How to Find a Lost Puppy or Dog


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If you are reading this, then I expect that you are going through a very difficult time right now. If you are new to this site, then I am happy that you’ve found it, but I’m very sorry for the circumstances that have led you here: you are looking for information on how to find a lost puppy or dog. I have been in your position, and I know how agonizing it can be.

I would imagine that, by now, you have scoured your neighborhood, contacted your neighbors and contacted local animal shelters to report that your pet is missing. If he’s been missing for the past 24 hours, you haven’t slept at all, and if he’s been missing for longer than that, you haven’t slept much, or slept well.

Now you’re wondering if there’s anything else you can do.

Don’t Give Up Just Yet

This is the most important piece of advice I can give you; don’t give up prematurely. Most of the time, lost pets are recovered. In fact, a lot of the time when you’re agonizing over how to find a lost puppy or dog, your best buddy isn’t lost at all; he’s just gone on a bit of an adventure, and his incredibly strong sense of smell will lead him back home once he gets tired or hungry.

Narrow Down Your Search Area

Chances are, too, that your pet hasn’t really gone all that far. So, if you’re stressing over how to find a lost puppy or an adult canine, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind, and they have to do with the size of the dog. A puppy is not likely to go very far; he’s quite simply going to wear out before his journey takes him outside of your immediate area. As for adult dogs, usually a small dog will only wander for a radius of about a mile. A very active, large dog might travel five miles but usually no more than that.

Dogs are generally pretty sociable creatures, so good places to look would be anywhere that people or other dogs hang out. Check out parks and neighbors’ yards. If your dog is shy, keep your search to the same areas, but look under bushes, porches, cars, or other places that a timid dog might hide.

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Stay Calm and Assume That Your Pet Is Safe

I’m not trying to create false optimism here. The reality is that it’s far more likely that your dog is safe than it is that he’s come to harm. Yes, he could have been pet-napped, and he could have been hit by a car, and some other horrible thing could have happened to him, but the odds are very much against it.

Think about the people that you know. How many of your friends or neighbors would hit a dog with their car and not stop? Wouldn’t most of them transport an injured dog to the vet? Do you actually know anyone who would steal a dog or a puppy?

The people you know are probably a microcosm of people in general. There just aren’t that many dog thieves or uncaring people out there. The chances are pretty good that, if your dog has been missing for awhile, someone has done exactly what you or I would do: taken him in, or taken him to a veterinarian if he’s hurt.

The Statistics Are in Your Favor…

Think of it this way: approximately 40% of households have some type of pet. And out of the 60% of households that don’t have pets, there’s a very good chance that someone in that household has had a pet at one time or another. That’s a lot of people who have good reasons to care about lost pets, and who can be your allies when it comes to how to find a lost puppy or dog. You pet could be with someone who lives or works in your neighborhood. The numbers are on your side.

I hope that you have a tag on your puppy or dog that shows your phone number; this can make it a lot easier to find a missing pet. However, the reality is that sometimes tags end up being pulled off during your dog’s adventure, or the entire collar can go missing. Even then, don’t give up hope. Call local veterinarians and animal shelters to find out if your pet has been brought in.

…But Sometimes Circumstances Are Not in Your Favor

I don’t want to alarm you, but the reasons to worry will be greater the longer your pet is missing. I have, from time to time, found lost animals, had them for days before their owners were located, and during that time pretty much fallen in love with those animals. Sometimes, it’s been very hard for me to return them to their people, but I’ve always done the right thing.

Occasionally, though, people will do the wrong thing for what they see as the right reasons. For instance, someone might take in a lost dog, have trouble locating the owners, and decide that if the owner hasn’t found them just yet, they can’t care all that much about the dog. Or the person who has found the dog might be unable, for whatever reason, to keep the dog. Then they might try to “re-home” it, in which case, the animal can end up far away from the point where it was originally lost. This, obviously, makes it even more difficult for the person is struggling with how to find a lost puppy or dog.

I think it’s very rare that a person will deliberately try to keep a dog that does not belong to them. But it does sometimes happen. More often, it’s likely that in the absence of any successful effort to find the dog’s “real” home, the person who has found the dog thinks, “I’ll get him a home.” That’s going to make your search more difficult but still not impossible.

