Guide to Finding Lost Dogs

by James Branson

When a dog is missing, most dog owners are likely to take the wrong approach because they don’t have experience looking for a lost dog.  Years of experience searching for lost dogs tells us several mistakes to be sure to avoid, and key steps to take to have the best chance of finding your dog.  Time spent reading this guide will help you avoid costly mistakes and ultimately save you much more time.  On average, the owner of a lost dog, and friends and family, will invest more than 100 hours in the search effort.  Taking time to understand the process and plan the approach will be well worth the effort. 


  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Don’t wait.
  3. Don’t call the name of a lost dog.
  4. Don’t chase a lost dog.
  5. Don’t believe everything people tell you.
  6. Don’t give up.


(These steps are listed in the order most useful for the typical lost dog. Your case may require a different approach.)

  1. Enlist help.
  2. Keep a written record of everything.
  3. Protect yourself.
  4. Print fliers.
  5. Mark the rear window of your car.
  6. Ask the neighbors.
  7. Create large neon posters.
  8. Check the shelters.
  9. Look in the right places, at the right times.
  10. Use social media and internet tools.
  11. Wave signs at an intersection.
  12. Use a scent trailing dog, if available.
  13. Consider an automated calling service.
  14. Use Calming Signals.
  15. Try using a friendly dog as a lure.
  16. Use a wildlife camera.
  17. Set a trap.


I panicked when I lost my dogs.  I imagined that I might never see them again, or I would find one of them injured.  It’s hard not to let your imagination run wild with worst case scenarios.  People get into this state of mind largely because they don’t have any concrete notion of useful steps to take.  This guide will give you the tools you need, so you can spend more time taking positive actions and less time worrying.

When you are faced with a crisis, your body responds by flooding your bloodstream with chemical messengers preparing you for action.  If you don’t direct your energies toward constructive action, that natural chemistry inside your body just churns away at you, making you feel terrible and reducing your mental capacity.  In dealing with hundreds of people in this crisis situation, I have witnessed firsthand the loss of memory and lack of concentration that can debilitate otherwise effective people.  Be aware that your emotions about your dog may cloud your judgment.  By taking positive steps toward finding your dog, you not only increase his chances of coming home safe, but you also create a better frame of mind for yourself, in which you can be more useful and effective.

First of all, you should know that most missing dogs do find their way back home one way or another.  In thousands of cases of lost dogs, of which I have personal experience and detailed knowledge, at least 70% of those dogs were found safe.  Your natural inclination may be to fear that things are hopeless.  If you believe things are hopeless, then you are less likely to take positive steps to find your dog.  Now that you know you have an excellent chance of finding your dog, you have a reason to stay positive and take action.

It is true that many dogs come home on their own.  I have identified at least fifteen ways a missing dog can be found and coming home on his own is more common than any of the others (about 25% of cases).  Still, you should not simply wait for him to come home.  The highest rates of success in missing dog cases are achieved by fast and appropriate action.  With many of the tools you can use for finding a lost dog, they are more effective if used sooner rather than later.

This is counter-intuitive, and it comes as a surprise to most people.  It is the first thing most people do because it seems so obvious.  Why wouldn’t I call the name of my missing dog?  Well, if your dog hasn’t come home by the time you read this, then there is some reason he has gone the other way.   Most often, it is because some stranger with good intentions tried to help your dog.  This Good Samaritan probably tried to lure your dog closer, and then she grabbed at his collar, frightening him.  Then your dog trotted on down the road, somewhat wary now, and another animal lover tried to lure him close and catch him.  After this happened a few times, he may have just started running from anyone who paid any attention to him.  Then, he heard you calling his name, with stress in your voice, and in his panicked state, that just increased his anxiety.  He heard you calling him, but he ran away because he was too anxious.  This scenario, or something similar, happened in most of the missing dog cases I worked on.  There are many effective techniques you can use instead of calling your dog’s name, and they are listed below, especially in the section on Calming Signals.  About 25% of the time, your lost dog will come to you if you call his name.  About 75% of the time, calling his name will make things worse.  It’s not worth the risk when there are other things you can do to attract your lost dog.

Almost everyone does it.  You see a lost dog and you want to help, to keep him safe.  So, you move toward him.  He starts moving away, and you move toward him faster.  Before you know it, you are chasing him.  The smallest, oldest, most frail dog can outrun most humans.  I once watched an athletic young man sprinting down the street after his tiny little fluff ball of a dog.  The dog wasn’t even working particularly hard to stay ahead of him.  The only time it works to chase a lost dog is if you happen to get lucky and the dog runs into a fenced yard that he can’t get out of.  People chase dogs because they want to help and because they don’t know what else to do.  There are many other things you can do, listed in the section on calming signals.  For one thing, you can run AWAY from the dog.  I have seen this work many times.  If it doesn’t work, you haven’t done any harm.  If you chase a dog and don’t catch him, you have just made it harder for the next person who tries to help the dog.  Even if it is your dog, do not chase him. Chasing a dog can force him to run farther away from home, or into traffic.  Chasing a dog is more likely to result in the serious injury or death of the dog than catching him.

In every missing cat case that I have worked on, and in most of the missing dog cases, the owner of the pet was told by someone, or by many people, that their pet was most likely killed by a predator.  This is simply not true.  Out of over 8,000 documented missing pet cases, fewer than 10% were killed by predators, and over 70% of the missing pets were found.  Still, whenever the owner of a missing pet goes around the neighborhood looking for a lost cat or dog, at least one and probably several neighbors will say, “Don’t bother looking because your pet has most likely been killed by a predator.”  I don’t know why this myth persists.  There is no evidence to back it up.  It is true that coyotes, owls, and bobcats do kill domestic pets from time to time, but it is uncommon.  The damage people do by spreading false information is more harmful than the damage caused by these predators.  Many people give up looking because they believe what people say about coyotes and mountain lions and other predators.  More pets have died because people stopped looking, due to misinformation, than died because of the predators themselves.  It is possible, but death by predator is probably the least likely thing to happen to your dog.  Once your dog is back home, safe, you should definitely take steps to keep him safe from predators, but during your search efforts, you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

If you do a search for the keywords, “Missing Dog”, or “Missing Pet”, on the internet, you will find a wide range of information, from good to inaccurate to misleading to wrong.   Much of the information contained in this guide can also be found from other sources.  Other websites offer a wide variety of approaches to finding your dog.  Some techniques offered elsewhere, while I wouldn’t recommend them, could possibly be effective.  Other recommended techniques will decrease or ruin your chances of finding your dog, based on my experience.   The information collected in this guide has been developed and refined based on years of training and experience.  I have learned from my mistakes, and from the mistakes of others.  Don’t automatically trust everything you read on the internet.

