How To Find A Lost Dog

By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz December 18, 2020

To many of us, our pet dogs are like family. If they go missing, it can be a heart wrenching and traumatic experience for all members of the family. The uncertainty of not knowing where our pet is and if they are safe can lead to sleepless nights and exhaustion. Thankfully, in most cases dogs are reunited with their families in the end. The following article will discuss steps that you can take to increase the likelihood of your dog returning home safely to you if they get lost, and how to reduce the chances of it happening in the first place.

How To Find A Lost Dog

Dogs can go missing for a number of reasons. They may slip out the door as you’re bringing groceries inside, they may dig out of your fenced yard, they may slip out of their collar on you walk, or there are hundreds of other situations that may arise leading to our dog escaping our care. If your dog does end up missing, first and foremost try not to panic. Dogs are highly likely to be reunited with their owners. One study found that of dogs that went missing, 71% were recovered and most were retuned within 2 days (Lord et al., 2007a). Pet owners from this study recovered their dogs by contacting animal shelters (34.8%), through having their information on a dog license tag (18.2%), or by posting signs throughout their neighborhood (15.2%) (Lord et al., 2007a). Another study found an even greater recovery percent of 93%. Owners in this study reported finding their dog by searching their neighborhood, having the dog return on their own, or through information being available on an identification tag (Weiss et al., 2012). Dogs whose owner information was in a shelter database registry or a microchip registry had the greatest likelihood that their owners would be found (Lord et al., 2009). Owners that were least likely to find their lost dogs were the ones that suspected their dog had been stolen (Lord et al., 2007a).

Websites & Apps To Advertise Your Lost Dog

Posting signs around your neighborhood and local newspapers is a great place to start. However, with the popularity of social media and an increasing number of people embracing new technology, advertising your dog using online platforms can help you reach a larger audience. When dogs go missing, there is a chance that they will never leave your neighborhood. However, there is also that chance that an excitable or nervous dog may travel incredibly far distances. This makes it critical to advertise your lost dog locally as well as in surrounding communities. Facebook is a great place to post your missing dog information. Places like your neighborhood page and community groups are good places to start. Make sure your post is set to public so it can be shared and seen widely! Other neighborhood webpages such as nextdoor are options to share within and between communities. Another place to potentially advertise a missing dog is through special phone applications that have been developed for this purpose. Some of these apps serve as databases to store information about pets within neighborhoods to help facilitate bringing them home (Chutichudet et al., 2014). Other scientists have even been exploring the use of facial recognition to help link lost pets with information in databases with high accuracy (Moreira et al., 2017).

No matter where you choose to advertise your lost dog, the following information should be included:

  • Dog’s name and any nicknames they may answer to
  • Breed
  • Sex
  • Coloring
  • Weight
  • Any other distinguishing features
  • A photo or multiple photos
  • Contact information (name, telephone number, email)

Setting A Reward For Your Lost Dog

It is not necessary to offer a reward for locating and returning your dog, and is even discouraged by some professionals. Most people (87%) that come across a lost dog consider it extremely important to find the owner and will do so because it is the right thing to do (Lord et al., 2007b). While offering a reward may motivate people to get out and search for your dog, it could open you up to potential scammers, cause harm to your pet as people prioritize catching the dog over their safety (e.g. chasing the dog into traffic or interfering with passive ways to safely capture the dog), or could inadvertently contribute to people stealing pets in order to claim reward money. Even if a reward is offered, most people will decline it. It is recommended, though, to offer to reimburse the finder for any expenses associated with finding your dog such as food costs or any vet bills. If you do choose to offer a reward it is recommended to not disclose the amount on the flyer.

How To Prevent Your Dog From Becoming Lost

There are preventive measures that dog parents can take to prevent their dog from escaping and running away. These include:

  • Having a tall, secure fence that your dog cannot jump, climb, or dig under
  • Consider putting your dog in a crate if you make frequent trips in and out of your home
  • Make sure you are using a good quality leash that is strong enough for your dog
  • Do not leave your dog unattended outside, or at the very least check on them often
  • Spaying or neutering your pet may make them less motivated to escape your yard or house
  • Consider using a double leash so you have a backup if your dog is particularly strong or reactive
  • Avoid taking your dog outside on holidays when fireworks may startle them and cause them to bolt
  • Make sure your dog demonstrates good recall in all situations before ever letting them off the leash outside

Finally, there are measures you can take to help bring your lost dog home quicker. These include keeping identification on their collar (this could include an identification tag, dog license tag, or a rabies tag) or microchipping your dog.

