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20 Tips for Finding a Lost Dog

1. Search your neighborhood on foot and by car. Dogs are crepuscular—they’re most active at dawn and dusk—so focus on those times. Cover the paths where you normally walk your dog, and surrounding areas. Draw a circle on a map with your home at the center. Extend the radius out a few miles and cover the area in a methodical way.

2. Grab a leash, and take along some strong-smelling food your dog loves. If he has a favorite toy, bring it along. Toys that make noise (e.g., squeak or jingle) are best. Whether walking or driving, go slowly and call your dog’s name in a happy voice. (If you’re in a vehicle, have someone else drive). Assuming your dog is familiar with the phrase, “Wanna go for a ride?” call his name and the invitation; if he’s trained to come, call his name and then the recall cue. Use the happy tone you’d normally use.

3. If you have another dog, or have access to another dog yours is friends with, take that dog along on searches.

4. Show a current photo to everyone you encounter.

5. If your dog isn’t people-friendly, you can’t ask people to hold on to him; instead, give out the number of your local animal control agency, and your cell number, and ask people to call immediately if they spot your dog. Even if your dog is people-friendly, tell people that if they do see him, not to chase him. Ask that they turn their body to the side (and even crouch down with body turned sideways) and clap gently, using a happy voice to lure your dog over. If they have a yard or other containment area, ask them to coax your dog inside and then call you. Let people know if your dog is dog-friendly, in case they have a dog of their own. And don’t forget to mention the reward; positive reinforcement works for people, too.

6.Be sure all of your neighbors are aware of the situation. If you feel it’s safe, knock on doors in your area, explain the situation, and leave people with a photo flyer.

7.Place a large sign on your front lawn with a photo of your dog. It should say that he’s lost and give a number to call if someone has found him.

8.Post “Lost” flyers all around your neighborhood, using the map you marked up as a guide. Don’t crowd the flyer with text, as it should be easily readable by passing drivers. Include a photo, preferably in color. The word “REWARD” should appear in large letters. It’s also a good idea to add the phrase, “Needs medication.” This not only imparts a sense of urgency, but dissuades those who might believe in a “Finders, Keepers” policy from “adopting” your dog. It’s best to have small tear-off tags with your phone number at the bottom of the flyer, so that people take a tag rather than tearing down the entire flyer.

9.Place a Lost Dog ad in your local papers, and be sure to search daily through the Found ads. 

10.Give flyers to your local postal workers and delivery drivers for services like UPS and FedEx. They’re the ones who are all over your neighborhood daily, so they have the best chance of spotting your dog. Give flyers to kids who are playing outdoors, and make sure they know there’s a reward. Alert local pet sitters, since they too are out and about in the community, and normally have other dogs with them that might attract your dog. Give flyers to anyone you can think of who spends time around your neighborhood—bus drivers, taxi drivers, highway workers, utility workers, etc. Tell local trainers too, in case someone decides to keep your dog and then get him trained. The more people you tell, the better the chances that someone will call you when your dog is spotted.

11.Post flyers at your local veterinary offices, emergency clinics, shelters, humane societies, groomers, pet supply stores, kennels, any other dog-related businesses, and dog parks. Post too at laundromats, supermarkets, community bulletin boards, and anywhere else that will allow it.

12.Spread the virtual word! Share your information on all of your social media pages, and in groups local to your area on Facebook, NextDoor, etc. Be sure to include a photo.

13.Let local rescue groups know, too. If your dog is purebred, someone might try to turn him in to the breed rescue group rather than dropping him off at a shelter. Even if he’s a mixed breed, make sure local rescue groups have your phone number and a description/photo of your dog.

14.Search your local shelter, and those in surrounding areas, daily. (Someone may have picked your dog up on their way to another area and dropped him at a different shelter.) Don’t just call—you must show up in person. Often the office staff who answer the phones will not know what dogs are in the actual facility. Also, your dog might have been marked down as the wrong breed upon intake. Be sure to search not only all of the runs (they may have misidentified the gender—it happens), but the medical area as well. If your dog was hit by a car or otherwise injured, that’s where he’ll be, and yet most shelter officials won’t tell you to look there. Find out the number of days your shelter holds lost dogs before they become available for adoption (or worse, euthanized), and be sure that you or someone shows up within that time frame on an ongoing basis.

15.While at the shelter, search through the “found” books or postings. Someone might have your dog at home but doesn’t want to turn him in.

16.Search all of the places you can think of that a dog might find attractive. Local dog parks, fields that contain rabbits or squirrels, woods, garbage dumps, and dumpsters behind restaurants are all good bets. When you search on foot, be sure to keep an eye on bushes and under cars, as those are common hiding places for a frightened dog, or one who is napping.

17.There are companies that will, for a fee, search for your dog by generating flyers and employing a voluminous contact list. This can be especially helpful if you work full time or are otherwise too busy to conduct a full-on search effort on your own.

18.If you spot your dog on the street, be sure to follow the body language suggested in point #5. You could even try running the other way, encouraging him in a happy voice to chase you, until you get the chance to put a leash on him.

19.Think positive. Visualize your dog home safe and sound. Most importantly, don’t give up! I know of cases where a dog was lost, and someone took him in for a few months and then gave the dog up to a shelter. Keep looking. Organization, hope, and perseverance are the most valuable tools you have. Here’s to your dog getting home safe and sound.

20.Once your dog is home, practice prevention: Keep a correctly fitted collar with ID tags on at all times, have him microchipped (keep the info updated), and keep a current photo on hand.

© 2012 Nicole Wilde 

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