Category Archives: Friendly Lost Dog Strategies

Tips and articles on how to capture a friendly dog.

Your Friendly Dog Has Gone Missing! What Now? – Part 1 of a Series

Rollie, your  friendly dog is missing. He was in the fenced backyard sniffing around and enjoying himself while you just stepped inside for a minute to get a cup of coffee. The phone rang and you were longer than you meant to be. When you came back out he was nowhere to be seen. Then you saw it, the side gate was open. It must have blown open in the wind last night! Rollie must have used the opportunity to check out the neighborhood.

Rollie fits the profile of an opportunistic dog. You may never know what happened in those few minutes when Rollie escaped, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is what you do next. Quick action will help you recover Rollie safely and the following series of articles is designed to help you find a friendly dog that took an opportunity to go for an adventure.

First things first, you need to check out our 5 Things To Do If You Have Lost Your Dog and get those steps underway. Keep food, water, his bed and familiar scented articles at the spot where he went missing from for the entire duration of his adventure. Many of these dogs do return on their own. Especially if they aren’t being chased and driven out of the area.

Contact all of the correct authorities – police, shelters, animal control facilities and then get busy printing your flyers and signs.  You need to go door to door with your flyers as soon as possible. Somebody, somewhere, has seen something. You might talk to 99 people that haven’t seen anything. But you are looking for the one person that has seen something. Has somebody seen your dog in their yard or did they see a vehicle stop and pick your dog up?

Three things will generally happen to the opportunistic dog:

  1. He will get picked up by a Good Samaritan who doesn’t want to see him hit by a car. Depending on the Good Samaritan’s actions: he may be reunited; taken to a shelter, animal control facility or rescue;  rehomed or kept by the finder.
  2. He will wander far outside  the owner’s original search area and start to live on his own (survival mode); eventually ending up at a farm, business or house where somebody either recognizes and reunites him; takes him to an animal control facility, shelter or rescue; rehomes him or keeps him.
  3. He will be picked up by the police or animal control and taken to a facility. Keep in mind that he may end up far outside the jurisdiction area of the local shelter and may be in the next county or the next state in a very short time.

Okay, now that we know the possible outcomes, let’s go through them step by step to try to maximize your chances of finding Rollie.

Continue on to part 2

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of  successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.


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Did Your Lost Dog Get Picked Up By a Good Samaritan? Part 2 of a Series

Immediately put a sign in front of your house to alert neighbors and passersby that your dog is missing.

The first thing we need to do is clearly define the difference between a dog that is “picked up” and one that is stolen.  A picked up dog is one that was lost or perceived to be lost and a Good Samaritan took the dog to keep it out of harm’s way. Very few dogs are actually stolen. Stealing involves a person who commits a crime of  intent by illegally entering your house, yard or vehicle and taking your dog. There is a big difference because the motive is different.  We will cover the stolen dogs in a future article. But now let’s get back to the dog that was picked up by a well-meaning passerby.

The type of dog most likely to get picked up is the small, friendly dog lost in an urban or suburban area. They may get picked up within minutes of going missing, especially if they are seen near a busy road.

Larger, friendly dogs may get picked up but are more likely to have traveled a farther distance before they do. Many people are wary of larger dogs, or they don’t have a vehicle large enough to put them in, or they are transporting children or their own pets. It is simply easier to pick up a small dog than a large one.

First and foremost, you must understand that the Good Samaritan meant well. But now the guessing game of understanding human behavior begins.  Here is a little quiz.  Let’s see if you can tell which of these scenarios will most often end up in a happy reunion.