For example, one myth floating around the internet is that you should leave a urine trail leading back to your house.  I’m not kidding.  It doesn’t really do any harm, other than wasting your time.  I have worked hundreds of cases where people used this technique in spite of my objections, and I have seen zero evidence that it works.  I don’t object to doing crazy things if they help find your dog, but this particular scheme is both crazy and useless.  What you are asked to do is to urinate into a spray bottle, and then go around your neighborhood spraying the landscape, making scent trails back home.  It seems obvious to me that your scent and the scent of your urine are two entirely different things.  To your dog, you don’t smell like urine, I hope.  You smell like you.  Everywhere you walk, you leave a scent trail for your dog to follow.  I do recommend that, while you are looking, you leave many scent trails leading back home.  You do this simply by walking.  You shed thousands of dead skin cells every second.  If your dog came across a scent trail consisting of your urine, he probably wouldn’t recognize it, and if he did, he might think, “I wonder what’s wrong with mom, and why is she peeing all over the place?”

Another example of unhelpful information comes in the form of Pet Psychics or Animal Communicators.  Many people believe that certain individuals have this ability.  While I do not believe extra sensory perception is possible, I won’t argue the case here.  If it worked, I would support it.  In over 4000 missing dog cases, at least a quarter of those dog owners spoke with some form of pet psychic or animal communicator, even though I don’t recommend it.  I told those people that I would act on any specific information that we could check out, but I was never given any. All of the tips given by the psychic were along the lines of, “Your dog is by a stream,” or, “Your dog is near a farm.”  I could have told you that, and I don’t have any psychic abilities.  At one point in your dog’s travels, it is very likely he was near a stream.  It is also very likely that he passed a property that is or was a farm at one point.  I have never heard of one case of a missing dog that was solved by information provided by a pet psychic or an animal communicator.  The way the information is provided, the dog owner can imagine her dog in such a situation, and it seems plausible.  The trouble is that the information is never useful.  If you are a fan of pet psychics or animal communicators, then you will probably consult with one even if I tell you that it has not been helpful in my experience.  If you do consult with one, write down everything they tell you.  Then, set that information aside as one possibility.  Check out the leads if you have time, and if there is any specific information you can act on.  Do NOT invest all of your energies following the guidance of a psychic.  However, if you do have an experience where a psychic gave you specific information that directly led to finding your lost dog, please tell me about it.  I would like to know for future reference.  If the psychic said, “Your dog will be found near water,” and your dog was found near water, that doesn’t count, in my book.  Dogs get thirsty.  I could predict that, based on dog behavior and based on experience.  People missing their dogs have been given wrong information from psychics that hindered the search effort.  In several documented cases, the psychic told the dog’s owner that the dog had died.  Later, the dog was found alive.  If the owner had believed the psychic, she may never have recovered her dog.

There are many other sources of misinformation and outright scams.  Some comes from people with good intentions, and some comes from those trying to exploit you.  In particular, be cautious of random, unsolicited tips on social media, “I know a guy who tried this weird thing and it worked.”  What seems like a handy shortcut could actually make things worse.  Do a little research and checking before following these free tips. 

When you are missing a family member, you are desperate for help, and you may be prone to believe things you would otherwise see through.  Most people who give you advice in this situation are honestly trying to help, but please be aware that a small percentage of people see a distraught pet owner as the perfect target for some sort of exploitation.

You will be tempted, at many points, to give up looking for your dog.  You may feel it is hopeless.  For some people, just constantly thinking about their dog being lost and alone, at risk, is too much to bear.  People tell themselves stories to protect themselves from grief.  They say, “Someone probably picked him up, and he has a good home now, somewhere else.”  There is a chance that’s true.  There is also a very good chance you will find your dog if you don’t stop looking.  If the search is too wearing, time-consuming, or expensive, you might need to scale back for a while.   Certainly, you should take breaks from the search.  If you feel like giving up on the search for your dog, take a day off, and then come back again and try some of the positive actions described below.  Also, as much as possible, don’t take half measures or skip steps.  There have been cases where I’m quite certain people could have found their dogs if they would have followed my advice.  For example, I tell people to make large neon posters, and they make standard letter size fliers with colorful markers, which is not the same at all.  I have outlined the best steps you can take, not just to make you do pointless busywork, but to give you the best chance of finding your dog based on information from hundreds of cases.  You can certainly do more than what is described here, like buying a billboard ad for your missing dog, but don’t do less.  If my dog were missing, I would hire a blimp to circle my neighborhood.  Most of the 17 steps below can be done for very little money.  You could cover all 17 for less than the average cost of a vet visit.  I know of dogs that were recovered after a year of looking.  The surest way that the steps below will fail is if you give up on them too quickly.  The current rate that lost dogs are reunited with the families that look for them is at least 70%.  If more people would simply not give up, that rate could be improved.  I know from experience that it can be very hard.  I also know, from witnessing many reunions, that getting your dog back can be one of the best moments of your life.  In hundreds of missing dog cases, I have seen a definite correlation between the willingness of the dog owner to follow this advice and the successful recovery of the missing dog.  The more of the following steps you can cover, and the more closely you follow the given directions, the higher your chances of seeing your dog again.


In years of helping to find lost dogs, (Kelsy and I started in 2008) I have identified at least seventeen ways that these hundreds of dogs have been found.  The point is that you want to address as many of these avenues to recovery as possible.  If your dog is at the shelter at this moment, a search dog would be less useful than a shelter check.  If your dog is hiding in a ravine near your house, and not barking for some reason, then a shelter check won’t find him.  The more pathways to success you create, the better your chances of finding your dog.  If you skip a step, you are gambling that it won’t be the key technique that brings your dog home. Expect to spend eight to twelve hours a day actively taking steps to find your dog.  If you absolutely can’t take the time off work, or if you are physically unable to do these tasks, enlist friends and family, or hire someone to do these things for you.  If you only hire a search dog, and do none of the other steps, you are severely reducing your odds of success.

When your dog is missing, you will have some friends and family that will discourage you from doing much to find your dog.  They will say things like, “He will come home,” “Animal Control will find him,” “It’s just a dog,” or “You can get a new dog at the shelter”.  These people may even be trying to help you, in their own way, by trying to shield you from loss.  Don’t listen to them.  Many other people, friends, family, and strangers will want to actively help you in the search for your dog.  You won’t even have to ask them, in some cases.  Do ask for help.  Ask your neighbors.  Ask your friends and acquaintances.  Ask on craigslist and Facebook.  Post fliers.  Many people are perfectly willing to go out of their way to help a lost dog, but they won’t know you need help if you don’t ask.  You can also enlist the help of a nonprofit organization or a private business that has experience finding lost dogs.  When you do ask for help, be sure to give people concrete actions they can take.  Have fliers ready, share information, and keep contact information organized and available.  You can also seek emotional help from friends and family, as this will be a difficult time.  During your search, your hopes will be lifted by some small scrap of information, and then you may feel crushed and defeated when that lead doesn’t pan out.  The number one obstacle to lost dogs being found is that their owners stop looking.  With the right kind of help, you will have the strength to keep looking when things seem hopeless.

When you are faced with a crisis, your body responds by flooding your bloodstream with chemical messengers preparing you for action.  If you don’t direct your energies toward constructive action, that natural chemistry inside your body just churns away at you, making you feel terrible and reducing your mental capacity.  In dealing with hundreds of people in this crisis situation, I have witnessed firsthand the loss of memory and lack of concentration that can debilitate otherwise effective people.  Be aware that your emotions about your dog may cloud your judgment.  By taking positive steps toward finding your dog, you not only increase his chances of coming home safe, but you also create a better frame of mind for yourself, in which you can be more useful and effective.

