What To Do If You’ve Lost a Dog

Call Shelters

If you’ve lost your dog, contact local animal shelters within a 50-60 mile radius. File a lost dog report and check in regularly. Go to the shelter, in person, as often as you can to check if your dog has been turned in. Do not trust others to “make a match” from a verbal description. Check our list of northern Virginia’s shelters. (Note: SPCA NOVA does not take in stray dogs from the street.)


If your dog is microchipped, contact the microchip company to report the loss and to make sure your contact information is up to date.


How much searching you should do, depends on the progress of the search. For the first day or so, walk around your neighborhood calling your dogs name; also drive around your neighborhood calling for your dog. An open car door maybe very tempting to a dog conditioned to “go for a ride”. Once the flyers are up (day 2 and on), your job will be to map the sightings to determine the best search area. Enlist the help of your friends, neighbors, co-workers.

Advertise Locally

The flyer should include your dog’s name, a photo, and a brief description including color, size, breed, sex, date the dog was lost and contact information where someone can reach you or a friend at any time. If your dog is afraid of strangers, be sure to note not to call or chase the dog. If possible, offer a reward, but don’t list a specific amount.

You may also want to omit a unique characteristic of your pet to verify the honesty of anyone who calls claiming to have found them. Use sheet protectors (with opening at the bottom) so they can withstand the weather.

Post the flyers in your neighborhood, at local stores, area public bulletin boards, dog parks and veterinary offices. Just be aware of posting laws so you don’t waste time and effort on a sign that will be removed. Hand deliver them to your neighbors. Buy ad space in a newspaper.

Another option to consider is paying for a robocalling service that sends out calls to your neighbors to notify them of the lost dog.

Make Your Flyers Stand Out

If you’re posting flyers at intersections, keep in mind that drivers will only have a few seconds to see it. Make sure the posters are big and bright to catch their attention. Choose just a few keywords to stand out (e.g. “LOST DOG” and “SMALL BLACK CHIHUAHUA”) and make the photo prominent.

Advertise Online

Post on Craigslist, Nextdoor, the Center for Lost PetsLost Dogs of AmericaLost Pet USAMissing Pet Partnership, and social media sites like Facebook.

Beware of Scams

Consider leaving off an identifying feature from the flyer. If talking to a stranger who claims to have your dog, ask for a thorough description. If they don’t note the identifying feature, be wary. Also be wary of anyone who demands money for the return of your dog.

Sighting Map

As sightings of your pet come in, be sure to document everything (location, time, date, cross streets, direction traveling & any other important details) as well as the name of the person & their contact info. It will be useful to develop a sighting map.

Search Range

The size and fitness of your dog will help determine the initial scope of your search. Big strong dogs, especially young ones, can run 5 miles or more. Small or older dogs may be able to go half a mile at most. Most dogs are recovered well within a two-mile circle of their home, especially because they normally will never run for an extended length in a straight line no matter how strong or fast they are. Since dogs spend a lot of time outside think about their favorite spots and check those first.

Other Lost Pet Resources

Consider contacting a company that specializes in finding lost pets. For example Pure Gold Pet Trackers.

Don’t Give Up

Many pets are found weeks or months after they disappear. Keep looking in those same old spots, calling and listening. Try new spots, enlarge your search-area. Your pet has to be somewhere, so don’t give up too soon.

When You Find Your Dog

Go around and collect up all of your old flyers. Thank everybody who has helped you.