how to find a lost dog

Expert Ways To Find A Lost Dog

Over the past 20 years, my spouse and I have been able to find a lost dog close to 20 times and reunited them with their frantic pet parent.

A lost dog is every dog owner’s worst nightmare. Well, that and a health crisis. We find in each reunion that a grave mistake or accident happened in the blink of an eye. That mistake might have been:

  • The dog was left outside alone;
  • The dog was walking without a leash;
  • The dog pulled the pet parent unknowingly and the leash slipped from the pet parent’s hand;
  • Some accidentally let the dog out;

And the list goes on. Finger-pointing helps no one. You’ve arrived at this resource because your dog is lost or someone you know has a missing dog. Let’s cut right to the chase then, as there is no time to spare.

Back in 2014, PetHub started Lost Pet Prevention Month to raise awareness of missing pets and prevent the loss of others.

In conjunction with PetHub and everything they do for dogs and cats, here’s how to help find a lost dog AND what to do if you see a dog out alone needing help.

How to Find a Lost Dog

Please be sure to act fast and do not hesitate when trying to find a lost dog. It sounds like common sense, but please get moving on finding the dog immediately. Every minute matters

Visit Local Shelters

Scour shelters by foot. Yes, calling is easier, but mistakes happen.

Lost dogs are caught and brought to shelters all the time. Look as often as you can, call of course, but go to the shelters. Look at the dogs.

Also get in touch with shelters within a 50 to 100 mile radius of your town. You’d be amazed where lost dogs end up, so call them as well as animal control agencies. Often.

Sometimes  lost dogs who end up in shelters are listed as the wrong breed upon intake. So if you are calling asking about a Belgian Malinois but the dog is logged in as a German Shepherd, the person who answers the shelter phone will not have the correct information. Visit. Often.

See if the shelter has a “found” book or list of dogs. Someone might have your dog at home and doesn’t want to turn him in.

Alert Your Community

Go door to door, street by street, and ask people if they have seen your dog. The sooner you do this, obviously, the better. Alert neighbors.

Post fliers around town including surrounding towns: Ask veterinarians, local rescue groups, trainers, groomers, pet supply stores, and any dog walking/pet sitting services. The signs should be colorful and big. If you live in a town that is bilingual, be sure the signs are posted in both languages. You can convert the text for free online.

Remind people not to chase the dog, as most lost pets are confused and will run away from people. This has been my experience.

Drive around, shake treats, say your dog’s familiar words. Often times, lost dogs get scared and will run. If they hear your voice or pick up your scent, this can help.

Summon Volunteers to Help Find Your Lost Dog

The sooner you get a group of people together to help find the dog, the better. Scour the neighborhood in car, on foot, and even take a dog or two along with you. Dogs have a great sense of smell, and a familiar dog might attract the lost dog.

Call or go to the website of your dog’s microchip registry. Tell them and have them note your account that the dog is lost.

Report Your Missing Dog On PetHub

If your dog has a PetHub tag and account, log into your PetHub account and report your pet missing. You’ll follow PetHub’s easy instructions and even get access to create a lost pet poster.

Once you “Submit Missing Pet Report,” you get everything you need to manage the situation and get your lost dog back to you. More about PetHub and our experience with them in a separate post review.

Get on Social Media to Spread the Word

Many areas have “lost pet” pages on Facebook, for example. Post your lost dog there by connecting with the page’s administrator/owners. After the fourth of July, our local lost pet page was inundated with dogs.

Start your own Facebook page and share it high and low. Ask friends, co-workers, family, and contacts to share it, too. Use Instagram, TikTok, and any means possible to get the word out.

Websites like Nextdoor and Facebook groups are set up for specific neighborhoods and are ideal locations to post information and reach people who live near the escape point.

Use the search feature of your Facebook page and connect with all friends/followers in your state and reach out to them.

Use a Pet Detective or Drone Service

These options are not cheap, but they are available should your dog go missing or become lost.

The USAR Drone Team is available for hire to help find your lost dog. They reunited a frantic family reunite with their lost pup in New Jersey. There may be other drone services available in your area.

Consider pet detectives but do not be fooled by scammers, who will prey on innocent victims.

Consider humanely trapping a lost dog or enlisting the services of someone who can.

Call Your Municipality Dead Animal List

No one wants to think like this and it is a worst case scenario, but this is a list to check. Many areas keep a list of deceased animals they pick up. Not finding your dog on that list means there is hope.

Contact Pet Supply Stores

I personally know of at least one person who recovered her missing dog at a pet store. She was on vacation with her family, her dog got scared at a campground and bolted off leash. Someone took the dog to a local pet store. You never know where a dog will end up, so check into pet stores, too.

Get in touch with rescue groups. There are many rescue organizations which regularly publish current lists and digital photos of found pets at the shelters, as a way of helping them go home or be adopted.

How to help a lost dog

Beware of Scammers

Sadly, there are unscrupulous scumbags who prey on people whose dogs are missing. When talking to someone who claims they found your lost dog, ask him or her to thoroughly describe the pet and even send you an image. Be careful about what information you give out. 