First of all, you should know that most missing dogs do find their way back home one way or another.  In thousands of cases of lost dogs, of which I have personal experience and detailed knowledge, at least 70% of those dogs were found safe.  Your natural inclination may be to fear that things are hopeless.  If you believe things are hopeless, then you are less likely to take positive steps to find your dog.  Now that you know you have an excellent chance of finding your dog, you have a reason to stay positive and take action.

Ideally, you would keep records of your search in an electronic format that you can share with other people who are trying to help.  The following is a list of types of information you would want to collect during the typical dog search:

  • Vital information about your dog, like weight, color, neutered or not, medical conditions, attitude toward strange people and strange dogs, particular phobias, things he likes.
  • Contact information for anyone volunteering to help. If you can send a text message to a dozen people at once, it can greatly increase the efficiency of your search team at a critical moment.
  • Jobs that certain individuals have signed up for. One friend may take on the task of putting up posters, while another takes a certain neighborhood to go door to door.  If you can be the search manager, that’s great.  If you are out of town, or unable to focus or manage, due to stress and worry, appoint someone else to the role of search manager.  This person doesn’t necessarily need to know everything about finding a lost dog, but one person needs to control the flow of information.  If you have people working at cross purposes, your help can be very unhelpful.
  • Contact information of anyone offering a tip about the current or recent location of your dog. Very often, people get tips about their dogs, but they don’t know how to get in contact with that person once they hang up.  Then they get to the place the dog was supposed to be, and they have questions.  Just as important as getting a tip is getting contact information for the person giving the tip.  Be cautious of people who offer sightings or tips from a blocked or unknown number.
  • Get details about the sighting. Yes, you want to get there quickly, but don’t be in such a hurry that you skip the details.  Take an extra thirty seconds to get the exact address or cross streets, the direction of travel, and the condition or demeanor of your dog, if possible.  Was he running scared?  Was he just trotting down the street, happy, on an adventure?
  • Make a map of the sightings, including dates and times.
  • Keep a list of the shelters you visited and the days you went there.
  • If you enlist the help of a nonprofit group or a paid pet detective or animal tracker, be sure to get receipts for any paid services. Get copies of any contracts or releases you sign.
  • Make a list of any and all rescue groups who offer dogs for adoption in your region. Check their online listings of dogs offered for adoption, in case your dog somehow ended up in the rescue system.
  • Keep a record handy of your dog’s microchip information, the number and the company. Be sure to check that your information is up to date at the microchip company.
  • Keep a list of emergency vets in your area.
  • Ideally, you should keep all of this information available at an online storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive. If you have a smartphone or laptop or tablet computer, you can call up any and all of this information instantly.  When it is time to take action in a critical moment, you don’t want to be delayed because you left a scrap of paper back home.
  • Program phone numbers into your phone, if possible. When you need to call someone quickly, you don’t want to have to scroll through a bunch of numbers and try to figure out which number is the one you are looking for.
  • You may wish to start a blog or a Facebook page about your lost dog, both to motivate people to help, and to share information rapidly. A blog might have maps of sightings, contact information, and perhaps a list of calming signals.
  • When someone gives you a tip about your lost dog, perhaps a sighting, ask if you can record the interview on your phone, for better recall later. Most phones today have a function for taking voice notes.

Many people want to get out and look, not spend a lot of time writing things down.  If just one bit of information is not available to you at a critical moment, you will not have saved any time at all by failing to keep good records in writing, and in text messages, emails, and voice notes.  You could dramatically reduce the chances of finding your dog if you skip the step of recording potentially useful information.  If you make handwritten notes, snap a photo of them with your cell phone and email the picture to yourself.

I have seen hundreds of people in the process of looking for their lost dogs, and I have seen many ways they put themselves at risk without increasing their chances of finding their dogs.  You can’t find your dog if you are in the hospital.  Fortunately, I have not witnessed anyone being seriously hurt because of their lack of attention to safety, but I have seen some close calls.  If you weren’t stressed, these things would be common sense.  Because you are under duress, take a moment to remind yourself of simple ways you can stay safe.

  • Don’t go alone to meet someone who says he has your dog.
  • Don’t take cash with you for the reward money, if you are offering a reward.
  • Be cautious of anyone who calls you about your dog from an unlisted or blocked number.
  • Wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight when looking at night.
  • Don’t leave your car running with the door open when you rush to investigate a sighting. (I have seen this many times.)
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water and take breaks from the search.
  • Be aware that some people will see your desperate situation as an opportunity to exploit you.
  • Don’t trespass on private property. Be sure to get permission before you go looking.  Most people will gladly give you permission, and help you look.  About one in a hundred people will threaten to shoot you if you don’t get off their property immediately.  Always ask before searching, and don’t assume anything.
  • If you are not the owner of the dog, be aware that the dog might bite you if he feels cornered. I have been bitten several times while finding and catching lost dogs.  In each case, I could probably have taken a different approach and still caught the dog without the bite.
  • If you are enlisting the services of a nonprofit or a paid professional, be sure you know what you are getting. In most cases, money paid for search services does NOT guarantee your dog will be found.  It is important you understand that up front.

You were probably going to do this anyway.  Make sure you make the most effective fliers.  All your fliers should have one contact number.  You don’t want to change numbers when you print the next batch of fliers.  Think about this for a moment before choosing the number.  Ideally, it will be your cell phone that you have with you at all times.  Will you be able to keep it charged when you are out looking?  Will you lose reception?  Will you be unable to answer calls while you are at work?  Pick the best number for a search that could last days or weeks.

The flier should have some simple information at the top in a large font, to get the basics across quickly.  You can have detailed information, if you think it will help, but hit the key points first.  Most people who read your flier will have a limited amount of time and attention, and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to help.

Have dates on the flier, so people know if they are looking for a dog that escaped yesterday or last month.  If they saw a dog that looks like yours, but they saw the dog before yours even escaped, they will know not to call you and waste your time.

If possible, tell people how to find your web page or Facebook page about your dog.  On Facebook, it’s just easiest if you give them keywords to search for, like Bring Toto Home, or Kelsy Lost In Seattle.  If you have a web page or blog dedicated to the search, you can make it easy for people to find it by giving them a QR code or bar code to scan with their smart phones.  I won’t go into the details on how to do that here.  For one thing, there are several ways to do it.  Google “QR codes”.  If you have a web page or blog about the search, your fliers might be out of date, but potential finders can find current information on the web at any time.  For example, your fliers might say the most recent sighting was at the park on 16th Avenue, but your web page can tell people that the new recent sighting was ten blocks away, so they should be focusing their search efforts there.

Another way to make sure people have the best information is to ask them to take a picture of your flier.  I am always pulling over and snapping pictures of fliers on telephone poles, just in case I see the dog.  If a person who reads your flier takes a picture with his cell phone, he will have your phone number and a picture of the dog with him at all times.

