Home > Animal Rescue, Cupcake, Lost Dogs, Missing Pets, Pet Safety > Do you know what to do if your pet goes missing?

Do you know what to do if your pet goes missing?

IMG_6554Having a lost dog can be a scary thing for any pet owner. Knowing what to do as soon as they go missing is so very important. It can make all the difference in getting your dog back safely to you.

However, it’s not just the dog owner who needs to know what to do when a dog goes missing. Those who want to help in the search need to know what to do as well. Often the most well-meaning dog searcher can hinder a search by what they do and say. Some have even caused a dog to go missing longer because they were trying to “help” and inadvertently ended up hurting the search.

I thought I would put together a list DO’s and DON’Ts for both owners and those who want to help them. Please feel free to share.

Owner of a Lost Dog


  • Tell everyone you know that your dog is missing. Call all local shelters, animal control facilities, vet clinics and local police to let them know.
  • Make a flyer with the most pertinent information – dog’s picture, coloring and weight, where lost, contact information (i.e., phone number). If you have a shy dog, make sure you also add DO NOT CHASE to the flyer.
  • Place flyers at all local vet clinics, animal shelters, stores and local businesses. Also, start canvasing the area your dog was lost and handing the flyers out to people walking their dogs.
  • Leave a flyer in each residence’s newspaper box (It is illegal to place in mailboxes.) or inside their screen door.
  • Place an ad on Craigslist.
  • Ask for help from friends and family. Ask them to help spread the word or pass out flyers.
  • Share information on Facebook and Twitter – If you have a Lost Dogs Facebook group for your state, share there. There are quite a few that have been created, including ones in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Texas, Minnesota and Illinois.
  • Create signs that you can place in strategic locations so drivers can see them as they drive past. Keep the sign simple (e.g., Lost Sheltie and a phone number) so people can read it quickly.
  • Pay attention to where your dog is sighted. Generally, a dog will establish a pattern of places they visit or hang out. Once you have a pattern, set up feeding stations so he/she stays in the area. When you are certain that they have gotten used to feeding at these stations, set up a trap or traps at those locations and move the food inside the trap.
  • Consider utilizing one of the many services out there to help spread the word – like FindToto.com, etc.
  • Send positive thoughts to your dog. Tell them to go into the trap or to seek out a person for help. It may seem silly, but it does work.
  • Place an article of your clothing or your dog’s bedding in a crate or trap near the location they were lost so they are drawn in by the scent. If your dog went missing from your home, place it in your backyard or in an area they could enter it.
  • Carry smelly treats with you that you can toss to your dog if sighted. Make sure you sit down facing away from your dog or sideways to them and sit quietly with your head down. Don’t speak right away. Just toss the treats towards your dog. (Cupcake was lost for 12 days and by the time I found her she was in survival mode. She didn’t recognize me by sight or sound. It was only when I sat down and allowed her to safely approach me that she was able to smell me. That is when she recognized me.)


  • Give up hope. Dogs and cats are much more resilient than we think. They can and do find food and shelter. Princessa’s Story is good example of how dogs can survive the cold of winter.
  • Share trap locations with more than a couple of people you trust. The more people who know about the trap locations, the more the risk you will have too many people monitoring the traps and this could scare your dog away. Make a plan for who will know the trap locations and who will check them and when.
  • Drive around assuming you will see your lost dog somewhere. Utilize flyers and get more eyes looking for your dog immediately.

Lost Dog Searchers


  • Offer to hand out flyers and spread the word. (It was a stranger who offered to hand out flyers that led to me getting Cupcake back. Flyers really do work.)
  • Offer encouragement and hope to the owner of the lost pet. One of the reasons a lost pet is not found is because the owner gives up hope. Help to keep that hope going.
  • Share the lost dog’s story and information on Facebook and Twitter. Most people don’t share because they assume that people don’t live in the area and don’t care, but this is not the case. (When my Cupcake was missing people shared across the globe. One of the people to see her story lived in New York. His parents just happened to live a few blocks from me. They became instrumental in my search for Cupcake and her eventual capture.  People know people who live near where the dog was lost. Never assume they don’t. It can make all the difference.)
  • Call in sightings to the owner ASAP.
  • If you see the lost dog, sit down facing away from them or sideways to them and bow your head and toss tasty treats their way. Don’t talk to them, but do call the owner immediately. The objective is to keep them there until the owner can come to get them.
  • Send positive thoughts to the missing dog and encourage them to enter the trap or seek help from a human. Negative thoughts do not help the dog or owner.