Be particularly cautious of people who say they want money to return your dog.  The person may have your dog, but there are enough evil people in the world who are trying to scam innocent people in a desperate situation.

If You Find a Lost Dog

Once the dog is safely in your care, the following is a checklist of who to call/connect with to try to reunite a lost dog with his owner/parent

  1. If you decide to keep the dog until his owner is found, let animal control know. Pet parents should call local animal shelters to report a missing dog.
  2. See if the dog is wearing a PetHub ID tag with QR code. If so, you can scan it and get moving on the process of reuniting the dog with their family.
  3. The dog should have immediate medical treatment at an emergency hospital if there is any outward distress or injury. If you are keeping the dog until the owner is found, veterinary care should be provided in the event of internal injury or disease. You don’t want to expose your pet(s) or yourself to something if there is an issue.
  4. Contact local authorities for help in turning the dog over for microchip scanning. This includes your local shelters, police department, etc., depending on who is in charge for found pets.
  5. Hang signs around town. If you opt for something like Craigslist, use caution. You want to be sure to reunite the dog with the rightful owner and not someone sinister who buys dogs on Craiglist for any number of horrific reasons.
  6. Check lost pet websites. More and more lost pets are reunited with their rightful owners because of lost pet websites.
how to help a lost dog

 Additional Websites

How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Lost or Stolen

No one wants their dog (cat, etc) to go missing. The best gifts you can give your pet to keep them safe and get them home fast if anything should happen includes:

1) Microchip the pet at the veterinarian’s office. Here’s how microchipping can reunite lost dogs.

2) Have a prominent, current ID tag on the pet – we also have a PetHub QR code scannable tag on our dog

3) Never let your dog roam free: I know this sounds like common sense, but a dog should not be roaming free. Period. A leashed dog is a safe dog. And a dog who does respond on voice command is great, and something my dog does, but I do not let him roam the streets.

4) Don’t let your dog walk by your side leash-less. I am seeing more and more of this disturbing trend. Passersby don’t appreciate a loose dog, and that’s what a dog without a leash is: loose. In most cases, it is also against the law.

5) Don’t leave your dog alone outside. The property that is poorly lit, without a secure lock on a gate, and out of view of passersby. “It happened in broad daylight” is something that has become all too common as it relates to pet theft. Use an alarm or bell, and if possible, a security light, so you can hear and see anyone who comes on your property.

The bottom line: Good fences make good neighbors. They also keep criminals away, and coupled with pet parent supervision, they keep dogs safe and secure. Ask neighbors to keep an eye on your property and offer to do the same for them if they are pet parents

Here’s how to prevent your dog from being stolen.

6) Be careful when walking your dog. There are folks who prey on people walking a dog. The world has changed and it is sad, but prepared dog parents can know what to watch for.

If You See a Stray Dog: Don’t Ignore Him

Most articles online give advice about how to find a lost dog, but very few tell people what to do if there is a lost dog out there and you happen to find him or her. I cannot begin to tell you the number of dogs we rescued from a highway or side of the street and got them in our car.

We are very cautious about handling the dog: Anything from biting in fear, to disease, to dog fights can ensue. Thankfully, this has never happened to us. And I have a set of paw prayers I say every night that it never will happen to us…or to you.

Dogs roaming the street need your help. They do not belong there.  A dog is roaming alone because:

  • You aren’t in the United States and it’s the norm in another area of the world;
  • He or she is lost;
  • The dog’s owner is irresponsible and allows the dog to roam free;
  • The dog is living the life of a stray;

No matter the situation, he or she needs your help.

Have you ever reunited a pet with his frantic pet parent? Any tips we missed?



  1. That is a VERY comprehensive list of what to do, who to contact, etc. Great post! I would like to add, if you are the rescuer of a lost dog, DO NOT hand over the dog to someone who just shows up claiming it’s their dog. Be sure it truly is the owner. We have a wonderful group/network in NH for finding lost dogs. A couple of years ago, there was a smaller dog lost for a few days and flyers blanketed the streets. The dog was located and “rescued” by a member of the group and as it was clear that they had just found a lost dog, a young woman came by and claimed it was her dog. Not knowing better and assuming it was indeed the owner out searching for her dog, she handed the pooch over… only it wasn’t the actual owner. We can only assume the woman took the dog to sell (I forget the breed, but it was a prominent small breed dog)… and sadly, it was never reunited with his loving owners.

  2. I have Victor microchipped but have never used it. A tag with my phone number seems to work the best. I do walk him without a leash but haven’t lost him that way.
    I did lose him twice – once I was sitting in the living room and got a call from a neighbour who said, “Um did you know your dog is here watching TV with us?” I looked and Victor had made a ‘doggie door’ in the sliding screen door. I didn’t even know he was gone.
    The second was when I listened to my ex. “Leave the dogs in the backyard while we’re gone,’ he said. ‘They’ll be fine,” he said.
    Nope. Vic spent the night in someone’s house and they returned him the next morning. I spend most of the night frantically screaming throughout the neighbourhood with my ex (not ex then) driving behind me not sure if he was going to make it through the night.