The finder thinks:

  1. Somebody has lost their dog and I must try to find his owner.
  2. Somebody has dumped this dog or lost him out of negligence and I must rescue him. They don’t deserve him back and I will keep him or give him to Aunt Mary who really needs a nice little dog for company.
  3. I’m in a hurry and I can’t keep this dog  so I will take it to a shelter (or vet clinic) that is in the town where I work.
  4.  I can’t keep this dog but I don’t want to take it to the local shelter because they don’t have a good reputation, so I will take it to a better shelter or rescue where the dog can be adopted to a new home.
  5. I can’t keep this dog so I will research which is the correct shelter, stray holding facility or animal control facility that services this area and take him there.
  6. I will wait and see if the owners post signs and flyers and then I might give him back. If I don’t see any signs or flyers, they mustn’t really want him so I will keep him or give him away.
  7. I will wait to see if the owners offer a reward and then I will turn him over.

If you guessed numbers 1 and 5  you are correct. Finders who proactively look for owners, and dogs taken to the animal control facility, stray holding facility or shelter that serves the area where the dog was lost are the dogs that are most likely to be reunited with their owners. Educating the public about this is a large part of what we do.

But as you can see from the other options, there is a lot of human emotion in play. We see a lot of the “wait and see” method. The lesson we have learned  is that it doesn’t matter which scenario played out. The key to getting your dog home is to generate sightings by using flyers and signs. You must “convince” the finder that you are desperately looking for your dog. If the finder has decided to keep your dog you will either make them feel guilty by the amazing search you are conducting or a neighbor will “rat them out” by noticing that they have a new dog that looks just like the one on the flyer.

Put a sign in your yard as soon as possible. If the Good Samaritan was merely driving by and doesn’t live in the area, he may drive by again, checking for signs.  Do the legwork of going door to door with your flyers. Talk to everyone you see.

Use intersection signs at strategic locations throughout the area. They are an invaluable tool to alert the neighborhood that your dog is missing.

File a lost dog report and leave a flyer with your local police station and your animal control facility. Do the same for every vet clinic, animal shelter and rescue in a 50 mile radius. (You may need to expand this) Create a paper trail showing that you are actively searching for your dog. This may be invaluable if there is a question about ownership.

Use traditional and social media and Craigslist to get the word out. Put an ad in your local newspaper and call your local radio station. Remember that not everybody has a computer.

Look at the map. Where does the road go that you suspect that your dog was picked up on? Think about the traffic patterns, the commuters and the places of employment nearby. Get flyers out to those towns and places.  You will find many other suggestions for generating sightings on our website.  Print hundreds of flyers and use them. They don’t do any good sitting in a stack on the kitchen table.

Quickly spreading the word is the number one way that a small friendly lost dog will be reunited. Get going now!

Continue onto part 3

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of  successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.
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The Happy Wanderer – Part 3 of a Series


Do you remember that old song from Girl Scout camp, the Happy Wanderer? “I love to go a-wandering, Along the mountain track, And as I go, I love to sing, My knapsack on my back.”

This is often the scenario played out by the friendly, opportunistic large dog, or a friendly small dog in an unpopulated area. They took the opportunity to go for a wander, smelling new smells, maybe chasing chipmunks and rabbits; but they never gave a moment’s notice that they forgot to bring the map.

As we discussed in Part 2, the chance that the small friendly dog got picked up quite early in his adventure is very high.

But today, we are going to talk about the larger friendly dog that was having a good time but ended up a long ways from home. (In particular, think hounds, labs, huskies, spaniels, setters, pointers, German shepherds and other working and sporting breeds). Whereas, shy lost dogs will often stay within a five mile radius of where they went missing, friendly lost dogs may travel in a linear fashion, zig zagging across the countryside.

These dogs may find their way back home IF you give them a helping hand by leaving food, their bed, and familiar scented articles out for them at the place they went missing from. Do this the entire time they are gone. Refresh the food daily with new smelly canned dog or cat food or some leftovers you are having. Dogs return by scent, not by sight or sound. So that same nose that led him away, may lead him back.

But you don’t want to rely on that, because there are far too many other scenarios that could have occurred.