Think of it this way: practically everything we do these days is visible in one way or another. Someone might have seen your dog wandering, snapped a cell phone picture and put it on a Facebook site dedicated to missing pets. This means that there’s a huge range of people who may have seen your dog, and might know where he’s ended up. So even when the odds might seem to be against you, they’re still not insurmountable. There are, though, logical steps to take when you’re working through how to find a lost puppy or dog. Let’s talk about them.

6 Steps for How to Find a Lost Puppy or Dog

Okay, you’ve looked forever, and you’re coming up with nothing. It’s time to pull back, regroup and start from scratch. Here’s what you should do.

1. Make Yourself a Cup of Herbal Tea

I’m serious! You’re beyond stressed right now, and a bit of chamomile can work wonders to calm your nerves. For that matter, you could also pour yourself a good stiff drink. Just make sure you don’t dive headlong into the bottle, because if your efforts pay off, you might have to get in your car and go pick up your pet.

2. Ask Yourself Why Your Puppy or Dog Went Missing

Was he bored? Scared? Or are you dealing with an adult female who was in heat? A male dog who might have caught the scent of local females in heat? Often, knowing why your dog left your yard and went wandering can lead you to where you’ll find your pet. He could just be with the bitch down the road who’s come into season. Or she could be with that handsome fella up the block who looks like he’d make a good mate.

3. Make a Drawing on a Map

Again, I’m serious. You might think that this is a pretty silly time to haul out your pencil and paper, but think back to what I said before about how far your dog is likely to roam. So find a map, or pull one up online and print it off. Then, find your location. Still got that math set you had in high school? Take out your compasses, and put the point of the tool on your location. Then, move the pencil end out 2.5 inches, and draw a circle. That’s gives you the whole five-mile area that an adult dog is likely to wander.

Not really all that much, is it?

And if you’re not dealing with a big, active dog, the area will be even smaller.

Now, where, within that circle, would your dog likely go? A park? A house where he knows someone who’s in the habit of giving him treats? Start looking in those places.

Of course, if your dog is very sociable, he might have jumped into someone’s car, and he could be farther away, but you should try to eliminate the obvious possibilities before considering others.

Canvass the people who live inside that circle first. There are more people there than you’re even thinking of; it’s not just the adults who live in the neighborhood; it’s the kids who go to school there. And their friends. The letter carrier. The driver for the company that delivers heating oil. In other words, it’s not just the people you know who might have seen your dog; it’s anyone at all who spends time in the neighborhood. When you’re agonizing over how to find a lost puppy or dog, your best friends can be people you don’t even know!

Put them all to work, and don’t feel embarrassed about it. Most people will be only too happy to help you find your lost pet. You’d do the same for them, wouldn’t you?

4. Make Signs

Okay, now that I’ve told you what to do with your map and your math set, get out your markers, crayons, poster paints or whatever, or just sit down at your computer with a good design program; you have more work to do. Besides, it will take your mind a bit off the main problem of how to find a lost puppy or dog.

You want to make big, colorful signs. Use a photo of your puppy or dog. If you’re like me and you’re terrible at getting around to taking pictures of your pets, don’t worry about it; just go online and find a picture of a dog that looks like yours. Create the word “LOST” in big, bold letters. State your dog’s breed and age, and any other identifying characteristics; was he wearing a blue collar? Does he have a nick in his left ear? Does he bark when approached but is otherwise friendly? What’s his name? Will he respond to it? Where was the dog last seen?

If you can afford it, offer a reward. Most people are perfectly happy to help you find your lost pet, and couldn’t care less about a reward, but I’m offering this up because it does show that your puppy or dog means a great deal to you and you don’t mind paying to get him back home safely.

Now, make copies. Or go to your local print shop and have them make copies. You want big signs that you can post around the neighborhood, and also small flyers that you can stick in mailboxes, leave at the convenience store, or give to passersby. What you’re doing is expanding your search; even someone who sees your advertising and says “I haven’t seen this dog” will likely pass your material on to someone else. You could add literally thousands of people to your “lost pet” search just by putting up a few signs and passing out a handful of flyers.

Be sure to keep some of your flyers to give to animal shelters and veterinary clinics in adjacent cities or towns. For all you know, a truck driver could have picked up your dog at some point during his route, but the next shelter might have been 50 miles down the road. With printed materials and the cost of a stamp, you can expand your search in a huge way.

You can also go online, and find veterinary hospitals and animal shelters that are even farther away. Send them a jpg of your flyer or sign and ask them to print it off and post it.