The picture of your dog should be simple and clear.  You may have pictures of your dog at Christmas or Halloween, with a funny hat, upside down, or with a cute expression.  Resist the urge to use these pictures.  You want the clearest, cleanest, most simple picture that shows people how your dog looks.  If you don’t have any pictures handy, or none of them are very clear, do an internet search for the image that looks most like your dog.  There is probably a picture on the internet that looks almost identical to your dog.  You may wish to make a note that the picture is not your dog, but just a representative illustration.  You could also say, on the flier, if your dog has a distinctive spot, a limp, or a spot on his tongue.

All fliers should say DO NOT CHASE in a large font.  Tell them to just call you immediately while they keep an eye on your dog.

If you offer a reward, you may wish to just say REWARD in large letters without specifying an amount.  Some people have offered large rewards, such as $500, $1,000, even $10,000.  I have seen no evidence that large rewards increase the odds your dog will make it home.  I have seen that large rewards bring out the kind of person who wants to take advantage of people in distress.  Also, there is some evidence that large rewards for missing dogs have inspired people to steal small dogs in order to claim the reward.

Ask people to snap a picture of your dog, if possible.  Almost everyone has a camera phone these days.

Below is a link to an example of how I would make a flier if my dog were missing.

This flier could probably be printed in black and white, to save money, without losing any effectiveness.  If your dog is black, or white, or black and white, you may choose not to have color copies.  For any dog with a bit of color, color copies could prove vital.  Remember that fliers are not nearly as effective as large neon posters, but they are cheap, easy, and quick.  Fliers do solve cases.  Certainly, having fliers is more effective than not having them.

The following is a list of people who should have a copy of your flier:

  • The mail carrier and UPS driver.
  • The trash collectors and the milk man.
  • People who walk their dogs in your area.
  • Local vets and pet stores.
  • Animal control and the local shelters
  • The coffee shop and the post office.
  • The grocery store.
  • All of your neighbors for several blocks in each direction.
  • An electronic version of your flier should be sent to all local rescue groups.

NEOmarkers by Neoplex work best for this, although you may have to order them online, which is inconvenient when you are in a hurry.  In Seattle, you may be able to buy them at a police supply store.  You might have to do some detective work to find a retail store near you that sells these markers.  They work well and last in the rain.  Be sure to avoid getting the ink on your good clothes because it will not come off your clothes, ever.  It does come off your car window with window cleaner.

You can get less-effective window markers at many stores, including craft supply stores and even grocery stores.  These will work as long as it doesn’t rain.  In Seattle, that’s not very long.

As a substitute for the markers, you can make up a large sign to tape to the outside of your rear window.  I knew one woman who had custom magnets made for her car doors when her dog went missing.  I would certainly do that if my dog was missing, but a sign in the window will also work.

Whether you get the good markers, the cheap markers, or use a sign in the window, make your sign simple, with huge letters, so someone can read it easily while driving by.  On a typical rear window, you can fit either three or four rows of large letters.  If possible, use a different color for each word, to attract attention and help people differentiate the words easily.  Be sure your window is clean and dry before you start.


15TH & 159TH


You have probably already been out looking for your dog before you read this.  Before you go out looking again, be sure to get your rear window marked.  You are missing an opportunity if you are driving around looking without a sign in your rear window.  Also, people might be a bit nervous if they see a strange car rolling slowly through their neighborhood.  A sign on your window will put people at ease and make them more receptive when you approach them for help.

I have gone out on over a thousand searches with my dogs Kelsy, Fozzie, Komu, and Tino.  On almost every search I’ve done with a dog, we ended up getting some new piece of information from a neighbor that the dog or cat owner could have gotten if they had only asked.  If you are like most people, you don’t even know most of your neighbors.  You might feel awkward about asking them for help in finding your lost dog, especially if you had a disagreement with a neighbor about the height of a hedge or a derelict car or something.  For the sake of your dog, get over your reservations.  If you can’t, get help from friends and family, or from a nonprofit or a professional for hire.  Someone saw your dog at some point.  Surprisingly, in those instances where we found out new information, the neighbor could certainly have called the number on the flier and volunteered this information.  Why they don’t, I’m not sure.  I do know that you get more information if you persist, ask lots of questions, and ask them again.

Another way to ask your neighbors is through an email chain.  You may have a neighborhood watch group, or a friends of the park group.  Maybe there is a Facebook page for your neighborhood.  Other social media services such as may be active in your area. Certainly, put up a flier in your post office or coffee shop.  Many small cities and neighborhoods of large cities have blogs dedicated to the area.  Most of them are willing to post a notice of a lost dog.

Go through your neighborhood door to door, handing out fliers.  Don’t just leave them in the paper box.  Hand the flier to each neighbor in person.  If they aren’t home, come back again.  If they aren’t home after two visits, leave a flier taped to their front window or door.

Many neighborhoods have homes with video cameras looking out toward public areas.  If you see homes with these cameras, ask them to review the recorded video and see if your dog went by. Not everyone will agree to scroll through their recordings, but I have heard of a few people who persuaded their neighbors to check.  Most likely, half of the video cameras you see don’t even work.  It doesn’t hurt to ask, and someone may have just the clue you need to track down your dog.

Other than dogs just coming home on their own, large neon posters have resulted in more found dogs than any other technique.  Why is it step 7 instead of step 1?  Because you want to check with your immediate neighbors first, because you will want help putting up the signs, and because you will want a sign on your car while you are going around putting up the neon signs, for starters.  Also, you need to take the time to do this step right.

When you are done, you will have posters on neon paper 22 x28 inches, with bold black letters 6 inches high at the top and bottom, and two standard sheet protectors taped side by side in the middle.  One sheet protector has a clear, sharp, simple picture of your dog.  The other sheet protector contains an information sheet with a few descriptive words, and your phone number.  Most important of all, your phone number is in a font of 100 or larger, and when you place your poster and go sit in your car in the road, you can read the phone number without getting out of the car.  Make it as easy as possible for people to help you.  The other descriptive words are along the lines of “OLD BLACK SHAGGY DOG” or “BROWN PIT BULL MIX”.   Be sure to place the sheet protectors with the openings down, to keep the rain out.  Once your inserts are in, secure them with a tab of tape.  The large black letters read REWARD at the top and LOST DOG at the bottom.  You can do the lettering with a thick black marker.  Be sure to trace the outlines of the letters in pencil before you start.

Make at least ten of these signs, although twenty would be better.  To generate immediate impact, you might tape a few to stop signs or telephone poles in your neighborhood.  Most likely, this isn’t allowed by local codes.  To make your signs last longer, mount them on cardboard with duct tape, and then tape them to wooden frames on stakes.  Then get permission from key property owners at the best intersections and place your signs on private property where they are clearly visible from the street.  If your sign is on private property, chances are that the local government employee in charge of code enforcement won’t remove your signs.  You can also tape your signs to sandwich boards like real estate agents use.