  1.  He could have gotten chased by people who thought he was “just a stray” and  didn’t want him in their yard or farmyard.
  2. He may be seen but be assumed to be a wandering farm dog and nobody calls in the sightings.
  3. He could have crossed a river or a bridge and can’t figure out his way back.
  4. He could have been picked up by a Good Samaritan, animal control or the police across a state, county or jurisdiction line and have ended up in a shelter, animal control facility or stray holding facility many, many miles away.
  5. He may have found a food source or some friendly doggy companions at a farm and decided to stay awhile. In our experience, most farmers won’t proactively look for an owner, but will let them hang out as long as they aren’t causing trouble or chasing livestock.
  6. He may do this numerous times, staying somewhere for a few days, then moving on again.
  7. He will eventually end up at a farm, business, or backyard or driveway of somebody who decides to either proactively look for the owner, turn him in, or keep or rehome him.

If they decide to proactively look for an owner or take him to the correct stray holding facility for the area, great! Except that by this time, the owner may have given up or they may not be looking in the right spot. Compound that with the problem that many of these larger friendly breeds look alike (think black lab or yellow lab) and it becomes even tougher to find your dog.

What can you do?

Do everything listed on our Five Things to Do If You Have Lost Your Dog flyer, our Action Plan and then include the following:

  1. Expand your flyering area quickly. Start with a 50 mile radius and then expand to 100 miles. Enlist friends and family to help you. You may want to use an automated calling service or the USPS mailing service called “Every Door Direct Mail” to help you. Check out our Generating Sightings pdf on this website for more ideas. When you get a sighting – go in and heavily re-flyer that area.
  2. Place a yard sign in your own yard.
  3. Place ads in your local newspaper and surrounding newspapers. Many small newspapers are owned by larger companies that can target many communities with one ad. Place an ad with the local radio station also.
  4. Assign a couple of Facebook and tech savvy friends to post on as many different social media sites as possible. Make sure you include a picture and contact information! Many neighborhoods, on line newspapers, vet clinics, pet supply stores, restaurants and bars have Facebook pages. It is an easy and free way to spread the word.
  5. Use intersection signs at strategic locations to catch the eye of the highest number of motorists.
  6. Check Google satellite photos for paths he could be traveling on – railroad tracks, jogging and hiking trails, old logging roads, etc.
  7. Do not limit your thinking with geographical boundaries – “he wouldn’t have crossed that river, or that busy freeway.”  Chances are he did and he will.
  8. If you have a familiar looking dog (lab, golden retriever, etc), don’t be afraid to disclose specific details on your flyer. What color collar was he wearing? Distinguishing birthmarks, size, etc. You will need the help of the community and animal shelters to identify him.
  9. Check out every possible lead even if it seems impossibly far away. Never underestimate the distance your dog can travel. Don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t recognize you at first or doesn’t perform specific behaviors. The stress of being on his own and/or a shelter can alter behavior.
  10. The longer your dog is missing and the more often he is chased,  the more likely it is that he will go into “survival” mode. Please refer to our series of articles on capturing a shy, elusive dog.

We can tell you numerous stories of dogs that have gone hundreds of miles and been recovered. Don’t give up! Your dog is out there relying on you to find him and bring him home.

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands of successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.
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Navigating the Maze of Stray Holding Facilities

Your dog has gone missing and there is a good chance that he has ended up in an animal control facility or stray holding facility. This article will help you understand how the system works and will help maximize your chances of locating your dog.

Remember though, that every state has different laws and procedures, so you will need to familiarize yourself with your local area.

Dogs are considered property in all fifty states and most states have some sort of “Stray Hold” law that is designed to give an owner a chance to reclaim their dog. This may be as short as three days or as long as seven days.

Most municipalities will assign a “stray contract” with an entity in their community to house the “strays” until the owner reclaims them.  These are the ONLY facilities that should be housing lost dogs. Rescues should not be accepting or housing lost dogs unless they hold the contract for your area. When they accept lost dogs without the contract, it adds another layer of confusion to the system, and is one more barrier to getting lost pets back home.

