How To Find Your Lost Dog When He Disappears Unexpectedly

Photo of author

By Curtis

Lost dog poster. photo by Aine D on FlickrThere is no more gut wrenching feeling than the moment you first discover your dog has vanished for no apparent reason.

I’ve experienced this myself.

My then 6-year-old Yorkie/Pomeranian mix disappeared within just a minute or two of my inattention. It was the evening, and we were in Tucson Arizona. (See update below.)

Dogs leave for many reasons:

Whatever it is that caused your dog to disappear, the following tips will help you reunite with your lost dog quickly…

#1 – Act immediately.

The longer you wait to initiate a search means the farther away your pet can wander and the more likely he is to become injured. So, hit the streets asking neighbors to watch for your dog as soon as you realize he’s gone.

According to a professional pet detective, 89% of lost pets are recovered when their owners search actively for them in the first 12 hours after the loss.

Here’s what to take with you:

  • Pen and paper to write down your contact information to give to passersby
  • Photos of your pet to show people
  • Squeaky toy or bag of treats with a familiar sound for your dog
  • Flashlight to search nooks & crannies and underneath cars in case it starts to get dark
  • A dog whistle to get your dog’s attention
  • Leash and collar to secure your pet once he is located

TIP: If you spot your lost dog, don’t run after him! That will cause your dog to run away even faster.  Instead, get your dog’s attention calmly, and then sit down and become very fascinated with something near you. If possible, have some of your dog’s favorite (and most aromatic!) treats on hand. Use a coaxing voice, do not look directly at your dog, and talk calmly about whatever it is you are looking at. When the dog comes near you, resist the urge to move quickly to grab him. Instead, you should keep all of your movements slow and steady so you don’t startle your dog into running off again.

#2 – Search your property thoroughly.

Check every nook and cranny, because dogs like to explore, and they may wander off while following something that they’ve heard or seen.

Sick and injured dogs instinctively hide to protect their vulnerability.

Small dogs, in particular, can be difficult to spot if they’ve crawled into a tight spot or they’re hiding out of fear.

#3 – Leave something familiar in your front yard.

The power of scent is much stronger for dogs than for humans. Therefore, familiar scents could help bring your dog home. Place a recently worn item of clothing or your dog’s unwashed bedding in your yard or outside your front door where the breeze can carry the scent.

TIP: Before  leaving to search the neighborhood for your lost dog, leave these items — along with some food and water — outside your front door. If they return home, they will be more likely stay and wait for you to come back.

#4 – Create a unique message for your voicemail (or answering machine).

While you’re out looking for your lost dog, if no one is at home then you’ll want to leave a message on your answering machine to alert those who call that you will return at a specified time.

That way, if someone finds your dog and calls the phone number on his ID tags, they will be assured that they will be able to touch base with you soon.

Plus, it will help to alert any friends or neighbors who might call during this time, and you might get a few more people to participate in the search for your lost dog!

TIP: You may also want to mention your cell phone number in that message, to speed up the reunion process.

#5 – Alert local shelters.

It’s true, 35% find their lost dogs at local shelters.

The more you spread the word about your lost dog — which includes talking to shelters, vet clinics, and the local animal control office — the more people will be looking for your lost dog. That means your odds are better for finding him sooner, rather than later.

#6 – Make and distribute lost dog signs.

If your first search of the area didn’t locate your lost dog, then it’s time to hang some signs around the area.

A simple sign with a picture of your dog and your phone number should be posted on bulletin boards in nearby stores, on telephone poles, in veterinarian offices, and on street signs at major intersections.

Your signs will attract the attention of everyone who passes by the area where you dog was last seen. In one study, posted signs result in the return of 15% of lost dogs.

TIP: It might also be helpful (and a useful way to help you pass the time while your dog is missing) to create a website for your lost dog.

#7 – Post lost dog notices online.

Some of the best places to share the details about your lost dog online include:

How To Avoid A Lost Dog Scenario

Is your dog on this list of most common lost dog breeds?  (Sadly, my Yorkshire Terrier is on the list.)

If so, then you’ll want to be extra cautious about letting your dog out of your sight and take extra steps to prevent your dog from becoming lost in the first place:

  • Do these things now, just in case your dog becomes separated from you in the future.
  • Take pictures of your dog regularly. That way, you’ll always have a recent photo of your dog should he ever become lost. Make a point to take some head-on shots, as well as side shots since they are the most effective on lost dog posters.
  • If you haven’t already purchased an inexpensive dog whistle, the time is now. They work better than regular whistles to get a dog’s attention. As soon as you get it, start to use it to call your dog in the house whenever he’s outside, or even to call your dog into one room whenever he’s in a different room of the house. Give a treat each and every time your dog comes in response to the whistle, and you’ll soon have an effective tool for reuniting with your dog should he ever become separated from you.
  • Getting dogs microchipped makes it easier to identify them and reunite them with their owners — as long as you keep your address updated with the microchip registration company. With a microchip implanted in your dog, if he turns up at a veterinarian office or animal shelter anywhere in the country, he will be identified and you will be notified. It’s a great preventative measure!

Did You Know?…  1 in 3 pets will get lost during their lifetime. 10 million pets get lost every year. Without ID, 90% of lost pets never return home. 35% of lost dogs are fouhin: center;”>

Update On My Lost Dog

As for my lost dog…

After a long evening of searching everywhere for this little 5-pound furball, he showed up on our front step the next morning.

Of course, he looked extremely tired, dirty, and worn out from his scary overnight adventure. Not to mention the fact that he was darn lucky the coyotes in the region didn’t have him for a late night snack! (Remember, we were in Arizona at the time.)

Fortunately, he didn’t have the urge to explore away from home anymore. He never again wandered off on us. We often wonder exactly where he went on his overnight adventure, but he never said.

I was lucky, only 8% of lost dogs return home on their own!

More About Lost Dogs