You can upgrade your signs and greatly improve the audience you reach by using corrugated plastic signs for yard sales, the size of campaign signs.  Also, you can laminate your pictures and text for not too much more money.  Plastic sign boards with laminated pictures last a long time in bad weather and they are easier to read by passing motorists.

Choose intersections near the point where your dog was last seen.  Intersections with stop signs or stop lights are best, so you can catch people when they aren’t moving.  Think about how people normally get in and out of your neighborhood and choose your sign locations to catch the attention of the most people possible.  Check your signs every day or two, and make sure they are intact and legible.  If you have a storm, chances are your signs will need repair or replacement.  Don’t let your signs get weathered, bent, torn, and illegible; this tells people you have given up looking.  For at least a month, or as long as your dog is missing, keep your signs refreshed and easy to read.  Don’t be surprised if someone vandalizes your signs.  Some people will become irrationally angry that anyone would put this much effort into finding a dog.  Whatever the reason, these signs are vandalized from time to time.  If this happens to you, replace them immediately with new signs, perhaps in a slightly different location.  Make a simple map of where you placed the signs and use your map to make sure they are all maintained properly.  If you get reported sightings in a new area, and you don’t immediately find your dog in that area, be sure to put up new posters there.  Last but not least, take your signs down once you find your dog.

Sadly, it is not always easy or straightforward to know if your dog is at the local shelter.  Ideally, your dog would have a microchip or a tag, and you would get a call right away.  Tags come off.  Microchips can sometimes migrate under the skin, and if the employee or volunteer who scans your dog doesn’t thoroughly scan all over, from head to toe, the chip could be missed.  Also, you may have forgotten to register the microchip.  Don’t rely on microchips and tags to get your dog home.  (Of course, every dog should have tags and a microchip because they do work in many cases.)

The other complication is that there can be many shelters serving an area.  In an area near me, a dog can wander just a few blocks and end up at shelters many miles away.  If a dog in White Center wanders south into Burien, he will end up at Burien’s animal control.  If he wanders north, he will be taken to the Seattle Animal Shelter.  If he wanders east or stays in the area, he could end up at the King County Animal Shelter.  If the dog is picked up by a Good Samaritan, and then he escapes at the end of a car ride, he could end up at the shelters in Tacoma, Puyallup, Bellevue, Lynnwood, or Everett.  Unfortunately, you can’t just check one shelter and know for sure that your dog is not at a shelter.  You have to go in person to three or five different shelters, every other day, and make sure your dog is not at any of these shelters.  Hopefully, the situation is not as complex where you live, and you can just check one or two shelters.  Be sure you understand which shelters serve which areas and take into account the possibility that your dog was transported to a new area.  Some shelters post pictures online of the dogs that have come into the shelter.  Unfortunately, they don’t all post to one central database.  Be sure to ask if your local shelters do this.  Also, don’t rely on your dog showing up in the pictures.  He might have been missed.  Shelters often rely on volunteers, and dogs can fall through the cracks.  You or someone you trust needs to visit shelters in person, every other day, every shelter.

While you are at the shelter, ask to see their book of reports of found dogs that were not taken to the shelter.  Some people don’t want to take a found dog to the shelter, so they drop off a found dog flier or call in a report, while they keep the dog safe at their home.  Most shelters will also have a binder or file where you can drop off a flier for your missing dog.  Sometimes you need to fill in a form with your dog’s description.  Be sure to ask about the procedures at your shelter.

Rescues are different than shelters.  They are usually nonprofits, and they are not supposed to just collect stray dogs on the street.  Quite often, someone who rescues a dog wandering the street does not want to take that dog to the shelter, for fear the dog will be euthanized (which is not true).  Instead, the rescuer will take the dog to a local rescue group to try to get the dog adopted into a new loving home.  If the person who finds your dog and the rescue organization choose to go this route, they are probably required by law to notify the local Animal Control agency that they have found a dog.  Ideally, they would hand deliver fliers to the several local shelters where someone would look for the dog, and they would put up FOUND DOG posters in the area where they found him.  Please be aware that about a quarter of all local rescues are in the habit of calling a found dog “abandoned,” and they never try to look for an owner.  It is technically illegal for anyone to rehome a dog they just found, without at least contacting local shelters.  However, it happens every day, and this illegal taking of stray dogs is never prosecuted, or even investigated.  To cover all your bases, you need to check with all the local rescue groups, and there can be dozens around a large city.  You should send each group an electronic version of your lost dog flier.  You should also check their listings of dogs available for adoption.  These dogs are usually listed on  You can also find most local rescues on Facebook.

By the time you read this, you will most likely have already spent a considerable amount of time looking for your dog, which is good.  As you have been looking, you probably realized how difficult it is.  Your dog could be just behind that hedge and you would never know it.  You should have a strategy for looking for your dog based on her temperament, physical properties, past behavior, health, and her reason for disappearing.  You would look for a cute little friendly dog differently than you would look for a skittish black lab.

Although you can make some judgments about your dog’s behavior on your own, you might gain some real benefit from consulting with someone with experience in missing dog cases when considering the best places to look.  I will try to give you the benefit of my experience here, but I could do a much better job if I interviewed you and learned the specific traits of your dog.  The following are questions I would ask you in order to prioritize your search:

  • Your dog’s age, weight, health, temperament?
  • Was she wearing a collar?
  • If you know, why did she disappear? Did she escape, looking for an adventure?  Was she frightened by the meter reader?  Was there thunder or fireworks?
  • If she escaped before, where was she found?
  • Is she fixed? If not, when was she last in heat?
  • Has she been seen since the escape?
  • Does she like to swim? Fetch balls?  Does she like dogs?  Does she like strangers?  Is she traffic savvy?
  • Is she frightened of any particular, odd things? Some dogs don’t like balloons.  My girl Kelsy was once freaked out by a black garbage bag by the side of the road.  I knew a dog that went crazy at the sight of red lipstick.

Based on the answers to these types of questions, you can say if your dog is more or less likely to visit a certain location.  My Kelsy was a black lab that loved water.  If she were missing, I would check at the local lakes, streams, and beaches first.  If you have a small, cute, friendly dog, chances are very good that she was picked up shortly after she left your yard.  Instead of spending all your time looking in the woods, you should get busy with the large neon posters, to catch the attention of the person who picked up your dog, or the person who saw someone pick up your dog.  Prioritize your search in the areas of highest probability, first, and then check the long-shot locations later, as time allows.

As soon as you discover your dog is missing, you should quickly check as much area near your home as you can in a short time.  Chances are you have already done this.  After your first quick search of the neighborhood, and the interior of your house, you should sit down with a long list of questions and generate a profile of your dog.  How would she behave in a certain situation?  What factors most influence her ability and desire to run far?  After fifteen minutes of profiling your dog, look at a map of your neighborhood and cross out areas that are very unlikely.  For example, if she hates other dogs, you can cross off the yard with the three black labs.  If she always wants to go for a ride, check with the carpenter doing the remodel job at the end of the street.  Keep in mind that someone with experience on hundreds of cases may be able to give you insights on common dog behavior that the average dog owner would not typically know.