Many different terms may be used to describe facilities which also add to the confusion. It may be called the pound, an impound facility, a stray holding facility, an animal control facility, an animal shelter, or a humane society. It may have SPCA attached to the name, although this does not mean it is connected with the national organization, the ASPCA.   Vet clinics, boarding kennels, town offices and police stations may also house lost dogs. Stray holding facilities may be a private business, a non-profit organization or a totally government run organization. Regardless, the animal control contract is paid for with tax payer dollars that compensate the facility for impounding and housing your dog while he is lost.  You have a right to know how your tax dollars are being spent and how the system works! These services are also subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests if you run into problems.

The stray holding facility can be an elaborate large central animal shelter with all the bells and whistles of modern technology. These facilities may also operate as a humane society and will adopt your dog out if you don’t reclaim him in time.  Or,  it may be a garage or small kennel on the back of somebody’s property. The stray contract may be held by somebody that doesn’t have a cell phone or microchip scanner; let alone a computer with internet service to help get the word out that they have your dog.

It is your responsibility to advocate for your lost dog and make yourself aware of all the different stray holding possibilities in your area. Check with your local town offices and police and sheriff’s departments for a list. You will want to expand this, as time lapses. Your dog may being held several counties away and you will only have a very short time to locate and reclaim him. Leave no stone unturned!

Dogs that come off of “Stray Hold” are either made available for adoption at the facility, transferred to another rescue or shelter for adoption, or euthanized. We cannot stress enough that time is of the essence and you may want to enlist some friends or family to help you scan the websites, make the phone calls necessary and personally visit all of the facilities in your area. Don’t limit yourself to your county. Remember, dogs walk. They can easily end up in another county, state, or jurisdiction and sad to say, there is not any internal cross-sharing of information between the facilities. Just because you file a lost dog report at one place, doesn’t mean that they share it with the others. In fact, that rarely happens, if at all. It is not uncommon for there to be dozens of stray holding facilities in one county and you will need to check them all!

This lack of information sharing has been the biggest hurdle for the lost pet problem. There isn’t a “central clearing house” for lost pets, like there is for lost children. There are many reasons for this, and it is something that the animal welfare world will need to work towards if shelter deaths in this country are going to decline.  Two years after this blog was written, Lost Dogs Illinois partnered with Helping Lost Pets, a map based centralized national database.

The most progressive facilities will post pictures on line or on their Facebook page as soon as the dog is turned in. This has become an invaluable tool for locating owners and saving lives. Some shelters even have volunteer “lost and found matchers” who will try to match up lost dog reports with dogs that are brought in. But again, this is more the exception, than the rule.

Shelters that don’t post pictures on line may adopt out your dog immediately after the Stray Hold has elapsed. You may never know that your dog was there unless you check the “adoptable” photos.  These adoption pictures should appear on their website or on once the dog is up for adoption. But please be forewarned, if your dog is friendly and adoptable, it may only be on the website for a few hours or a few days. If a shelter adopts your dog out, you will not have any recourse unless you are prepared to hire a lawyer and begin a legal battle.

If your dog is old, injured or sick, or shows any kind of stress or aggression in the shelter, (even if it is only from fear), he may very likely be euthanized immediately after his stray hold is up. This can be especially true of larger dogs in the larger urban shelters.

Check out EVERY dog that you think is a possible match for your dog. Errors can be made regarding gender and age; microchips can be missed and breeds can be mis-identified.  Even when you go and check in person, don’t be surprised if your dog doesn’t know you or doesn’t exhibit specific behaviors that you would expect to see. The stress of the shelter may make your dog “shut down” and you may overlook him. Please be careful. We are aware of several “near misses” when an owner didn’t recognize their own dog.

Don’t delay, get started now because your dog is depending upon you!

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Unlikely Behavior?

This normally surprises people, but it’s true:  if your dog is lost, your pet will probably run from you when he or she sees you.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If lost, your dog, even one that has always been friendly and your devoted companion, will bolt in the opposite direction from where you are.

