If your dog goes missing

It’s devastating when a beloved family pet goes missing; most people don’t know what to do, or where to start. A workman fails to close a gate securely; a child leaves a door open; or visitor not accustomed to being vigilant allows a skittish pet to slip out the front door. One Track Mind provides valuable tips on exactly how to go about using time and resources most wisely and efficiently to locate your lost pet.

The first 24-48 hours are the most critical, and the effort you put in during this critical time will dramatically increase the likelihood that you will recover your pet safely.  However, searches can go on much longer than this time period in many cases. It is NEVER too late to begin searching for your lost pet!  Most lost pets do survive; they are incredibly resourceful and can usually find sources of water, food and shelter.

Even if your dog was lost from an unfamiliar area, approximately 80% of lost dogs stay within 1.5 miles of where they went missing (even if this location is hundreds of miles from their home).  Using that probability, concentrate on this area first.


Lost Dog Action Plan

If you can do this safely and there are no other pets or small children to worry about, prop open any gates, and even front doors, so that the lost dog can easily return to the garden and home if he so chooses.


STOP doing laundry and cleaning your yard; you will want to preserve all “scent material” which may become important if tracking the lost dog is required, not washing your pet’s bedding, harness or favorite soft toy, scent is the most powerful sense to an animal, and these scent items can be used, place items in individual ziplock bags and store in a cool, dark area away from any strong smelling items eg, washing powder or cooking.

Find a good quality photo of your dog, PREFERABLY one with your pet in a standing or walking position – this photo may be used for lost dog flyers.

Search your home and garden – are you sure your dog isn’t just hiding?  Nervous dogs can hide in shockingly small areas when frightened.  Do a thorough search and don’t forget to look around any outbuildings, garages, in and around shrubs, etc.

Set up food and water (we call this a “feeding station”) on your garden. If your dog his hiding close by, this food and water can draw him back.  Refresh the food at least once a day, preferably twice during hot weather.

Assemble your helpers!  Notify all responsible adults, even teens, in your family – recruit close friends or neighbours to assist in the search.  This is not the time to be shy – don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Conduct a search on foot or by car.  Package up some smelly snacks (not kibble or dry dog treats – make it good!) in a zip lock bag.  Begin walking or driving your neighborhood SLOWLY, looking closely in other gardens.  One Track Mind in general discourages rigorous ground searches with large teams because their presence may cause a frightened dog to flee the area.  However, if there is any belief or indication that the animal may be sick or injured (ie, dog is geriatric, disabled, was seen hit by a car or was in an traffic accident), then a careful, quiet grid search is highly advised in case the dog is not able to move.

Do not have people calling out the dogs name – calling, clapping or whistling can trigger a panicked flight response in a dog and can be counterproductive. The search party should merely search and, when the animal is spotted, notify the owner of the exact location.

If your dog is located, the first priority is to keep the dog calm and do nothing that could drive him into a roadway or other dangerous area.  The owner should proceed quickly to the scene with a favorite toy, treats, and a slip lead (or carrier, in the case of small dogs).  Once on scene, we recommend that the owner sit down, slightly angled away from the dog. The owner should begin talking softly just so the dog can hear their voice and identify them as familiar.  Whenever possible, allow the dog to approach the owner.  Try not to make any rapid movement or gestures.

If your dog is microchipped, call your microchip company and report him missing! If your dog is a rescue, the organisation you adopted your dog from should be able to tell you the name of the microchip company they use, their phone number, and, your dogs microchip number if you can’t find it.

Online and Social Media Sites

Not a big computer user?  Not on social media?  That’s ok – recruit a family member, child, grandchild, friend or neighbour to handle this part of the work.  Don’t skip it!  Many people communicate about lost and found pets on these sites; don’t miss this opportunity to communicate about or search for your lost dog!

Search for your dog, AND post your dog.  Remember that a finder may not accurately guess the breed of your dog so search by other key words instead of just breed. Also, beware of colour – you may consider your dog to be “tan”, but someone who may have already found your dog may have listed her as “buff”, “yellow” or “gold”, many different lost pet sites can be found on Facebook.


NOTHING takes the place of basic paper flyers, posted all over your neighbourhood!  

Even if you have posted online and searched all of those posts, you are typically only reaching “pet people” who are active in the animal community.  This means that all others who do not have pets and do not follow pet issues will never know you are searching for a pet!  Paper flyers will reach moms out for a stroll with babies or toddlers; fitness walkers; people passing casually through a neighbourhood; seniors; and kids playing in the neighbourhood.

We recommend that you place flyers in a ½ mile radius from where your dog went missing immediately, at least within the first 24 hours.

If you and three immediate family members conduct a ground search, that will be 4 of you looking for your dog; if you put up 100 flyers and each one is seen by 10 people, that will be 1,000 people helping to look for your dog!!

Flyers should be eye catching, simple, printed in colour, contain a clear picture, minimal wording, and have the phone number of someone who will answer their phone 24/7 and will be extremely thorough about keeping a log of all sightings called in. We suggest placing them in sheet protectors to protect the signs somewhat from inclement weather. Remember WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN.  Be sure to promptly remove posters after your dog is found; this will make things easier for other families to do the same in the future


 Council Stray Kennels

Check for posts of dogs that come into local vets or stray kennels via the dog warden, but nothing takes the place of walking the kennels in person.  Be sure to ask staff how you can see ALL animals in their care, including those who are not in the public view (dogs deemed sick, injured or dangerous).  Be sure to bring a copy of your flyer with you.

Online Maps

If you, or a friend or family member are comfortable with Google Maps or other online mapping programs, study an aerial view of the area two miles from where your dog went missing.  Search for canals, walking paths, wooded areas, other bodies of water, and other possible hiding places.  Seeing an aerial view of the area will help you to consider where else to look.  It will also be very helpful if you get sighting calls and the caller is vague with their description of the location they saw your dog.  Knowing the area ahead of time will expedite your response time.

About Drones…

Drones MAY be helpful but most drone pilots do not have night vision technology on their drones, and many lost dogs are most active after dark.  They also may be flying at a height where it would be difficult to locate a smaller moving object.  There is no harm in using a drone if you have access to one, but be sure the pilot doesn’t fly too low once the pet is spotted, which could spook the animal from the area.

Lost Dog Tracking

One Track Mind offers a professional lost dog tracking service. Tracking the specific scent of the lost dog can provide useful information such as establishing a direction of travel and/ or highlighting an area that the lost dog may be settled in for shelter or food. The sooner you call us the more viable the scent left by the missing dog will be. The cost of this service varies due to milage and time involved in each individual case.