Think of times as well as locations.  Usually, dogs on the run tend to be most active at dawn and dusk.  Some dogs have their quirks.  One dog came to a certain area around eight PM every day to be fed.  If your dog is fearful of strangers, go looking when the streets are quiet and everyone is asleep.  You will also want to go looking in the evening when people are coming home from work because that is the best time to get new sightings, not necessarily because your dog would be around at that time.  If your dog was seen at a certain time of day, go back to the area at the same time of day, in order to catch people whose daily routines bring them through around that time.

As stated earlier, perhaps hundreds of man-hours will go into the search for your dog.  You can be much more effective if you aren’t the only one putting in those hours.  If you have ten friends spending several hours each on specific tasks, that puts you way ahead of the game.  Complete strangers will probably help you as well, if you ask.  I invested fifty unpaid hours of my time finding Smilla, and probably about 150 chasing Sophie.  Kelsy and I chased Tabu for a week, and we searched for Leah for about 50 hours over nine months.  We became invested in getting these dogs home.  That is the kind of effort you want to generate for your dog.  You can do this through fliers, posters, craigslist, Facebook, blogs, automated phone calls, writing on your car, stories in local blogs, and other ways.  Ideally, you should link all your publicity efforts to each other.  Your flier can be distributed in electronic form, and when people see the hard copy out on the street, they are immediately reminded of the email version.  Your fliers link to your blog page, which links to your Facebook page, which refers to your craigslist posting, which of course leads back to your blog.

Depending on where you live, craigslist should be one of the first things you tackle.  In the Seattle area, craigslist has dozens of postings for lost dogs at any given time.  It’s where people go when they lose a dog or when they find a dog.  It’s certainly the first place I would look if I found a dog on the street.  Craigslist is not without its problems, but it can be very effective.  In some other areas, it is not used much.  It can’t be effective if the general public is not in the habit of looking there.  If you post to craigslist, you will be warned that your posting can be deleted if you repeat your post more than once every seven days.  People who have lost a pet like to have their posting refreshed every day, and the way to do this without getting flagged is to change the wording and the title every time you post a new ad.  This would seem to violate the rules of craigslist, but no one minds, when you are searching for a lost family member.  If your ads get flagged and removed, skip a couple of days and then post your ad again with new information, and possibly different pictures.  One person posted the exact same ad for a lost carrying case of some sort, every day, for over a year, and his ads were never removed.  The enforcement of the rules is rather inconsistent.  The other drawback to craigslist is that the ads for lost pets are not archived.  Quite often, I will see an ad for a found dog that reminds me of an ad I saw weeks ago, and I wish they were archived so I could see if it is the same dog or not.  One more problem with craigslist is that you will probably be contacted by scammers.  Be prepared that this is likely and be very skeptical of anything they tell you. With all its flaws, craigslist is an important tool in many markets.  If it is not well-used in your area, see if there is some other forum where lost dog ads are commonly posted.

About a billion people look at Facebook every day.  Communities spring up around lost dogs.  Smilla had 90 people following her adventures as I chased her from Fall City to Issaquah to Renton to Fall City again.  Hanah is a dog that has been missing for over a year, and she has 15,000 people who view her Facebook page and receive updates.  Some people adamantly refuse to join Facebook, but enough people use it to make it worth your time.  The pros of Facebook are its ubiquity and the ease of updating it.  You can often update Facebook right from your phone.  It can be used to coordinate search efforts and alert people to tasks that need doing.  Your page can be passed around from person to person until it gets in front of the eyes of that person with just the right information or skills to help you.  You will also receive emotional support from Facebook as there will undoubtedly be many people who sympathize with your plight.   A drawback of Facebook is that many people will give you advice that is not necessarily wanted or helpful.  Also, expect to encounter trolls. Hopefully, you have a friend who can manage a Facebook page for your dog, so you can concentrate on other things.

Many people successfully use a blog to coordinate the search effort and elicit tips and sightings.  They are not hard to get started.  You can set up a free blog on a service like Blogger, and you just fill in the blanks as you go along.  You don’t need to know web site design.  People use their blogs to distribute maps and keep searchers up to date with the latest movements.  Again, you can most likely update your blog from your smart phone, so your volunteers can be deployed on a moment’s notice.  Your fliers should lead people to your blog, so they can get current information as the flier becomes dated.

There are dozens of ways to use the internet to aid your search, many of which I haven’t even discovered yet, probably.  Briefly, here some of the other tools you can use.

  • Send a notice to a local blog. Most will publish lost pet stories.
  • Use Twitter to spread the word. I hate Twitter, and don’t understand it, but other people prefer Twitter to all other social media.  If I knew why, I would tell you.
  • Use Chip In or some other fundraising web site if the cost of the search is beyond your means at the moment. Many people will donate $10 to $50, and it adds up.
  • Use cute and interesting pictures on Facebook and on your blog. For your flier, you want a simple and clear picture that people can absorb quickly.  On Facebook, you want a picture that tells a story.  You want to engage people and get them committed to find your dog.
  • Start an email thread including all the key people in the search effort. Keep them posted of new information so that time is not wasted, and efforts aren’t duplicated.
  • Use text messages instead of phone calls. Quite often, you will have information that needs to be written down by the person you are calling, and they have to find a pen, and the number has to be read correctly, said correctly, heard correctly, and written correctly.  Skip all that.  Send a text message, and the recipient will have the info handy on her phone instantly.  You can text ten people at once and save yourself ten phone calls.
  • Use social media tools even if you don’t have a computer or a smart phone. Enlist your son or nephew to handle this portion of the search.  You call one person, and the information spreads to everyone.  It is just too efficient to use the internet and smart phones, even if you can’t do it yourself.

Beyond the social media, coordination, and publicity uses of the internet, you can do a great deal of information gathering in an efficient manner.  All of the information you gather should be posted somewhere on the internet, for yourself or for others.  As mentioned earlier, every scrap of information about your dog should be available to you in cloud storage such as Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive.  In seconds, you should be able to text or email the right information to the right person.  You don’t want to have to drive home and get something off a scrap of paper in the kitchen, if that’s even where you left it.  You may feel too distracted to get yourself organized in this fashion, but you must get organized this way because you will be distracted.

Use the internet to find out who owns a vacant lot.  Most counties will have an online, automated mapping system or database, and you can find out who owns any property.  It’s a matter of public record.  If you can’t find the county’s mapping service or database, just Google the address, and you will often get a real estate listing that will show who bought the property recently.

Use the terrain view on your mapping service to see where the low spots are.  A dog on the run needs water, so be sure you know where every creek, stream, pond, and drainage ditch is.  Switch views in the map, as you are predicting which way your dog would run.  One view shows obstacles like freeways and fences, while the other view shows challenges in the terrain.  As stated earlier, keep an updated map showing all the sightings and possible sightings of your dog.

If you get a phone call from someone with a tip or a sighting, you may wish to do a search for their phone number to help you determine if they are legitimate.  The white pages may also tell you where they live, so you can check out the area of the sighting.  Hopefully, your phone will tell you the number of the person who called you.  If not, check the number you have written down against internet listings to be sure you wrote it down correctly.  If you have a name, but the wrong number for some reason, you can often use the white pages and other resources to find the correct number.

