How to Prevent or Find a Lost Dog

We hear about lost dogs daily, and we also hear the anguish in their parents’ pleas for help. Think this can’t happen to you? Think again.

  • A child leaves the gate open.
  • A repairman leaves the door ajar because he’s coming right back.
  • You open the door an instant too long while bringing in groceries or welcoming a guest.
  • The dog walker walks too many dogs, and loses yours.
  • Your child can’t hold on when your dog starts pulling or when another dog runs up to him.
  • You are talking on the phone (or worse yet, texting) while walking your dog, something spooks your dog, and you can’t react quickly enough to keep him with you.
  • Your dog wiggles out of his collar, or his collar or leash break.
  • Your dog is playing off-leash in a field when a squirrel dashes by.
  • Your dog is willing to go through your electric fence to get out, but won’t come back in, or the batteries die.

And these are just a few of the reasons that dogs get lost. Do you still think it can’t happen to you?

Prepare Ahead

Microchip and register your dog’s microchip not only with the microchip manufacturer, but with other sites as well. Home Again is one useful site. Pets 911 has a tag system that would be a good supplement to microchipping.

For a membership fee of $18/year, you can join Home Again (, a site that provides lost pet registration for any brand microchip, lost pet alerts, and a pet medical emergency hotline.

At Pets 911 (, you can buy a tag with a unique ID code that can be scanned into a phone, typed into the Pets 911 website, or called into the Pets 911 hotline. You can buy the tag for $15 ($10 off) by using Your Dog’s Friend’s code # YDF13. The service is free. This system would work well for dogs that are friendly, rather than for fearful or aggressive dogs that might not go to a stranger.

A more expensive but surefire system, especially for fearful dogs, is the Tagg GPS collar. The collar is $99 and the monthly fee $9.95, but Tagg notifies you if your dog leaves his home zone and lets you track his movements. If you vacation with your dog, you can set a different home zone.

Keep a regular ID tag on your dog’s collar at all times, so that your neighbor can quickly return your dog, instead of taking him to a shelter.

Attach your leash to a harness. If fit properly, dogs are unlikely to wiggle out of a harness. For safety, you can attach your leash to both the harness and collar, so that if one breaks, the other will still hold your dog.

Don’t leave your dog loose near doors when people enter and leave the house. Put your dog away, tether him, or block off access to the door with baby gates.

Check your outside gates regularly. If someone, like a repair person, has been in your yard, check the gates before you let the dog out.

Install self-closing and self-latching mechanisms on your gate, or use a padlock.

Look for loose areas in your fence or anything your dog could climb, like a pile of wood, to get over the fence. Electronic fences don’t always keep dogs in, but they will keep an escaped dog out.

Don’t leave your dog unattended in your yard or tied outside while you go into a store.

Take up-to-date pictures of your dog. See Posters, Flyers & Handouts below.

If Your Dog Gets Out


It takes a village. Immediately gather friends, family, and neighbors for help. You will need them to do things like: canvass the neighborhood; create and post signs and posters (you need staple guns, heavy tape, and thumbtacks); develop and update blogs; and get the word out on social media.

Posters, Flyers & Handouts – Use a picture of your dog as he looks now, not just cut and groomed, and crop out the background. Try to show the dog’s entire body, but with his face shown clearly. Enlarge the photo to be 1/3 – 1/2 of the sign. Unless the breed is easily identifiable, do not put the breed name. Instead, for example, write “small white dog”.

At the top, put LOST SMALL WHITE DOG. In the bottom portion, in fat black marker, put your cell number, dog’s name, and REWARD (if applicable).
If your dog is scared of people, do include that information, and say that people should call you immediately, instead of trying to approach your dog.

Make flyers on 8 ½ X 11 inch paper. Ask to post them in store windows, lost pet bulletin boards, gas stations, etc. Give your flyers to postal carriers,
UPS and FedEx delivery persons, and any police you see. If you live in an area with a lot of walkers, put it on sign posts. Any outside flyers should be
in plastic sheet covers to protect them from the elements.

Handouts that are postcard or business card size are good for people you see on the street, like runners, dog walkers, and kids on bikes. They are more likely to keep the information if they can put it in their pocket.

Put large posters at intersections where there are stop signs and traffic lights. Put your poster on neon poster board, with your dog’s picture and your phone number larger than everything else. Remember to use fat black marker and to either laminate these signs or cover with thick plastic tape, so that your poster will survive rain or snow.

Digital Posters – The ASPCA has a Pet Safety app at with digital posters you can share instantly on social media.

Blogs & Facebook – Start a blog with search dates, sightings, and progress reports. You can see Robin Siegel’s blog on lost pets in Montgomery County, MD and sample blogs at Robin also has a Facebook page to help locate lost pets in the County at Of course, don’t forget the power of your own Facebook page. Once people know that a dog is missing and the location where he was lost, they will spread the word to their friends.

Listservs – Get your lost dog information out to neighborhood and other listservs right away. Ask your relatives and friends (including Facebook
friends) to let people know about your dog on their listservs. Send out the same information you would put on your flyers. In Montgomery County, contact Robin Siegel for listserv addresses that she has collected.