  • Add to a lost pet owner’s fears by talking about the chance their dog could be killed by coyotes or cars or cold weather. They already know this and your sharing this information is not helpful.
  • Try to catch the lost dog yourself. Most dogs go into survival mode and will run away from all people, including their owner, because they are afraid. I wrote about this a couple of months ago. Please read it – Why your lost dog may not run back to you.
  • Chase the lost dog. You only risk scaring them further away from the location. We want them to STAY in the area.
  • Ask the owner to call you when the dog is found. (I had many a well-meaning person contact me to find out if Cupcake had been found. When informed she had not, most of them asked that I call them back after she was found. I am sorry, but the last thing on a lost pet owner’s mind is keeping you informed on the status of the missing dog. They are too busy looking for their lost dog.)
  • Assume that the owner hasn’t tried everything to get their lost dog back or make derogatory remarks about how they lost their dog. Under the right circumstances, every single one of us could face this situation with our own dogs. To assume your dog could never get lost goes against all the statistics that say otherwise.
  • Assume that you will be the one to find the lost dog. Offer to help where you can, but  realize that what really finds lost dogs is not someone chasing the dog down. What works is getting flyers and signs out there so more eyes are watching for the dog and an call the owner as soon as there is a sighting.
  • Go looking for the traps after they have been placed. The owner’s scent should be the one that is near the trap not yours. You could inadvertently scare a dog away from the trap by hanging out near it or traipsing around in the area surrounding it and end up leaving your scent behind instead of the owner’s.

Losing a dog is such a heartbreaking and terrifying experience, but knowing what to do can make all the difference. Those who help them need to know what to do too. I hope this helps.

Lost Dogs trap locations

  1. January 21, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    Excellent information Mel!
    I met you through your search for Cupcake and I remember that night she was found so well. Waiting for her to get close to you was agonizing to watch, she was so scared by then. I can only imagine how it was for you not to reach out to her, but patiently wait for her to come to you.
    It breaks my heart how many lost dogs are out in this sub zero cold today. Praying for them to be found.

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 1:15 PM

      Thanks Carole!

      I will never forget that day or what happened. It was hard to not reach out, but it would have been much harder if not for all of you guys being there to make sure she couldn’t escape. If not for all of you I don’t know that I would have her back today. I am worried about all the dogs lost in this cold too. It worries me. I can only hope they have found a safe place to hole up that is out of the wind. I certainly said a lot of prayers yesterday and today for those that are still out there. Hoping they are home soon.

  2. January 21, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Great tips – concise, to the point. Do you have this in a word doc. we could use when a Sheltie goes missing (with credit to you as the author, of course)?

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 1:13 PM

      Thanks! I don’t, but I can make it into one. I’ll send it to you.

  3. January 21, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    We have done all of these things and still have not found my brudder Zen. he is still missing. We have not giving up hope and we still search for him. Ma has a LOST DOG flier in the back window of our car and truck and some friends have it in their window s too. I only wish we would have got him micro chipped before we did the other stuff we were there to do at the humane society. We were scheduled that day to get it done 😦
    These are great tips and I am sure because of this a lot of people will get their fur kids back.

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 1:13 PM

      Carma – That makes me so sad for you and your mom. I am so sorry that there have been no sightings. It makes me wonder if someone didn’t assume he was a stray and just keep him. It actually happens a lot. People assume abandoned or stray and never bother to check around to see if it is someone’s dog. This actually happened to someone from the Lost Dogs-MN page. It was only when she was riding her bike out to go look for her dog again that she saw her sitting in the neighbor’s window. Thank goodness she did too!

      I am glad you haven’t given up hope. I really hope you find him.