Find out about all the organizations doing rescue work in your area.  You will want to get a flier to each one.  Research all the shelters, to make sure you haven’t overlooked one.  Search for feral cat trap-neuter-release programs because dogs on the run often find these feral cat feeding stations.  View online pictures of dogs recently turned in to the shelters.  If you have difficulty performing some of these internet tasks, get help from a friend who has an easier time doing these things.

Hopefully you still have a few signs left from step 7.  If not, you need to make a few more.  This technique is very effective.  It is just like those people who advertise for the mattress store or the cell phone store by twirling a sign.  If you and a few friends stand at a key intersection for a few hours, waving these signs, I would be very surprised if you didn’t get a lead on your dog’s location or heading.  Be sure to have a few fliers with you when you do this, to hand out to anyone who stops and is interested in helping.

Pick an intersection that will catch the most people going in and out of the area where your dog was last seen.  Many neighborhoods are designed with just one or two ways in and out, making it easy on you.  If you live in an endless grid of streets, with hundreds of ways to the point last seen, just pick the closest major intersection.  You want to wave your signs at a stop sign or stop light, so people have time to pay attention to your signs.  As stated above, be sure that your phone number can be read by someone driving by.  Choose a time of day near the time your dog was last seen.  If you don’t know when your dog escaped the yard, pick a time of day with the most traffic.  Be sure to keep all members of your party safe, out of the street, up on the sidewalk.  If children are helping, each child should be accompanied by an adult.  Turn your signs to catch the most eyes.  As the light changes, turn away from the lane that has emptied out, and toward the lane where new cars are filling in.  Ideally, you would have at least four people, one on each corner.  In a pinch, one person can do this.  If you have to do this sign waving by yourself, place three other signs on the other corners of the intersection, on stakes, or taped to the light pole.  If someone pulls over to give you a tip or a sighting, make sure to write everything down, including a contact phone number.  Ask for as much detail as possible, such as the exact address, exact time, and direction of travel.  I usually do these sign waving campaigns for two or three hours.  If the reported sighting is recent, then go immediately to check it out.  If the sighting is from a few days ago, perhaps your time would be better spent continuing to wave your signs than to rush to the scene of the old sighting.

Be prepared for a few people to be mean.  It’s fewer than one in one hundred, but people holding signs in this manner have had to deal with malicious people now and then.  Some people will tell you they saw your dog a few minutes ago, just a few blocks away.  You can usually spot the liars by asking more questions.  Most likely, it was a spur of the moment idea to pull this prank on you, and he won’t have thought of answers to detailed questions about the dog’s appearance or the exact location.

If you get absolutely no new tips from this technique, then come back and try it again on another day, at another time, or at another intersection.  Even if you get no reported sightings after spending three hours waving signs, you still have the benefit of raising awareness of your lost dog.  People will remember seeing you holding a sign for your dog, and they will think of you if they see your dog.  Also, you will at least have handed out a few fliers to some dog lovers who will help keep an eye out for your dog.

Some dogs are trained to follow the scent of a missing dog.  I would estimate there are fewer than one hundred dogs in the United States who are trained for this job.  Perhaps thousands of dogs are trained to find missing people, but those dogs are specifically trained to ignore the scent of dogs, so they can focus on people.  Trailing dogs that find dogs are specifically trained to ignore people and only search for the missing dog.

A scent trailing dog can be somewhat expensive, in some people’s view, and the search dog is not guaranteed to be successful.  (I am currently charging $300 to bring Tino out for a search lasting about three hours on average.  This is less than the cost of a typical vet visit.)   Kelsy, the Labrador retriever, searched for more than 350 dogs in her 8-year career.  She found about 20% of those dogs, in the sense that she followed the scent trail to the current location of the dog, or the dog’s remains.  She provided a direction of travel on over two-thirds of those cases.  Also, in over half of those cases, the missing dog had been picked up by someone before she ever started searching, so there was no dog to be found at the end of the scent trail.  Kelsy’s success rate is typical of dogs who search for humans, or perhaps a little better.  The search dog is only one tool, and not always the best.  When people hear of a dog that searches for lost dogs, many people think, “Great!  Come out and find my dog!”  It is rarely as simple or as easy as that.

Should you hire a search dog?  Should you invest the time and money in a technique that is not guaranteed to be successful?  I would if my dog were missing.  It covers an avenue of discovery that is not easily covered by other means.  Also, just because one method has a low chance of succeeding doesn’t mean you should not try it.  For example, if there are one hundred houses in your neighborhood, then there is only a one percent chance your dog will be at a particular house.  It is statistically unlikely that you will find your dog at any particular house you look at.  Does that mean you shouldn’t look?  Of course not.  It means you need to look at all one hundred houses to improve your odds of finding your dog.  Likewise, the use of a search dog is unlikely to lead you to the exact current location of your dog, but it is a method you might want to try, to make sure you cover that possibility.  When Kelsy found the dogs she found, it was highly unlikely they would have been found by other means.  One dog, Charlie, was completely hidden in a patch of brambles, invisible from the street.  The owner could have walked by him all day long and never have known he was there.  When Kelsy found the remains of a dog, the evidence was nearly invisible and easy to overlook.  That key evidence would likely have never been found, if not for Kelsy’s nose, and the owners would never have known what happened to Cookie.  They could have checked the shelters, waved posters, and done everything else on this list, but they would not have discovered what happened to Cookie without taking the step of hiring the search dog.

To help you decide if the search dog is best for your circumstances, the list below tells you the conditions and situations where a search dog is most useful:

  • When you have a scent article that is uncontaminated. A search dog usually needs some article that has your dog’s scent, such as a collar or a bed that she slept on.  It works best if the missing dog was the only pet who touched that article.  I will not come out to do a search, usually, if the only scent articles smell like another dog or cat in the house as well.  Theoretically, a dog can be trained to smell a scent article with the scent of multiple animals, then smell all the animals who are not lost, and then search for the dog that is missing.  It’s hard enough to train a dog to follow a scent trail with a good, uncontaminated scent article, and I have not had the time or the patience to train Kelsy to figure out which scents belong to the missing and which scents she should ignore, when a scent article has the scent of multiple pets.
  • When your dog was last seen less than 48 hours ago. Ideally, the search dog would start on the scent trail within a few hours.  That almost never happens, as it takes a while for the dog owner to learn that a search dog is even an option.  The oldest scent trail that has been documented as being followed successfully was thirteen days old.  Practically speaking, if you are thirteen days behind the dog you are looking for, you could be on the right scent trail all day long and never get any closer.  Scent is strongest when it is freshest, and the viability and practicality of a scent trail diminish rapidly over time.  If the last sighting is over two days old, you are usually better off trying to generate a fresh sighting, and then starting the search dog on a fresher trail.
  • When the missing dog is of a type and a personality that it is unlikely she would be picked up by anyone. Cute little friendly dogs are usually picked up by the first person they meet, so the scent trail would be very short.  Bigger dogs who like adventure, or who are skittish of strangers, are more likely to keep running, leaving a scent trail that can be followed.
  • When the weather is cool and moist. Hot, dry, windy conditions dissipate the scent, making it very difficult for the trailing dog.  If your dog is missing in the hottest part of the summer, it would be better to do the search in the cool hours of the early morning, or not at all.

