Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

9 Things You Can Do to Find a Lost Dog: Expert Tips!

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

dog missing poster

Losing a beloved pet can be heartbreaking. Sadly, though, it is an all too common experience amongst pet owners.

Dogs can get lost for all sorts of reasons. Some dogs have strong prey drive instincts, which can cause them to become distracted and runoff in pursuit of a prey animal. Other dogs might become scared of fireworks or other loud noises and get lost in their attempt to flee. Sometimes other factors are at play, such as doggy dementia or a local dog who is in heat.

Whatever the reason, finding your dog is going to require the same necessary steps.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already driven around your neighborhood and attempted to call your pooch from your backdoor. (If you haven’t done these things, try them now!) This article will cover some other steps you can take to speed your dog back home.

Many of these can be done at the same time. We recommend performing as many of these steps as you can. The more things you try, the higher the odds are that one of them will work. Here’s how to find a lost dog at night, how to find a lost dog in a rural area, and more:

Divider 8

Top 9 Ways to Find a Lost Dog:

1. Call Your Local Animal Shelter

dogs in the shelter
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Odds are, you have an animal shelter in your community. Give them a call and report your pet missing right away. Be sure to provide a clear physical description, as well as a few tidbits of information that only you would know. Don’t forget to leave a contact number as well.

If your dog ends up at the shelter, they’ll have a physical description and can call you back.

If your dog does end up at the shelter, you may need to put in a bit of work to claim him, though.

You’d be surprised by the number of people who try to claim lost dogs without actually being their owners. Some of these people just want a free pet, but others have more sinister ideas in mind (like using the poor pooch as a bait dog for dogfighting). Because of this, many shelters are careful about releasing dogs to owners.

Luckily, it isn’t too hard to prove that your dog belongs to you. Hopefully, your canine was wearing some sort of identification tag when they got lost. If they weren’t, a simple picture of you with your dog or the dog’s vet records would be enough to prove that you own them.

2. Contact Your Local Veterinarian Offices

woman holding a mobile phone
Image Credit: Unsplash

After calling the animal shelter, your next step should be to call your local vets. If your dog is injured, they would have likely been taken to a vet by a passerby. Most veterinarians will not advertise that they have a lost dog, so you’ll need to call and give a description.

If your dog is there, you may need to prove that you own them – just like you would need to do with the animal shelter.

Even if your pooch isn’t injured, they may have been taken to a vet’s office for a variety of reasons. Not everyone necessarily knows where the local animal shelter is in your area, though they may know where a vet is located. Some animal control policies require that they take potentially injured or diseased dogs to a local vet. Not all shelters are open all the time either, which may make a local vet the next best thing.

3. Alert Your Neighbors on Social Media

A few decades ago, the next step would have been to hang flyers. However, we live in a technology-entrenched world now. Posting on social media is far faster than hanging posters, and more people will see it.

Post on your personal social media profiles first. Include a picture of your dog, as well as information about the area they got lost in. If your pet escaped from your backyard, including your home address, so people know whereabout your dog went missing. Even if someone notices a dog that looks like yours 25 miles away, it probably isn’t your canine. Including an address helps narrow down the responses.

Next, look for social media groups focused on finding dogs in your area. Most towns have a lost pet group on Facebook. Here, people post pictures of missing pets and pets they find. Join it and post about your pooch again, including the same information you did on your personal page.

Many of these groups also include people who know about specific resources in your area that may be able to help. For example, maybe there is a catch-and-release program just up the street that you can contact – just in case your pooch ended up in one of their traps.

In many cases, these groups can be a huge help.

4. Consider Where Your Pet Might Go

Now that your neighbors have been alerted, it is time to consider where your pet might have gone. Odds are, your pet didn’t get lost and then decide to stay put. He is likely hungry and seeking shelter.

Dogs usually don’t roam very far from where they originally ran off. After only a mile or two, he likely got tired of running and slowed down. At that point, he may have tried to find his way back home or could have been distracted by a sight or smell. Other dogs, people, and food are prevalent distractions.

However, these distractions aren’t necessarily a bad thing! If your dog was drawn to something, he might still be there. Think about any prominent places a few miles from where your dog got lost that he may have been drawn too. Open up Google Maps if you need to bit of help.