  4. To Shea
    January 21, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    Great Tips…We have used several of your tips to help locate neighbors dogs.
    Thankfully, most of the dogs around here already know us and have come right up to us and it was just a quick phone call to the owners. They usually get out because their fence was too low or the dog dug under the fence.
    Its funny, sometimes our neighbors dog jumps his fence so he can say hi to Penny…LOL. We wind up walking their dog with Penny and returning the neighbors dog when we get back….LOL.

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      I love that the neighbor’s dog goes on walks with you. So funny!

      At least he is a nice dog. I would hate it if a neighbor’s aggressive dog jumped a fence all of the time, but a nice one? 🙂

      I am so glad you know the dogs in the neighborhood so well and that they are friendly. I hope you never have to use the tips.

  5. January 21, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    Great advice Mel, I think so many of us want to help (thinking how we would feel if it were our dog) but most of us don’t know the first thing about it. I remember following Cupcake’s story and how my heart ached for her and you and how Blogville rejoiced when she was found.

    It’s hard not to lose your head in a situation like that, but you were amazing and it is so generous of you to continue to share.

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      Thank you Jodi. I think I have made mistakes in the past too. Losing Cupcake was an eye-opener for me and educated me in ways that most people never get. I am hoping this will help people to understand why we don’t share exact locations of sightings or trap locations. Too may people in one area could scare the dog away or worse, into traffic.

      I think I did lose my head by the way. It was terrifying and exhausting and overwhelming. I think all the prayers and good wishes helped get me through it.

  6. January 21, 2013 at 7:25 PM

    Great advice. It is one of those things I hope to never have to know! Paws crossed.

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 7:35 PM

      I hope you don’t either Hailey and Zaphod. I am glad I know it now, but I never want to go through it again.

  7. January 21, 2013 at 9:19 PM

    Great tips Mel! I love the “Do” send your dog positive thoughts! and the “Don’t” try to catch the lost dog yourself. That one is so important but also so hard to do!

    • Mel
      January 21, 2013 at 9:35 PM

      Yes they are Jen! I imagine the positive thoughts one resonated with you given Sherman’s recent health issues. I am so very glad his latest test results were good!

  8. January 22, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    We need GPS micro chips. WOOF WOOF

    • Mel
      January 22, 2013 at 8:14 PM

      Or a GPS collar. I have thought about trying one before. It wouldn’t protect a dog from being lost, but it sure would help in finding them.

  9. January 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Great tips! Did you know that blanket ID does most of that for you? Your profile on our site creates the lost/stolen pet poster for you and broadcasts it to all the animal shelters, hospitals, vets etc and other blanket ID members, as well as anyone that has signed up to receive emails in your area. The profile can contain anything you want i.e. important info such as medical conditions too! It can be updated at anytime even after your pet has been lost, which is particularly useful if they have ben stolen. Plus now, when someone finds your pet a GPS location map is sent to you straight away. Hope you don’t mind me shouting out Mel – thank you xx

  10. January 25, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    Great tips! Did you know that blanket ID does most of that for you? Your profile on our site creates the lost/stolen pet poster for you and broadcasts it to all the animal shelters, hospitals, vets etc and other blanket ID members, as well as anyone that has signed up to receive emails in your area. The profile can contain anything you want i.e. important info such as medical conditions too! It can be updated at anytime even after your pet has been lost, which is particularly useful if they have been stolen. Plus now, when someone finds your pet a GPS location map is sent to you straight away. Hope you don’t mind me shouting out Mel – thank you xx

    • Mel
      January 26, 2013 at 7:39 AM

      This is great info Cate! I did not know your tags did all of that! I would love to interview you for my blog. Thank you for shouting out!

  11. karen
    March 11, 2015 at 9:29 PM

    kids- neighborhood kids – one of the best investigators and so willing to help. Post flyers in schools, too

    • Mel
      March 12, 2015 at 6:52 AM

      You are so right Karen! They can be a huge help!

  1. January 24, 2013 at 12:56 AM
  2. February 8, 2013 at 3:46 PM

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