Caitlin UltimoHealth / Pet Safety & Injury Prevention

How To Find A Lost Dog

“LOST DOG!” No one thinks they’ll be the ones creating that flyer about their dog. But it happens. A lot. Approximately 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters nationwide every year, according to the ASPCA. Additionally, they report that about twice as many animals enter shelters as strays as do those turned in by their owners.

When it comes to recovering a lost dog, there are two guidelines — react quickly and use a variety of recovery tools.

Several animal control experts share their best tips from their many years being on the “finder’s side” of lost dog cases.

Search And Rescue Of Lost Dogs

“Throughout my years of experience, I have seen nearly every method work,” says Janeé Boswell, supervisor of Animal Control for the Boulder Police Department and president of the Colorado Association of Animal Control Officers. “Going door to door, flyers, searching shelters, etc.”

Sharon Miller, animal control director for the Baltimore City Health Department, recommends contacting your local shelter as soon as a pet is missing.

“The sooner the effort starts, the more likely an animal will be found,” Miller says.

And that includes visiting in person.

“Go to the animal shelter, walk through the animals, and provide a photo if possible,” Miller says. “Many times shelter personnel will [classify] a dog differently than a dog owner. A dog owner is calling the shelter looking for a Sheltie, and the shelter had identified the dog as a long-haired Chihuahua mix.”

Not surprisingly, using social media is one of the most effective tools for finding a lost pet.

“Social media reaches a large population in a very short amount of time,” Miller says. “We advise always having a current picture and providing the location of where the dog was last seen, and contact information if the dog is found. Many neighborhoods in the city have associations with an online bulletin [board] to post information.”

Mike Cassidy, director of Jessamine County Public Services in Kentucky, cites an example of the power of a community’s lost and found page: A neighborhood site had 3,500 followers, but thanks to multiple shares, a posting about a lost dog got 6,000 views.

Must-Have Lost Dog Flyer Info

When creating flyers, use this handy checklist to make sure they are as informative as possible.

  • A current photo
  • Detailed description of the dog
  • Any medical issues: This can help convey the urgency in finding the dog, Miller says
  • Valid phone number that has voicemail

That last one may seem obvious, but Boswell has found that it isn’t.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that people will provide a phone number that does not have a voicemail set up or the voicemail is full,” she says. “This becomes very discouraging for authorities who may have found the animal or for a finder who can’t reach the owner.”

How To Avoid Losing Your Dog

When it comes to a lost dog search, as with most things, there’s an app for that.

“’Finding Rover’ is the first facial recognition software for pets,” says Cassidy, whose shelter uses that technology. “You take a face shot of your animal and put it on the network. If someone finds a pet dog, they can upload a photo of that dog. Right now it’s just for dogs and in a few areas.”

Cassidy points out the importance of registering your dog now, before you need it.

“A database is only as good as the information in it,” he says.

Another preventive tool that can greatly assist in finding a lost dog is microchipping. When we got our rescue English Bull Terrier, Maybelene, part of the fee went to microchipping her, which definitely boosted our peace of mind. Boswell confirms its effectiveness.

“I have returned MANY animals that have been missing for long durations of time, or found a far distance from where they are lost, because of a microchip,” he says.

Something else we do with our dogs is make sure we have ID tags for each collar. This eliminates the need of taking a tag off and on — which is not the easiest thing to do with those pesky little rings!

Lost Dogs Can Travel Unexpected Distances

Many dogs stay close to home, but each dog is different and the distance it is likely to travel can’t be predicted.

If your dog has been lost for more than a couple of days, expanding your geographical search will help—because of both your dog and other people.

“I have seen several cases where dogs are found in one city, a person locates them and loads them in their car, then takes them to their local shelter, which could be cities away,” Boswell says.

Other factors can also add unexpected distance between home and where your lost dog ends up.

“A dog that runs away out of fear, such as from fireworks, will bolt in a panic and not recognize where he went, becoming truly lost,” says Susan Bulanda, MAT, CABC, a certified animal behavior consultant and adjunct professor, author and lecturer in Pennsylvania. “A male dog following the scent of a female will travel very far. A dog that is out for a walk may stay closer to home. It is always best to post signs and let organizations know about a lost dog for at least 100 miles away, depending on the circumstances.”

Cassidy points out some breed-based tendencies that may affect a dog’s roaming distance.

“Some breeds like to run more than others. Huskies, Beagles and hounds are susceptible to hunting,” Cassidy says. “If they get on the trail of some kind of wildlife, they’re going to keep going.”

As you’re searching, don’t limit yourself to shelters or neighbors’ homes. Boswell advises dog owners to look for their pet everywhere, including less-obvious spots.

“We have found dogs in storm drains, drainage pipes, culverts and commercial business operations,” she says.

How Children Can Help With Lost Dogs

And if you have children, keep in mind that they’re missing their furry friend, too—and can help. How, exactly, depends on the age of the children, Bulanda says.

“If they are old enough to canvas the neighborhood and post signs, they can do that if the neighborhood is a safe one for children. If they are old enough they can make phone calls to veterinarian clinics, shelters and rescue groups. If they are not old enough for these activities they can pray. Prayer always lets a child feel as though they are doing something, and it can be done in the safety of the home. They can also help write posters for their parents or older siblings to distribute.”

Boswell also believes children should be involved.

“It allows them to feel involved and become an active part of the solution,” Boswell says. “It’s also important that parents do not give them a false sense of hope. Be optimistic, but also realistic.”

Fido’s Found … and Freaked Out

So you’ve posted flyers, visited local and adjacent animal shelters and your dog has been found—yay! But now what? Don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t act as happy to see you as you are to see him.

“We always hope they will come running to us, tail wagging,” Boswell says. “However, their demeanor in an unpredictable, open setting can drastically change their behavior. The dog’s behavioral tendencies, the relationship with the owner and the time the animal has been missing are some key factors that may play into its response to an owner. It may take hours or a day or so for the dog to return to its calm, relaxed state.”

Bulanda adds that how dogs react to an owner depends upon what the pet experienced while being lost, and this correlates to how long the dog was lost.

Cassidy recommends bringing something the dog is familiar with—a favorite treat or toy, or something else that reminds him of home.

And examine your dog’s physical state, as well as his mental one.

“If the dog was lost for more than 24 hours and is dirty, looks uncared for or does not act normal, the dog should be taken to a veterinarian for a checkup, since the dog may have eaten noxious things or been bitten or stung by a snake or insect,” Bulanda says. “The dog should be given a bath, carefully groomed and checked for any injuries, punctures or other signs of a harmful encounter. In some areas it may be necessary to look for things such as ticks, fleas, etc. If the dog does not return to its normal behavior in two or three days, it would be wise to consult with a certified canine behavior consultant.”

Boswell cites observing your dog to make sure he is behaving normally, specifically with respect to activity levels, as well as food and water consumption. Hopefully you’ll never need these tips to find a lost dog, but between the preventive reminders and locating suggestions, any tails that take off should be home wagging soon.

By: Elizabeth Anderson Lopez