Pet Recovery – What to Do if Your Dog is Lost

Yesterday, we talked about how to keep your dog safe and prevent him or her from becoming a "missing canine." One very important thing I...


Yesterday, we talked about how to keep your dog safe and prevent him or her from becoming a “missing canine.” One very important thing I forgot to add is that socialization is another preventive method – it is much easier to recover a lost dog that is not afraid of being touched, approached, or led on lead by strangers. Frequently I hear stories of missing dogs who are very fearful – recovering these dogs will be much more difficult because it is natural for them to avoid contact with new or strange humans. Socialization should be developed in puppyhood and continued throughout your dog’s life.

Additionally, there are new GPS locator collars on the market which can be used as preventative aids. They are expensive, and some are quite bulky. I don’t have experience with these personally but imagine that they could be a useful tool in the pet recovery process! If you have familiarity with any of these devices, please chime in and share your experiences in the comments section of this blog.

Now that we’ve addressed the issue of prevention, what should you do if your dog does become lost?


You may want to have a number of different kinds of posters. These posters can be prepared at any time, even before your dog is lost. That way, you can keep some in your vehicle when you are traveling and already have them ready in the unfortunate circumstance you find them necessary. Print one or two originals and have them on hand to make copies as needed. If you choose to pre-prepare your posters, do not fill in your phone number, but do leave a large space on your poster where it can be filled in. If your dog is lost when you are at home, you will want to fill in your home and/or cell phone number. If your dog gets lost while traveling, you may want to leave your cell phone number only.

If you are posting flyers in areas which have a lot of vehicular traffic but very little foot traffic, you will want your poster to be very simple – a large, clear, and recent picture of your dog, the words LOST DOG in large letters at the top of the page, perhaps the word REWARD (if you are offering one – do not specify the amount of the reward on your poster), and a phone number where you can be reached. Other details may be lost to passing motorists who may only see your sign at a distance and only for a few seconds while waiting at a red light.

If you are posting flyers in areas which receive significant foot traffic, you can include more details because people will have more time to look the poster over. Regardless of where you place your flyers or posters, it is a good idea to laminate them or put them in a plastic sheet to protect them from moisture and having your ink/text run in the rain. You will want to include all the information listed above in your foot traffic signs, but should also include:

  • where specifically your dog was lost from. If you live in a large city, like New York, specifying “Queens” is not enough information – you may want to specify “Ozone Park, near Atlantic Avenue.”
  • if your dog needs immediate medical attention
  • age, sex, breed
  • if your dog is fearful of strangers, you may want to add something to the effect of “This dog is fearful of strangers, DO NOT approach. Please report sightings to the listed number immediately.
  • you may want to include an email address. Because it is easy, fast, and free to set up a new email address, it is not a bad idea to create a temporary email address specifically for contacts reporting on your missing dog – something like would be preferable to listing your personal email account.
  • list unique identifying characteristics. For example, “last seen wearing a purple harness.” “Has one blue eye and one brown eye.” If your breed is traditionally docked or cropped and your animal does not have these modifications, make a note of that, too.

Finally, you may want to print hand bills, smaller versions of your more detailed poster to leave at local veterinary clinics, rescues, grooming or training establishments, etc. You may also post at general community bulletin boards, which may be found in grocery stores, diners, schools, libraries, etc.


DO put an ad in your local newspaper

DO use technology to your advantage – send an email with all this information to your friends and ask them to pass it along to their dog-loving friends in your community. Nobody likes SPAM in their inbox, but very few dog folks will ever object to someone trying to spread the word and help a missing dog return home.

DO check your local shelters at least every other day – IN PERSON! DO NOT settle for calling in. Also, if your dog is a purebred dog, contact breed rescue for your region even if they are not in the immediate area. Someone finding a Doberman, for instance, may well call a Doberman rescue organization instead of turning the dog in to a local shelter.

DO contact local animal control and veterinary offices every few days.

DO NOT hesitate to ask friends and family to help with all this calling, visiting, etc. It can be exhausting emotionally and otherwise.

DO NOT deliver a reward to someone before you are able to actually get your dog’s leash in your hands.

DO NOT give your address out to strangers – offer to pick the dog up where he is found and DO NOT go alone. DO tell a friend (other than the person who is accompanying you) where you are going and when you plan to return, giving specific details (an address). DO consider meeting in a public space, especially if you are supposed to bring a cash reward.

DO consider listing your dog with or

DO research in advance where live traps may be obtained or rented.

DO NOT give up. Many dogs are returned weeks or months after the date they went missing.

DO consider adding the date your dog went missing to your flyers. This gives those helping in the search a better idea of how long she may have had to travel outside of the immediate area where she originally was lost.

Do you have additional suggestions? Have you found a lost pet and if so, what techniques helped bring your lost pooch back home? Share in the comments!

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