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What to do When your Dog Goes Missing: Tips that Can Help you Find your Pet

Updated on December 28, 2013

If you have lost your pet, do not panic! You can find your pet!

If you have lost your pet, take a deep breath and consider these interesting statistics:

  • 93% of dogs that are reported missing are returned to their owners safely
  • 15 percent of dogs were found because they were sporting identification tags or microchips.
  • 6 percent of dog owners and 2 percent of cat owners found their lost pets at shelters.

Thundershirt Helps dogs with Anxiety

Step 1: Put Up Posters

i. Make sure they are in color

Vibrant pictures and colorful fonts can attract more attention than a simple black and white poster

ii. Make the language in Spanish and English

Depending on where you are located, you may want to consider writing your poster in multiple languages. This can help a non-native speaker from keeping a watchful eye for your missing pet.

iii. Offer a Reward

Let's face it, pets can be expensive and if your pet goes missing, there is always a possibility that someone may decide to keep your dog. By offering a reward, it gives incentive for someone to return your lost pet. If someone finds your pet, they may think that the owner is irresponsible or has abandoned it. Offering a reward shows that you are willing to make a sacrifice to bring your pet home.

iv. Put when and where dog was last sighted

This is important because it gives your community an idea of where your pet could potentially be. Generally pets do not roam in a straight line, they roam from area to area often retracing their steps. Chances are, your pet has been through the same area twice.

v. Make picture of pet large enough to be recognized

If your picture is too small, people in your community will not be able to distinguish your pet from a stray. Make a large enough picture so that members of your community will undoubtedly be able to recognize and remember your pet.

vi. Don't disclose every single detail about your pet

Although you should point out any distinguishing features, leave at least one distinguishing feature out so that if you get any calls, you can ask them to identify the distinguishing feature so you can make sure they aren’t scamming you. Criminals take advantage of vulnerable people and may fool you in to pretending that they have your pet for a reward. If someone reports that they have your pet, never give them a reward until you have your pet safe. Ask for proof such as a picture via text or ask them about the color of their collar or something else that is not on your flier or on your description.

vii. Post flyers in pet shelters, vets, pet stores, high traffic areas


When making your fliers you may want to consider how many you want to print. If you can afford it, more is always better but definitely not cheap. Think of how many posters you can afford to print and plan where you will be putting them. Don't put too many in the same area, post them in animal shelters, bulletin boards at pet stores and veterinarian offices. Think of places that people go often, for example, if you live in a gated community, the entrance is always a good place to put fliers. If you live in an apartment complex, the community mail boxes, parks, swimming pools and waste disposal area may be a good place.

viii. Give flyers to workers that are often outside in your community such as post men, maintenance workers, security officers

If you have enough fliers to hand out individually, give them to people that spend a lot of time outside in your community such as postmen, maintenance, security and fellow dog walkers. People that have dogs generally walk their dog about 2-3 times a day. Also, if your dog has escaped, it could potentially be because they are in heat and are looking to mate with another dog, so it would be beneficial to talk to other dog walkers.

Step 2: Post an Ad on Craigslist

i. Consider the same rules as creating fliers when creating a Craigslist Ad.

Keep the Ad to the point with crucial information. Include current pictures and details on where your pet was last spotted. Be sure to give more than one phone number in case one is unavailable.

ii. Redo or repost your Craigslist ad as often as possible to ensure that it isn't the last ad on the page.

Step 3: Gather a Search Team

i. Once you have your search team, set up a mile or two perimeter and begin your search

If you start small, the search won't seem as overwhelming. Cover about a mile of ground first, then venture out from there. You could use a map or just play it by ear and figure out where you will look first.

Things to consider:

  • Bring Binoculars
  • Divide your search team into at least groups of two (In case you do spot your dog, in the wild they may not come running up to you straight away. You may need two people to catch him/her)
  • Bring extra fliers
  • Bring your dog's favorite treat including familiar toys and snacks

Step 4: Check Animal Shelters Daily

i. Calling the animal shelter just doesn’t do enough

If you report your dog missing and give the animal shelter a picture of your pet, chances are, the animal shelter will not be going out their way to help you. Go in there yourself and look in each kennel for your pet

My Pup Sadie
My Pup Sadie

Step 5: Repeat the Above and Don't Give Up!

Back in June 2013, my Shiba-Inu Sadie darted out of my apartment as I was saying goodbye to my friend. The door was open for a split second and she was gone. Shiba-Inus are known for being stubborn, independent and very hard to train to come back. I chased after her with my friends but she was just too fast. I searched for endless hours and I was starting to lose hope. To make matters worse, she was not chipped and did not have her collar on since I was grooming her that day. The first thing I did was print out some pretty poorly written fliers since I was desperate to get them posted immediately. Next I created a very poor craigslist ad. I visited the animal shelter twice a day, I searched at least 8 hours a day, posted fliers all over my community and other close communities but after the first day I really felt like there was no hope. The following day I visited my parents and they decided they wanted to help find my dog. We decided to set up a perimeter and search within the confines. We used binoculars to search on the outside of our radius and then slowly moved in closer each time. I believe this is what helped me find my dog.Finally after 43 hours, I spotted my dog in an abandoned school that I didn’t even know existed. My father climbed over the wire fence and ran after her. He told me to stay behind, but after 10 minutes, I just couldn’t bare it any longer so I jumped over the fence and began searching for her. I spotted my dad, clearly exhausted from running after her but she was still running free. Another 40 minutes had passed of my father and I chasing Sadie; both of us worn out completely. Finally, she was approaching the side of the wire fence so my dad crept slowly behind her as I knelt down and offered my dog some Cheetos. She slowly nibbled the food and I grabbed her as if someone was trying to steal her away from me. I cried and cursed (in front of my parents!) in disbelief that I had found my precious baby and she was safe with me. She had suffered a few ant bites on her belly and her feet were red but other than that, she was okay.

I was so worn out from worry and hopelessness on that second (nearly third day) that I just wanted to give up. I wanted to stop thinking that she was still out there on her own and that someone had taken her in. If I had given up the search, my best friend would not be here beside me as I write this. So I am telling you, if your dog has gone missing, please don't give up on them!

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    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 3 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I'm so glad that you were able to find your dog again! It's so scary to have a pet go missing, no matter how short a period of time. Thanks for the comprehensive overview on this topic.