Campgrounds, other homes with dogs, schools with outdoor playgrounds, fields with livestock, and similar places can all be fascinating places to dogs.

If you think of any places of interest, go check them out. Call your dog and bring some food just in case you need to bribe them away from whatever they found.

Not all dogs get distracted, however. If there are no areas of potential interest around you (or your dog isn’t there when you check), it is likely he has wandered off or tried to get home. Still, he will start to feel hungry and tired at some point. Consider areas around you where your dog could get his needs met.

If he is friendly, there is a high probability that someone took him in. Many people have a soft spot in their hearts for lost dogs. In these cases, driving around and looking for your dog is pointless. Hopefully, your social media post has met whoever took your dog in. If it didn’t, though, it is time to expand your search once again.

You can use this same method for finding lost dogs in the woods as well. Where would they go to get food in the forest? What about water?

5. Print Some Posters

person posting missing dog posters
Image Credit: StockMediaSeller, Shutterstock

This is a time-consuming step, which is why we didn’t place it further up on the list. However, if you have already tried other suggestions, physical posters may be your next best bet.

The posters do not have to be fancy in the least. A single piece of paper with a clear picture and some contact information is all you need. Be sure to include multiple phone numbers, just in case you happen to be away from your phone when someone calls.

Where you should put these posters depends on your area. If you’re in an urban area where people walk, then, by all means, post them on the telephone poles. However, in suburban and rural areas, there isn’t much point to this. In most cases, people aren’t going to be able to read the phone number as they drive by.

In these cases, your best bet is to take them to your local veterinarian offices, animal shelter, and stores. Many stores will let you post pictures. Try those that focus on pet services, like groomers and even big chain stores, as well as locally owned stores.

While most people have social media, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they saw your post. A poster can be an easy way to reach more people.

While you’re out hanging posters, be sure to remind your local vets and the animal shelter about your call. Provide them with a printed-out picture as well, so they don’t just have to rely on your physical description.

7. Visit the Animal Shelter Often

Even though you’ve already provided your local animal shelter with a picture of your animal, it isn’t uncommon for there to be a disconnect between your pet and your picture.

Even if your pet wasn’t gone for very long, they could be far dirtier than in your picture. In some cases, your dog might look significantly different than before. Plus, animal shelters are often dealing with dozens of missing pet reports at a time. You can’t expect every volunteer to have every picture memorized.

The only way to know for sure if your pet is there or not is to go out and look. Walk through the area where the dogs are and double-check that your pooch isn’t there.

While you’re at it, considering visiting other animal shelters as well. It is possible your dog was taken to a nearby animal shelter instead of your local one. Animal shelters often do not share information about missing pets, so there would be no way for the other organization to have your contact info.

veterinarian holding a dog
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

8. Join a Few Missing Pet Websites

There are a few websites out there that focus specifically on finding missing pets. Most of them are free. They all work in different ways, though many use their base of members to help alert locals about each missing animal.

For example, if you make a missing pet report on one of these sites, it may automatically alert every member within so many miles of you that your pet is missing. This automatically adds quite a few people to your search. And who knows, maybe one of them has spotted your dog!

In most cases, these websites only take a second to join, so you post missing pet reports on as many as possible.

9. Search Harder

If you still haven’t found your pet by this point, it is time to search your neighborhood as you’ve never searched it before.

Knock on doors and leave flyers in mailboxes. Talk to everyone, especially those who spend a long time outside. Talk to the guy that cut’s your neighbor’s grass. If you notice any children outside playing, talk to them as well. Children are often more observant than adults and more sensitive to animal sightings. If your dog has been wandering around, odds are the neighborhood kids have seen it. Your mailman is another potential ally on your search. After all, he stops at literally every house and spends most of his days driving around.

If your dog is small, check dark, small areas where they might be hiding. Drains and derelict buildings are familiar hiding places for small, scared animals.

If you’re wondering how to find a lost dog at night, the darkness can actually be helpful. Dog’s eyes are reflective, and it is often quieter at night. Go out with a flashlight and search your neighborhood. Call your dog’s name and listen for a faint bark. This method is particularly helpful for finding a lost dog at night.

Featured Image: Roman Rodriguez, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database