5. Go “Old School”

There is still something to be said for advertising in your local newspaper. It probably won’t give you anywhere near the coverage of the other methods I’ve suggested, but when your problem is how to find a lost puppy or dog, it just makes sense to cover all the bases.

There are still people out there (older people, mainly) who don’t bother much with the Internet, but who do read every single section of the newspaper, every single day. They’ll see your ad and let you know if they’ve seen your dog. They’ll probably also let their friends know that you’re missing a dog. Putting it this way, the more eyes you have out there looking for your dog, the better the chance of him coming home safe and sound.

6. Be Careful

Just be careful, though. There are people who will read your ad or view your signs, and then claim to have found your dog. However, they say, they’ve spent a lot of money on vet bills for your injured dog, or they’ve done this, that or the other thing to keep your dog safe – and it’s cost money! – so you’ll have to reimburse them before they’ll give you back your dog. These are scams. Please don’t fall for this.

I know how tempting it is to want to believe that the person who is stringing you this line is on the level, really does have your dog, and really only wants to be compensated for their expenses, but the chances are really good that they’re just setting you up. And don’t fall into the trap of agreeing to meet them and then giving them money; you’re just going to end up being beaten up and having your money stolen. They don’t have your dog. They never did.

Take a close look at the “found” ads in the newspaper, too. Was the “found” ad posted after your “lost” ad? Again, be very careful.

Of course there is a point where you have to stop.

Now That You’ve Done All You Can

This is the absolute hardest thing I can tell you to do.

I really think that if you follow the suggestions I’ve offered above, the chances are very good that you will find your dog. And I know that I’ve said you shouldn’t give up. But realistically, if you’ve been looking for months with no results, it might be time to stop. Get back to your normal life – or at least as normal as you’re able to make it.

You can’t keep on lying awake at night, agonizing over a dog that’s not coming back. I know that we’ve all heard those stories about dogs that have found their families after having been missing for years, but the reality is that it hardly ever happens. And if you keep looking, you’re going to destroy yourself.

If you have family, you’re going to harm them, too, expecting them to hold to unreasonable expectations.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t keep checking, looking online and investigating animal shelters. It just means that you shouldn’t make it your sole reason for living.

But What If It Was a Child?

I was pretty much just waiting for you to ask that. And honestly, I’d offer the same advice. Don’t stop looking. Don’t stop hoping. But don’t let that search, and that hope, harm your relationships with the others in your lives.

Reason to Hope

Sometimes, there really is reason to hope. And you find that hope in the people around you, the people who care about you and your dog.

Here’s what happened to me.

One night, a few years ago, my Janice wandered off. I don’t talk about this often, because it was a very painful time and it still hurts to talk about it, even though there was a good outcome.

It was dark, and raining like crazy, and I put Janice and Leroy out to do their business. Within about two minutes, Leroy came in, but… no Janice.

I was beside myself. I did everything that I’ve just told you to do but to no avail. My neighbors were absolutely wonderful; one was suffering from the flu, but she went out in the elements, sneezing and coughing and feeling like crap, to look for Janice, simply because she knew how she’d feel if her dog had gone missing.

Another neighbor spent hours driving up and down the roads looking for Janice.

Still others put out dishes of dog food and piles of treats, hoping that Janice would show up.

She was gone for three weeks, during which time all I could do was cry. I just wanted her back, and I couldn’t imagine how I was even going to be able to keep on living if she didn’t come home.

By the third week, I got a call from a person who lives about three miles away from me. “Hey, is this Ash?” he asked. “I got your number from June. I think I might have your dog.”

This was an older person who wasn’t exactly given to surfing the Internet, so he wouldn’t have seen my panicked posts. In fact, he was a bit of a hermit, so I guess it took some time before he connected with the neighbor who knew that my dog was missing. But he’d found Janice, and it was just a matter of time before he found me. In the meantime, he kept her warm and safe, fed her and loved her. But did the right thing once he discovered that she did, in fact, have someone who cared very much about her.

Janice and I had the most wonderful reunion, and now the local hermit and I are friends for life.

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The Final Word

So, if you’re wondering how to find a lost puppy or dog, and thinking that it might never happen for you, let me tell you that there is hope. I got the call. And it is my hope and prayer for you that you will also get the call.

Be patient. Keep looking. There may come a point when you have to give up, but I don’t think that point happens all that often. There are so many good people out there. People who will care almost as much as you do. And if they can, they’ll help your dog find his way home.

So, for right now, take it easy. Do what you can and hope for the best. My thoughts and prayers are with you.