The Importance Of Micro-chipping Your Dog

Collars with identification tags are great, but only work if your dog is wearing them. Owners may not be consistent in keeping a collar on their dog, or the collar may get caught and fall off, rendering them useless in linking you to your lost dog. Microchips on the other hand will always be there. A study examining how reliable microchips are tested dogs 6 months after receiving a chip and found that 99.8% were still functional (Lord et al., 2010). In another study, researchers found that mandatory microchipping of dogs resulted in increased reunification of dogs with their owners, decreased length of stay at a shelter, and saved the city money (Zak et al., 2018). A major caveat of microchips is that the information in the database must be updated whenever an animal moves to a new home or if the owner’s phone number changes (Lord et al., 2009). Moving is a high-risk event for losing a dog, so owners should be proactive and keep this information up to date in the database.

What To Do If You Find A Lost Dog?

If you come across a dog that appears lost, try to capture the dog. Keep in mind that dogs that are lost may be extra fearful, and they are more likely to run off or even act out aggressively if they feel threatened. Use of calming signals (Cohen, 2007) can help keep the dog calm and more able to be captured. Try to keep yourself as non-threatening as possible by keeping a low posture, avoiding direct eye contact, and turning your body at an angle from the dog. Use a high value food item to lure the dog towards you. Avoid calling out to the dog or slapping your leg. Take your time to gain the dog’s trust. Use of a human trap, animal carrier, or a car can help safely capture a dog. If a dog is too nervous to be captured, do not approach or attempt to chase down the dog. Try to get a photo instead.

If you are successful at capturing a lost dog, check if they have any tags with contact information. If they do, try to reach the owner. If not, take the dog to an animal shelter or veterinarian to have them scanned for a microchip. Meanwhile, you can browse missing pet pages on social media or the newspaper to see if there is a missing dog matching their description. Sometimes, newspapers will allow found-pet advertisements at no charge (Lord et al., 2007b).


In conclusion, having a plan in place in case your dog ever goes missing is the best course of action. Make sure your dog is micro-chipped or wearing an identification on their collar. Add your pet to any local databases of pets. If your dog does go missing, spread the word through local fliers, social media posts, newspaper ads, or even the radio. Explore if your community supports any cell phone apps or websites dedicated to reuniting lost pets. Finally, while it’s a nerve wracking experience, try to remember that the chances of your dog’s safe return are high!

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Works Cited

Chutichudet, S., Kanthathasiri, T., Ritsakunchai, I., & Wongsawang, D. (2014, March). LFD: Lost and Found Dog application on mobile. In 2014 Third ICT International Student Project Conference (ICT-ISPC) (pp. 147-150). IEEE.

Cohen, H. Y. (2007). Calming signals. Veterinary Nursing Journal22(7), 26-28.

Lord, L. K., Griffin, B., Slater, M. R., & Levy, J. K. (2010). Evaluation of collars and microchips for visual and permanent identification of pet cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association237(4), 387-394.

Lord, L. K., Ingwersen, W., Gray, J. L., & Wintz, D. J. (2009). Characterization of animals with microchips entering animal shelters. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association235(2), 160-167.

Lord, L. K., Wittum, T. E., Ferketich, A. K., Funk, J. A., & Rajala-Schultz, P. J. (2007a). Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost dog. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association230(2), 211-216.

Lord, L. K., Wittum, T. E., Ferketich, A. K., Funk, J. A., & Rajala-Schultz, P. J. (2007b). Search methods that people use to find owners of lost pets. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association230(12), 1835-1840.

Weiss, E., Slater, M., & Lord, L. (2012). Frequency of lost dogs and cats in the United States and the methods used to locate them. Animals2(2), 301-315.

Zak, J., Voslarova, E., Vecerek, V., & Bedanova, I. (2018). Impact of mandatory microchipping on traceability of sheltered dogs in the Czech Republic. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science21(2), 108-119.