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Finding a Lost Dog

© Kateryna Artyukhova | FOUR PAWS

It’s every dog owner’s worst nightmare. Your beloved four-legged friend has vanished, apparently without a trace. In this situation, it’s vital to keep a cool head and take prompt action to find your missing dog. 

Why dogs disappear

There are many reasons why dogs go missing:

  • They may be following their hunting instincts.
  • They may have wandered off and been stolen.
  • Male dogs may be tracking the scent of a female in heat.
  • They may be startled by a noise.
  • They may have wandered off and been involved in a road accident.

© Kateryna Artyukhova | FOUR PAWS

What to do first

The first thing you should do is something most dog owners do instinctively: call out to your dog. Remember to use all your dog’s names, including any nicknames.


Experts in tracking down missing dogs advise that you should wait for a few hours at the place where the dog disappeared, as your four-legged friend will usually return to the spot where you were last. However, most dog lovers find it impossible to wait for hours for their dog to return. In the age of the Internet, owners are advised to use social media to call on family members, friends, and fellow dog owners for help and support. A single posting could mobilize a team of helpers who can begin searching in areas and along routes frequented by your dog.


In the meantime, you should contact the relevant authorities – e.g. the police and/or local animal control, animal rescue organizations, animal shelters, and microchip pet registers – and report that your dog is missing. Also, contact local vet offices or animal hospitals – if your dog has been injured, they may have been taken there for treatment.


Some of these organizations may be able to provide you with missing posters. These can be filled in with key information, such as your dog’s breed, age, name, any special needs (e.g. medication) and your contact details. These posters can be distributed and displayed in the place where your dog was last seen as well as in your local neighborhood and further afield. 

© VIER PFOTEN | Elisabeth Blum

Search radius

The radius of your search will be determined by several factors, including the reason for your dog’s disappearance (if known), its temperament, age, and state of health. Older or disabled dogs usually don’t cover great distances. However, it’s a different story with dogs that have been panicked: they tend to run for miles in an attempt to get back home. If they don’t know the area, they may keep running in a disoriented way, which will make your search more difficult.


Dogs that run away suffering from shock (e.g. after an accident) often cover many miles and hide in places where there are fewer people around. In such cases, the search area should include isolated locations and empty buildings, garages, and sheds. 

Preventative measures

In line with responsible ownership, every owner should make sure their dog is microchipped and registered with a pet register. Every dog should also wear a collar with a tag engraved with the owner’s phone number. These measures will increase the chances that a missing dog will be reunited with their owner.


To help prevent a dog from running away in the first place, the best advice is to plan ahead and take some extra preventative measures. These include enclosing your land (especially your garden) with a fence that is too high for your dog to jump over. If your dog has strong hunting instincts, you should never let it off the lead in places such as woodlands. 


There are many steps you can take to help resolve the situation. Preventative measures will also help reduce the likelihood of your dog running away – and if your dog ever does go missing, they will increase the chances that you will get your four-legged friend back.