Lost Dog - How to Cope With Every Dog Owner’s Worst Nightmare

What to do if You Lost a Dog

Leave no stone, piece of furniture, cardboard box or loose board unturned in the home, garage or yard before accepting that you have a lost dog and your worst nightmare has become a reality. Dogs, especially small dogs, can get themselves into the darnedest places.

Check closets, even if the doors are closed, under beds, under furniture and under the laundry in the laundry basket.

After every possible, or seemingly impossible, hiding place has been eliminated it is time to accept that you have a lost dog.

Do not despair. Even though your dog is lost and you are forced to cope with every dog owner’s worst nightmare, there are many resources designed to help you cope. There is no need to go at it alone, and you certainly should not try to.

It is time to rally the troops and begin the exhaustive search down every avenue!

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Lost Dog: How to Cope With Every Dog Owner’s Worst Nightmare

How to Find a Lost Dog

Start Close to Home

Talk to everyone living in the house to determine when the dog was last seen. Knowing approximately when the dog was lost will help give you an estimated search area radius.

While many dogs can travel quite far before people even know they are lost, most will wander and explore in their own neighborhood for a while. He may still be very close to home.

Make Sure He Isn’t Just Visiting

Contact the neighbors to make sure the dog isn’t there. Dogs often make friends with their owner’s neighbors. If a neighbor saw the dog loose, they may have taken him in. He may be enjoying a friendly visit with the neighbor instead of beginning that lost-dog nightmare that every dog owner dreads.

If the dog isn’t with the neighbor, enlist their help. Many neighbors have dogs of their own. They will likely recognize that their worst nightmare is coming true for you and want to help in any way they can.

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Where to look for a lost dog

Comb the Neighborhood

Before you assume the worst – thinking your beloved furry friend has begun his worst nightmare at the dog pound – grab his leash and go for a walk. Be sure to take his favorite dog treat with you and reward him when you find him.

Do not yell at him or punish him. If he has been gone for more than ten or fifteen minutes, he will not make the connection. He will associate the punishment with letting you find and catch him.

Appeal to his Sense of Fun

Drive the car around the neighborhood, calling for the lost dog out of an open window. Some dogs love to run and, rather than viewing the situation as their owner’s worst nightmare, may be loving their “new-found freedom.” To him this may be nothing worse than a thrilling excursion, giving the lost dog an opportunity to explore all those lovely scents that he has only gotten a brief whiff of until now.

The lost dog may not be in a hurry to return home to his owner. He may even try to avoid you when he sees you walking toward him. Almost all dogs love to ride in cars, though. The car may be just the ticket to bringing your lost dog home and ending the nightmare as soon as it begins.

When you see him, simply open the door and ask him if he wants to go for a ride. Chances are he will be safe and sound in the back seat of your car in 1.2 seconds. Remember to reward him. Take him for that ride around the block before taking him back home.

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Why dogs get lost and how to find them

Eliminate a Scary Possibility

Drive the car along any nearby busy roads that your lost dog may have crossed. As unpleasant as this possible nightmare outcome is, you need to make sure your lost dog hasn’t been hit by a car.

Check ditches and the area on either side of the road to make sure he isn’t laying there in need of veterinary care.

Utilize All Lost-Dog Resources

Contact local rescue organizations if you don’t find your lost dog on your own within a few hours. They understand that you are going through every dog owner’s worst nightmare and want to help you cope with the situation. Start with the local animal control department or dog pound.

Call nearby dog and animal rescue organizations like the Animal Protective League (APL) and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Call the smaller organizations, too. Many cities have smaller animal rescue groups.

Check on-line listings and the local telephone book. Tell them you are the owner of a lost dog and about what time your worst nightmare began. They will need to know the dog’s breed, size and color. Let them know if he has been microchipped.

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Tips for finding a lost dog

Spread the Word

Make up flyers to post around the neighborhood. Put a recent photo of the lost dog on the flyer along with a description of him. Indicate whether the dog is male or female. If you can only do black and white copies, be sure to list the color of his fur on the flyer.

List your phone number as the owner of the lost dog and ask anyone who has seen him to call you with information that can help end your worst nightmare.

Hang the flyers in grocery store lobbies, at veterinarian’s offices, the lobby of the Public Library and in any other public place where flyers are allowed. Lampposts in public places with lots of foot traffic and dog parks are great spots for lost dog flyers.

Take them to the local police station so the officers can keep an eye out for the lost dog when they go on patrol. Distribute the flyers to the local animal rescue groups and animal control, too.

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Give Your Resources a Chance

After exhausting all of these resources, the waiting begins. This is the worst part of being a lost-dog owner. The feeling that the situation is hopeless and there is nothing more you can do begins to sink in.

It is not easy to cope with every dog owner’s worst nightmare but cope you must. Do not give up hope. Keep your phone on and with you at all times. Continue to drive or walk around the area a few times each day for the next few days.

Call for the dog every once in a while so he knows you’re looking for him if he is within earshot. Phone animal control and the animal rescue groups every few days to let them know the dog is still missing.

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Lost Dogs - How to Cope With Every Dog Owner’s Worst Nightmare

Continue to Keep Watch

Lost dogs will often return on their own. You may be surprised in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning, by that naughty little furry face at your door looking so happy to see you. If you are blessed with such good fortune, do not punish him.

Reward him for coming home.

Remember, if you yell at him or punish him, he will associate the punishment with coming home. In his mind that means – running around the neighborhood, good; coming home, bad. Be sure to let animal control and the animal rescue groups know that he has returned home.

Begin to Accept the Loss

As the weeks turn into months, you may need to cope with the worst possible outcome of every dog owner’s worst nightmare. You hear about dogs being reunited with their owners years after they are lost but it is important to be realistic. That rarely happens.

There is no harm in continuing to check with the local animal control department and animal rescue groups every few weeks, though, at least for a few months. As long as they know your lost dog is still missing, they can watch for him and return him to you if they find him.

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Reannan has enjoyed the companionship of dogs her whole life. She bred, raised and showed cocker spaniels for a while but has owned a variety of different types of dogs, ranging from bulldogs to mutts. She worked in the private sector for 30 years. Now she devotes her time to writing and sharing knowledge about dog ownership and care.