Hiring a search dog is not a substitute for the other tasks in this booklet.  You might get lucky and have the search dog be the one successful method, but this is statistically unlikely.  If your dog is at the shelter, in someone’s home, or ten days and dozens of miles ahead of the search dog, then a search dog is not going to be the answer.  A search dog is best used in conjunction with all the other methods of finding your dog.

There are companies that will take the information about your missing dog, and call a fixed number of people who live around the point last seen.  Usually, the price increases as you call more people.  I have had good luck with a company called  That is, they seem to be effective in the sense that people actually get the message.  I have been on searches where I ran into people who said, “I know about this dog because I got the call from”  If you look on their web site, you will see that more than half of the dogs they called about were eventually found.  This does not necessarily mean that they were found because of  Based on what I know, I think it is less effective than large neon posters.  It could make a difference, and I know it does work sometimes.  I have had experience with other similar companies that claim they will call people, and it appears they did not.  Some of those companies keep changing names, so it is difficult to keep track.  If my dog were missing, I would use one of these services, just to be sure to cover all the bases.  I haven’t seen hard data one way or the other to say if it is highly effective, marginally useful, or a waste of time and money.  It is something I keep looking at to try to determine how effective it really is. Please note: if one of these companies contacts you through your craigslist ad and offers their services, avoid them.  It is clearly unethical, a violation of craigslist rules, for companies to target you this way.  If they are unethical in the way they go after customers, you shouldn’t trust them to spend your money wisely.

This technique is only effective if you have actually located your dog, but it can be the most important thing for you to know.  If you see your dog, your first instinct will be to call his name and move toward him.  You might even start to chase him, if you are like most people.  This is likely to make him harder to catch.  Instead, you should use calming signals.  These are behaviors that dogs use on each other to calm each other down.  Turid Rugaas has written a book on Calming Signals, and it is the best one that I know of.  I highly recommend it, even if your dog isn’t missing.

If you see your dog, stop moving.  Look to the side.  Act as if you don’t know he is there.  If he is food motivated, crinkle a bag of treats or rattle a food dish.  Then “accidentally” drop some food and move a few steps away.  If he comes toward the food, keep this up until he gets close to you on his own.  Once he gets fully into your scent plume, and sees that you are calm and non-threatening, he should come right up to you and become his old self.

Another technique you can use is to lie flat on your back on the ground.  Most often, a dog will run right up to you if you do this.  You can also run away from the dog, and he will chase after you.  Don’t make eye contact, and don’t make any sudden movements toward your dog.  If your dog likes another dog in particular, such as a dog he lives with or plays with, then turn away from your dog and call the name of that other dog that he likes.  He will probably run up behind you to see why you are calling that other dog.  There are other calming signals you can use, such as yawning and licking your lips.  The important thing to remember is, if anything you are doing causes your dog to start moving away, then stop doing that, immediately.

If your dog likes other dogs, and he is not coming to the calming signals above, then you may want to attract him with another friendly dog, or a dog he knows.  This should be a friendly, wiggly, happy dog that never snarls or snaps.  If your dog likes dogs, and if you have the right kind of dog available, then take the friendly dog, on leash, to an area where your missing dog can see her.  Focus all your attention on the friendly dog and ignore your dog.  Give treats to the friendly dog or play with a ball.  If this is going to work, then your dog will come up to try to get some of the treats or play with the ball.  If it won’t work, you haven’t lost anything.  Don’t let your friendly dog off leash.  Sometimes a too-friendly dog can chase away a lost dog that is too stressed.

If you have reason to believe your dog is in a certain area, set up a camera and a feeding station to confirm his presence.  You can also use a camera in conjunction with a humane trap, to see how your dog is reacting to the trap.  If you are trying to narrow down the location of your dog, you might deploy multiple wildlife cameras.

I have had the best luck with cameras from Moultrie, Bushnell, and Spypoint.  It is weatherproof and durable.  The batteries can last for months.  The flash is infrared, invisible, so it won’t scare away your dog.  You can buy them online or find them at stores that sell sporting goods.  Set the camera about 6 to 10 feet from the feeding station or trap.  If the location is someplace where your camera is likely to be stolen, use a ladder to mount the camera high on a pole, looking down.  People never look up, for one thing.  Also, the casual thief isn’t going to have a ladder handy just in case he wants to steal a camera mounted on a pole.  Check your camera every day.  Adjust the angle or the location if you aren’t getting anything.  Be sure to follow all the directions that come with the camera.  You can get a camera that sends a picture to your cell phone within minutes, which is very handy and helpful.

Some dogs won’t come to their owners, even if they have known them for years, and love them madly.  When in a flight situation, some dogs simply have too much anxiety to allow themselves to come to their owners.  If you are not the owner of the missing dog, then a humane trap might become even more necessary.  I have caught many dogs in humane traps, and never had an injury yet.  Be sure to get one the right size.  If the trap is too small, the dog won’t go in, and if it’s too big, he may not weigh enough to trigger the release mechanism on the trap door.  I have had very good results with TruCatch traps, and I prefer them over other brands.  If you get to a point where it looks like a humane trap will be necessary, I suggest you consult with someone who has experience in setting traps for dogs.  Of course, you can always set up a humane trap and hope it works.  There are too many variables for me to say what trapping methods work best without knowing the details for the terrain, the dog, and the circumstances.  If you set the trap wrong, or in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, or if you use the wrong size, you could blow your best chance of catching your dog.  Once a dog learns what a humane trap is, he is unlikely to go in one a second time.  It really needs to be done right the first time.

A simple trap that anyone can use is an open car door.  Simply pull ahead of the lost dog on the run, pull over, open the rear passenger door, and sit quietly.  Many dogs will hop right in.  If your dog comes to the door and hesitates, don’t look at him or call his name.  Watch him in the side view mirror.  If you see him hesitate, just softly say, “Let’s go,” or whatever it is you usually say when you take your dog for a ride.  I have seen this work when a humane trap would not work.  You can also use this technique if you see an unknown stray dog trotting down the street, and you want to help him get home safely.

On rare occasions, you may want to use your house as a trap.  Some dogs keep returning home, but run from people, either because of their personalities, or because of a frightening experience.  If your dog keeps coming home and running away, leave a door open with a string tied to it to pull it shut.  Sit somewhere away from the door, where your dog can comfortably get to some food without worrying about what you are doing.  When he starts to eat, pull the door shut.

In conclusion, you should invest at least as much time and effort finding your dog as you did keeping him healthy with vet visits, food, and medicines.  I would do whatever it took, however long it took, however much it cost to find my missing dog.  Many people give up because they think there is nothing they can do.  Now that you have read this, you know there is a great deal you can do to find your dog.   The odds are in your favor when you prepare many avenues for your dog to come home.