Finding a Lost Dog: The Ultimate Guide

Key takeaways

Finding a lost dog can feel like an impossible task. But it doesn't have to be. The PetRadar team has put together this ultimate guide to simplify the process for you and increase the chances of finding your best buddy.

Before you begin your search, you'll need to contact your microchip company and report your dog missing to local animal shelters.

Where your dog goes depends on their personality and why they ran away. We provide thorough checklists for your search that cover different scenarios.

Using social media is an essential step in spreading the message. Starting a PetRadar search can notify over 4,000 neighbors of your missing dog. We'll also provide you with a personalized and printable lost dog poster.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. First steps
  3. Start a physical search
  4. Start a PetRadar search
  5. Create lost pet posters
  6. Take to social media
  7. FAQs
  8. Final thoughts

First steps

We know when your best friend goes missing, you can feel too devastated to think straight. So, don't panic. Instead, follow the steps below before you begin your search. These will help increase your chances of finding your lost dog safe and sound.

Contact your microchip company

First of all, you need to contact your microchip company. When you do, use the following checklist:

Make sure your address is up to date

Make sure your contact number is up to date

Report your dog missing

This means if your pet is handed in to local animal shelters, they can contact you immediately.
It also means if your lost dog has been stolen, they won't be able to change the contact details on the chip.
Expert Insight: It's a common misconception that microchips are GPS trackers. This isn't true. A microchip simply holds the contact details of the owners.
A lost dog getting their microchip scanned at an animal shelter

Report your lost dog to the local animal shelter

Call all of the local animal shelters in your area to report that your dog is missing. If someone notices a dog roaming alone, they will likely take them to a shelter. While this sounds like a good thing, it also increases the possibility of your dog being euthanized.
If the shelter can't find the dog's owners, they may not have the resources and space to take care of them and instead will choose to euthanize them. By making these organizations aware that your best buddy is missing, you can minimize the chances of this happening.
Be sure to:

Provide a detailed description of your dog's physical traits (if you can share photos, even better!)

Provide a detailed description of your dog's personality traits

Provide details of areas you and your dog visit

Provide your contact details

Provide your address

Top Tip: Fitting your dog with a collar that has your contact details on will also help animal shelters identify your pet.
A busy animal shelter full of vets and rescues dogs

Recruit help for the search

The more people helping you search, the better. Dogs can travel far, and the more space you cover, the more likely you are to find them.
Ask friends, family, and neighbors if they have time to help you. If not, ask them to help in other ways. This can include:

Making posters (we'll get to that later)

Spreading the message

Searching their garden and space around their house

The more people helping you search, the better. Dogs can travel far, and the more space you cover, the more likely you are to find them.

A group of neighbors that have come together to help search for a lost dog

Start a physical search

The most important part of finding your dog is starting a thorough physical search. Even if you lost your dog outside your house on a walk, they have incredible homing abilities. This means they could even be waiting at home for you.

Checklist for near home

If your dog disappeared at home or near home, use the following checklists to ensure you're extra thorough.
Sometimes, our dogs can come back home without us even realizing it. If you think this could be the case, use the following checklist. If not, skip ahead.
In the house:

Under beds

In wardrobes

In bathrooms

Under sofas

In cupboards

In a basement

Trapped in a bedroom

Around the house:

Under cars

In hedges/bushes

In the garden

In sheds

In garages

In outbuildings

In bins

Top Tip: Use these checklists for your neighbors' properties too, with permission of course!
A timid and shy black dog hiding in the bushes

Checklist for further afield

If you lost your dog on a walk or you watched them bound away from home, then it's time you extend your search area.
Our beloved dogs usually run away when something excites or intrigues them. This could be their prey drive, or it could simply be a ball thrown for a different dog. However, sometimes, it can be from fear.
For adventurous, friendly dogs check:

Local parks

Neighbor's houses and gardens


Popular dog-walking spots

Public gardens

Town centers

For scared, timid dogs check:

Abandoned buildings

Quiet streets and roads

Fields and farms

Sheltered and quiet places

Hiding spots like behind trees or behind buildings

The route back to your house

A friendly and adventurous dog in a local park

Tips for your search

There are ways to make your search more effective, like tapping into your dog's incredible senses. This includes their hearing and their sense of smell. Remember to:

Bring a bag of treats and some strong-smelling food: We know that the majority of our dogs are food-oriented. Most dogs can hear a sound from a mile away (1.6km), which means shaking their favorite treats can be a very effective way of attracting them to you during the search. (source)

Keep calling their name: Dogs are incredibly clever animals. They can not only recognize vocal patterns, but they seem to be able to differentiate speech from non-speech patterns (source). Your furry friend will be looking for you, so if they hear your voice, they should come running. Keep calling their name!

