When your beloved dog is lost, it can be a traumatic experience for both of you. But don't panic—you need to think clearly, act quickly and create a game plan for recovering your pet based on typical lost dog behavior and your dog’s personality.

Conduct a search

Start with a thorough physical search of your neighborhood or the area where your dog was last seen, checking backyards (with the owners’ permission), green spaces and other nearby spots before widening your search perimeter. Tell everyone you meet that you’re searching for a lost dog. Ask them to contact you if your dog is seen, but not to chase your dog in an effort to catch them.

A friendly, confident dog is more likely to be found where people or other dogs gather. A shy, frightened or injured dog, or one lost in an unfamiliar area, is more likely to be hiding or on the run.

Spread the word

Knock on doors and hang large, colorful “lost dog” posters in the area your pet went missing. Distribute flyers with your contact information to dogwalkers, mail carriers, joggers and anyone else who frequents the area. Post notices at grocery stores, laundromats, community centers, veterinary offices, dog parks, pet supply stores and other locations. Use local social media sites and missing pet registries to help get the word out.

When people know your dog is missing, they’ll want to help. Otherwise, they may assume the animal is abandoned and needs a home.

Bring in technology

You may learn that your dog is frequenting an area, but is too skittish or traumatized to come to you or other people. Start placing food and water in a safe spot within the area your dog is known to visit (a large plastic storage container turned on its side can protect the food from rain).

Use a motion-activated camera to see if your dog is eating the food. Once you know your dog is visiting the feeding station and what time they typically show up, you can set a humane trap to capture them. (Don’t attempt to chase down a skittish dog; this can drive them out of the area.) Most animal control agencies and many rescue groups will have a trap you can borrow. Be sure to monitor the trap and quickly release any wildlife or other animal you unintentionally capture.

Top 10 tips

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Advanced search strategies

Mission Reunite and the Missing Animal Response Network provide advanced search tips, online trainings and information on hiring a lost-pet recovery expert.

Online search tips

Most communities have Facebook groups for sharing information about lost and found pets. Search for groups in your area and post a notice of your missing dog. Share the post on your personal Facebook, Instagram or other social media accounts. Fellow animal lovers will likely want to help in your search.

Petco Love Lost is a national database that uses facial recognition technology to search thousands of found pet listings from users and shelters across the country. Simply upload a photo of your dog to start the search.

You can also try:

If you have a homeowner’s or neighborhood association, ask them to help spread the word with an online posting or email notice.

Don’t give up

Animals who have been lost for months (and even years) have been reunited with their owners. Persistence and a systematic approach are key.

Beware of scams

If a stranger claims to have found your dog, ask them to describe your pet and send you a photo. Be wary of anyone who asks for money before they’ll return your dog.

Many experts recommend that you omit one identifying characteristic when advertising a lost pet. Be skeptical of anyone who claims to have found your pet but can’t describe this characteristic.

Prevention

A lost pet has a better chance of being returned to you if they always wear a collar and an ID tag with your name, address and telephone number. To further ensure that your dog makes their way home should they ever become lost, ask your veterinarian or local animal shelter to microchip them. Just be sure to keep your contact information up to date with the online microchip registry site, such as the Michelson Found Animals Registry.