. Simply call us with her location ASAP.”
  • Leave something out of the description. At this devastating time, you are vulnerable and there are unethical people who may try to take advantage. If someone calls and describes your dog from your ad and says, “I’ve got your dog here,” respond, “Does she have a black mark inside her right leg?” And they say, “She sure does.” and your dog doesn’t have a black mark, hang up quickly. You don’t want to deal with such people. If they say, “No, she doesn’t.” and you think it could be your dog, simply say you made a mistake, that is your other dog. Does she have a white left paw? If “yes,” and she does, try saying her name on the phone and get the dog to react.
  • If someone tries to blackmail you into a higher reward before returning your dog, try to make sure they have the right dog (or any dog at all) and ask the person to meet you in a public place. Then go with another person to meet them. Don’t be taken advantage of. If it is your dog, offer a token reward.
  • Recent scams include people calling for out-of-state airfare for your lost dog. They might say your dog has been stolen and dumped far from home and they found him 200 miles away. Don’t fall for it.
  • Never approach children to ask for their help unless they are family friends. Parents are teaching their children that this is a trick that potential kidnappers may use to lure them away.
  • Some experts on finding lost pets advise not to put the pet’s name on your lost pet posters. A lost pet is a scared pet and usually won’t respond to its name, especially if spoken to by a stranger. Someone could find your pet but decide its the wrong pet on the basis it did not respond to its name.

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