Dog whistle or familiar sound: As well as shaking treats and calling their name, your dog may recognize personal familiar sounds. So, if you trained them using a dog whistle or a particular sound when they were puppies, be sure to bring it along to help the search. It sounds crazy, but sometimes our dogs even have a favorite song. Anything familiar can help!

Start a PetRadar search

At PetRadar, we understand just how effective social media can be when finding a lost pet. This is why we spread the message of your missing pet to over 4,000 of your neighbors through sponsored posts on Instagram and Facebook.
This means when your community scrolls through their feeds, they'll see a digital missing dog poster featuring your pup. They can save the post for later in case they see your furry friend or report a sighting by clicking on it or leaving a comment. We will instantly notify you of any sightings so you can be proactive in your search.
We also provide:

A personal dashboard to monitor the progress of your search and manage reported sightings

A listing of your missing dog on our website

Personal support and guidance throughout the whole process

A downloadable missing dog poster designed by experts

We're experts at reuniting missing pets with their owners, so you can trust that you're in good hands.
A cartoon representation of the PetRadar team at computers working hard surrounded by dogs

Create lost pet posters

Physical posters are still an essential element of searching for your missing pet. They provide an opportunity for members of your neighborhood to learn about your dog and keep an eye out for them.
However, unfortunately, they can also attract unwanted attention like prank calls, fake sightings, and misuse of your personal information.
This is why our free, downloadable missing dog flyers use a unique QR code to protect your personal details. This means if people want to report a sighting, they can simply scan the code and report it on our website, and we'll then notify you. This means the process is private, safe, and confidential.
PetRadar's missing dog poster

Design tips for missing dog posters

If you're designing your poster at home, there are a few important things to include and some design decisions that will increase engagement.
Remember to include:

Photos of your dog: Take pictures of your whole dog, but also include close-up photos of memorable physical traits. This could include things like markings or the length of their tail.

Description of your dog: It's useful to describe what your dog looks like as well as photos. But it's also important to describe their behavior and personality. For example, it's important for the public to know how to approach the dog if they do see them. So, be sure to mention whether they are shy, timid, adventurous, friendly, or even aggressive.

Your details: Providing a contact number or email address is essential to receive sightings and information about your dog's behavior. It's also useful to provide an address of where your dog lives so people will know where to look.

Where to stick your poster

Every county has differing laws on sticking up posters in public places, so be sure to check your area's rules first. Here are some effective and common spots:

Common areas of apartment complexes

Community notice boards

Community buildings, like town halls



Generally, you want to find places with high footfall so you can reach the most amount of people. Remember to always ask permission before sticking your poster.
A happy dog sat in a park on its own

Take to social media

While we utilize social media with sponsored posts, you can also use platforms to join groups in your neighborhood.
Most areas have Facebook and WhatsApp groups to keep everyone connected and to notify people of updates. These are fantastic places to spread the message quickly to many local people.
You can also make sure you're posting on your own social media accounts, as many of your followers will likely live near you. It's also likely that your followers are friends and family, meaning they should be more than happy to join in the search effort.
A phone with a cute photo of a dog on, ready to be posted to social media


What does a dog warden do?

Dog wardens manage complaints about dog fouling, missing dogs, stray dogs, and dangerous dogs. They can also help owners by offering advice about their dog's health.

What to do if you've lost a dog?

If you've lost a dog, report them missing at local animal shelters, your microchip company, and the local dog warden. Then, start a thorough physical search.

What percentage of lost dogs are found?

93% of lost dogs are found, which means owners have a very high chance of finding their dogs when they go missing.

What are the chances of finding my lost dog?

The chances of finding a lost dog are very high. 93% of dogs are found, meaning you are likely to find your pup with a thorough physical search.

How do I find my scared lost dog?

A scared, lost dog will likely hide rather than run for a while. This means you should check hidden spots like abandoned buildings, quiet backstreets, farms, and fields.

Where do dogs hide when lost?

Dogs will hide in quiet places when they are lost. This includes places where people are unlikely to go, like abandoned buildings, farms, and fields.

How long can a dog survive when lost?

Dogs can survive a long time when they are lost. Most dogs can go up to 5 days without food and 3 days without water. However, if they are lost for longer than this, they will likely be able to find scraps of food and sources of water so they can potentially survive for as long as they would at home.

How long do dogs usually go missing for?

Most dogs are found within the first 24 hours. If they aren't, the chances of finding them decrease week by week.

Final thoughts

If your pet still hasn't returned home, don't lose hope. If your pup was lost close to home, they will likely return soon. However, don't wait for this to happen. Start a PetRadar search to increase your chances of recovering your pet as soon as possible.
We'll ensure those living within your chosen radius will be notified about your missing furry friend. We've already reunited 8000+ pets with their owners, so you're in good hands!

Written by

Image of the author
Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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