RoboCalls – FindToto ( will make robocalls with a taped message describing your lost pet and giving out contact information. You can decide the number of calls to make and how far to go from the area where your pet got free or was last sighted. Alert packages start at $85 for 250 neighbors and go up from there. This service works best if your dog just got away or if there was a positive sighting of your dog.

Shelters & Vets

Contact shelters within a 5-10 mile range. Even a small dog can easily go 3-5 miles in one day. And if a dog is scared or becomes disoriented, he will keep
going. Although you can file a lost pet report at a shelter, you should also go to the shelter yourself to check as often as possible. Even if the shelter is
closed to adopters, shelter staff will often let someone in to look for a lost pet.

You can follow what’s happening at various shelters on a daily basis at the website, Type in your zip code, FIND SHELTERS, type in your shelter, and I LOST MY PET. Click on DOG, but not the particular breed, since you could miss your dog that way, and finally, USE THIS SHELTER LIST. Pet Harbor doesn’t list where a pet was found. So, you will need to write down the A# and call the shelter to check. There is also a delay in postings, and any dogs sent to the vet or found dead (sorry) won’t be on that site.

Contact the vet hospitals and emergency vet hospitals within at least a 5 mile radius. Go to Under FIND, list
Veterinarians Veterinary Hospitals. Enter your zip code under NEAR, and hit SEARCH. You and your volunteers should personally deliver your flyers to vet offices when possible, but otherwise, FAX, instead of e-mailing, your notice. A FAX is more likely to be noticed and posted.

You can let vets and shelters know your dog’s microchip #, but don’t make it public. You don’t want someone who plans to keep your dog to know it’s there. Hopefully, vets and shelters will check microchips for all unfamiliar dogs.

Sightings & Tracking

You may get a lot of phone calls from people who think they have seen your dog. So, before you run all over town from one sighting to another, ask a few questions about something the person may not have noticed – like a white spot under his chin or a tail with a black tip.

If there have been no sightings, a pet tracker can help you figure out where to search. Put an item that your dog has used in a ziplock bag to intensify the odor for the tracking dog. This can be a collar, toy, dog bed (in a bigger bag), etc, but it has to be something that only that one dog has used. It can’t be something he shared with another pet. Put pieces of gauze in the bag as well, since the dog will use the gauze, not the item, on their search.

Lost dogs are most active in the early morning and at dusk. They will first find a source of water (creek, rainwater…) and one or two hiding places to sleep, but they usually don’t seek food until after 72 hours. At that point, a feeding station can keep the dog in that same area, instead of his searching elsewhere for food. It has to be monitored closely, though, to make sure there’s still food.

The pet tracker can help you decide where to leave first a feeding station and then a trap for the dog. Put really stinky food in the trap (something like cat food, tuna fish, or liverwurst); also, a bowl of water and something of yours that will have a strong scent, like socks or a t-shirt you slept in. You need to check the trap every 2-3 hours, including overnight, to make sure there are no other animals there and to replace the food and water, if there were.

The best known tracker in the metro DC area (and beyond) is Sam Connelly ( She and other trackers have traps, but there are also some rescues that will lend them to you after you sign an agreement. Traps are expensive; so, expect to leave a security deposit as well. These traps are humane; they don’t hurt the dog. But for timid dogs or dogs that haven’t yet developed a bond to a new owner, they may be the only way for the dog to get back to you.

Key Points to Remember

  • Prepare ahead. Have your dog microchipped and register the microchip with both the manufacturer and Home Again
  • Have a collar with ID, but attach the leash to a harness. The Pets 911 tag( ID can be scanned into a phone.
  • If your dog gets out, enlist help immediately to make, put up, and give out posters, handouts, and flyers. Don’t forget digital flyers to share on social media.
  • Your dog’s picture (with excess cropped out) and your cell phone number should be the easiest to see.
  • Contact neighborhood listservs, and use Facebook to get the word out.
  • Set up a blog with dates, sightings, and progress reports.
  • Consider using robocalls through
  • File a lost dog report at shelters, but also go as often as possible to look for your dog. You can check dogs that come in daily at farther away shelters at
  • Contact vet offices within a 5 mile radius. If you can’t get there in person, FAX a flyer to the office and ask them to hang it up.
  • A good pet tracker can help you decide where to search.
  • Dogs go where they can find shelter, water and, eventually, food. After a positive sighting, a feeding station can help keep a lost dog from moving on to look for food.
  • A trap may be necessary, especially for dogs that are shy or that haven’t bonded yet to their people.

Still Need Help?

Contact Your Dog’s Friend at [email protected] or (301)983-5913 for advice and referrals or check out our list of recommended trainers and behaviorists.

Your Dog’s Friend is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization working to improve dogs’ lives, reduce problem behaviors, and keep dogs out of shelters, by educating and supporting their humans.

This material is not intended to be a substitute for professional help when dealing with dogs with intense or potentially dangerous behavior issues. Consult a positive reinforcement trainer or veterinary behaviorist for professional assessment, guidance, and support.