What to Do if You Lost Your Dog

lost dog poster on a tree

Jeffrey Coolidge / Getty Images

No matter how careful you are, sometimes Fido manages to break free from his leash or escape from the backyard in pursuit of a squirrel—or just because he felt like exploring the neighborhood. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to prevent your dog from getting lost—but if your dog does go missing, here’s what to do to help bring him home.

Sweep the Neighborhood

In many cases, a well-trained dog is the safest dog when it comes to not getting lost. If your dog knows and responds well to basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come”—as all dogs should—you’ll want to head outside and start calling his or her name and using a command like “come” (or other special phrases you know your dog would typically respond to, like “ride in car”) to see if that’s enough to bring Rover out from wherever he’s currently hiding in the neighborhood.

You may also want to bring an extra special treat or his favorite food in order to help use his sense of smell to lure him home. Sometimes leaving your dog’s bedding or some clothing with your scent by the location where your pet went missing will help him find his way back.

Your dog may very well be scared, but depending on your pet’s personality and how they may react when an unknown person approaches them or attempts to pick them up (assuming you haven’t lost your Saint Bernard, that is), you may also want to alert your neighbors or people in the area of where your dog went missing and instruct them on how to approach your dog when spotted. Be sure to share her name and photos so that everyone in the general vicinity of your home (or wherever your dog went missing) knows exactly who they’re looking for. If you have other dogs, be sure to recruit them, too—their powerful noses may be all you need to help lead you to the direction where their best bud is currently hiding.

Use Your Pet’s Microchip

Proper identification is always key to finding a lost dog—including a collar with ID tag as well as a microchip— so one of the first things you should do is alert your dog’s microchip company. The whole point of having your pet microchipped is to help find them if they’ve gone missing. Be sure to ensure that the contact information the microchip company has for you is up-to-date, particularly if you moved recently or changed phone numbers.

Print Some Fliers

Posting fliers may be the old-fashioned approach to pet recovery, but it's still extremely effective. Print a flier with a current photo and description of your dog, as well as your contact information and other relevant information about your pet’s personality (such as if they tend to run when approached directly). Be sure to include a reward if you’re planning on offering one. Post your fliers in as many places as possible, including utility polls at busy intersections, and don’t be afraid to hand them out to people directly, from neighborhood children to your mail carrier. If you’ve been fortunate enough to receive phone calls with sightings of your dog, head to those areas to continue your search and post or hand out additional fliers.

Rely on Social Media

In addition to fliers, today there’s also the power of social media to help retrieve your beloved pooch. Post an alert on your personal page and ask everyone to share, and you’ll also want to post your dog’s photo to as many local groups as possible; there may even be Facebook groups dedicated to finding lost pets in your area. You can also set up a dedicated Facebook page where you can include additional information about your pet and people can share with their friends or neighborhood organizations as well as post sightings.

Call Local Animal Organizations

 If someone is kind enough to bring your lost pet into the nearest veterinarian's office, animal control office, or animal shelter, you’ll want to be sure they know in advance exactly who your pet is. Be sure to give them a call, or stop in with one of your fliers, so they know how to find you if your dog ends up in their office. Sadly, sometimes shelters do have to turn away animals if they’re full, so it’s imperative that they know in advance that if your dog walks through the door he already has a home and they can contact you immediately. But be sure to keep following up, as there’s no guarantee they will call you if your dog does turn up.

Know Where to Look

 If the hours are ticking by and your dog is still missing, try to put yourself in his paws—if you were your pet, where might you go? Think of anywhere your pet knows and enjoys going, such as a local park, as well as anywhere he or she may feel safe and hidden, such as wooded areas or even a cemetery. You may also want to head to any local fast food chains or restaurants, because a lost, hungry dog will be attracted to the aromatic food smells and could potentially be found raiding their dumpster outside.

Don’t Give Up

No matter what, keep looking. It’s a terrifying, heartbreaking experience to lose a four-legged member of your family, and even if a few days—or even weeks—have gone by, keep in mind that though your dog may be accustomed to sleeping on a plush dog bed and eating out of a fancy dog dish, most dogs will become very resourceful and rely on their instincts to survive when they're out on their own. In the meantime, remain diligent and persistent and continue sharing, posting, and searching until your beloved pooch is back in your arms.