  3. Wow so many points I would never have thought of! I always knew it’s important to microchip your pet, but some of these tips truly made me think. Walking into a shelter instead of calling because your description may not be the same is a great one!
    I think what scares me most is those that steal dogs with cruel intentions – it’s my worst nightmare!
    Thank you for this post! I’m going to share it.

    1. Yes because so many times the shelter workers don’t realize the type of dog(s) that they have.

  4. I hope I never need this, but I will definitely refer to if any of my dogs are lost. I worry about my Puggle getting lost because he has a lot of stranger danger issues. I’m not sure he’d let anyone get close enough to check his tags or take him home.

  5. Oh my goodness, so many fantastic resources all in one place! I can say from experience that a combination of these choices truly does work! We have always been reunited thankfully with lost pets. What a terrible feeling during those interim hours, though! Thank you for sharing. And yes, frenchies are smart enough to read the newspaper.

    1. HA on the Frenchie comment. They are so smart indeed. I cannot imagine the dread of a pet going missing. I’d lose my mind.

  6. Such outstanding resources. You know, I think social media has made such a difference with lost pets. I notice that folks here in Portland use this app called Next Door and between that and Facebook I see a lot of success with pets that maybe someone put in their yard after seeing them on the corner and then had to go to work… but couldn’t contact someone until after they get back and hours have gone by — as soon as they see the post on Facebook they know it’s a dog down the street. What did we do before social media! Although fliers work well too and every time I’m out with the dogs walking they are necessary tools. I’ll pin and post it to my Next Door group!

  7. Social media these days helps a lot with lost dogs. We’ve had several people find their missing dogs due to the neighborhood group. Mr. N does not leave my side willingly (he orbits) but I always worry when he’s with other people (groomer, vet etc).

  8. This is an amazing resource! We have a friend who I’ve been trying to help reunite with their dog that bolted. Sadly, he has not turned up yet. Thanks for such a complete posting on every aspect of keeping a dog safe, to how to find one that is missing.

    1. Oh no. If you want to post to our @FidoseofReality Facebook page, I will share that lost dog.

  9. Losing a pet can bring out panic instantly. I know the feeling all too well. I wish I had known about some of these resources several years ago when our dog went missing.

  10. Losing one of my pets is one of my biggest fears and I tend to be a bit OCD about keeping them safe. It drives me bananas when I see dogs left tied up outside stores, etc. I usually tend to wait until their person gets back to make sure no one takes them. And yes the scumbags are definitely out there, I know several people who have lost animals and then received calls from people looking for money claiming to have their pets. Ugh.

  11. Our neighbor has a Husky and a little furry dog (I don’t know the breed). She used to have just the smaller one and he never got out. Now that she has two, they’re both getting out a lot. I worry about them because we do have a steady flow of traffic. Not sure why having two in the house made a difference, but it surely has… I know the dog’s owner would be a mess if they got lost. Fortunately for her, we do have neighbors looking out, but you still want to know your options. Happy to have the resource to share with her.

  12. This is a lot of information. Thanks! Our community is always sharing photos of lost dogs on Facebook to help spread the word and get them found.

  13. Awesome list of resources! I also agree with Nicole that you need to verify ownership before turning over a lost dog. We here so many horror stories of that happening.

  14. Perfect timing check out my post today about how a neighborhood save an injured, lost dog using Facebook pages and groups. I think I’m going to add a link to your page which provides great resources that they may not have known about.

  15. This is a great post with a lot of information! I always get so stressed and worried the few times we have found a stray dog. I want to get it back home right away. Luckily each time it has been resolved very quickly. I have two dogs that have (fingers crossed) never been lost.

  16. Just be VERY careful posting animals on Craigslist. There are too many scumbags trolling that site – looking for bait dogs or dogs to abuse. Posting a lost pet is fine, but be darned sure the person responding really IS the owner or the animal you found.

    1. Agreed. Also never give the lost dog over to someone who claims to be the owner. Be very careful.

  17. Wonderfully comprehensive list of helpful information on how to find a lost Pet. There are a couple that were knew to me which I’ll add to my own bag of tricks. Thanks! Sharing.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  18. GREAT list of resources and ideas. We lost our doggie once (For a few hours). My kids were devastated. Thankfully, the neighbors found him and brought him home.

  19. This is a amazing post! Once time, I have been busy and let the dog do what it want. 5 minutes late, i could not find him anywhere. But thank gods, he came back. I went all the street and shout out his name but he was not show up. Love your post, I think it will help a lots of people.

  20. I live in an area where city folks come to enjoy the lake on weekends. It baffles me how many dogs are lost and none of their people think to contact the local shelter (where most of these dogs end up). Thank you for sharing this great information.

  21. great article!!!!!This is very importent information for us.I like all content and information.I have read it.You know more about this please visit again.

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