Your dog will run from you instead of to you because your dog will be in survival mode, not because he or she doesn’t love you.  You see, after three or four days on the loose, a dog’s priorities start to change.  A dog will reorder what’s important to the following sequence:  1. Predators, including you, 2. Shelter, 3. Water, and 4. Food.  A dog, therefore, will do whatever is necessary to avoid predators while pursuing the remaining items on his or her list of priorities.

It’s your pet’s ability to shift mental gears into survival mode that increases the chances that your pet will be returned to you.  This ability is also what makes it likely that your dog will view you and anyone else looking for him or her as a predator, or a potential threat.

That is why it is critical for you and everyone else trying to find your dog to refrain from yelling or approaching your dog during your search.  It’s great when enthusiastic people rally and join together to find a lost dog.  But people, together as a group or alone, are terrifying to a lost pet…and the last thing a scared dog will be tempted to approach is a person, even if that person is the dog’s loving owner.

Spread the message to all of the people that are trying to help you that they need to change their mindset from “Catching” to “Luring”. Use your helpers’ enthusiasm and energy to flyer every house and business in the neighborhood, instead of searching for your dog. You will have a much better chance of success!


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Risk Factors for an Opportunistic Lost Dog

These are the indicating factors that will predispose a dog to being an opportunistic lost dog.

1) Demeanor: A friendly, butt-wiggly type of personality. Will your dog readily go up to strangers and is everybody’s new best friend? Is your dog highly motivated by treats, praise, and belly rubs?

2) Origin: Dogs that have been well socialized in puppyhood are more likely to be opportunistic.

3) Breed: Some dogs seem to be predisposed to being opportunistic. They enjoy exploring and will “follow their nose”.  They are:

  1. Hounds such as Beagles, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds and Coonhounds.
  2. Sporting breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Pointers, Setters and Spaniels.
  3. Working breeds such as Huskies, St Bernards, Samoyeds and Great Pyrenees.
  4. Sighthounds such as Greyhounds, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds.
  5. Small friendly lap dogs.

4) Dogs lost from a familiar location (especially on a nice sunny day).

5) Dogs lost from an opportunistic situation such as:

  1. A hole in or under a fence or an open or malfunctioning gate.
  2. The invisible fence stopped working.
  3. A contractor or visitor left the gate or door open.
  4. A distracted owner leaves the dog alone outside for “just a minute”.
  5. A dog chasing prey. (squirrels, rabbits, deer, cats, or even another dog)

The key factor to the opportunistic dog is that the dog was in a happy frame of mind when he went missing. Any one or a combination of the above will predispose a dog to being picked up by a Good Samaritan or traveling a long distance. Our next series of articles will focus on the strategies to help you find your friendly or opportunistic lost dog.

Please understand that although we are generalizing, and a friendly dog may quickly revert to being a shy dog when on its own, we want to give you a baseline from which to start.

Our tips, ideas and articles are based on information gathered from over thousands successful lost dog recoveries. Any advice or suggestions made by Lost Dogs of Wisconsin/Lost Dogs Illinois is not paid-for professional advice and should be taken at owner’s discretion.
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Why We Say “Never Give Up”

Never Give upOur motto is “Never Give Up”.  It seems obvious, but there is an underlying reason that we say it. We know that dogs can be recovered weeks, months and even years after they go missing. The key factor in a successful recovery is the emotional commitment of the owner or responsible party to have the perseverance to keep going.

We often hear the comment “If my dog were missing, I would never give up.”  But, the average bystander doesn’t realize the enormous pressures that are placed on the lost dog owner.

Today we are going to discuss some of the factors that make an owner give up the search before their dog is recovered.

1. Financial commitment – looking for a lost dog is costly. Printing flyers, signs, advertising, gas money, and lost wages can add up quickly.

2. Time commitment – Door to door flyering, making signs, visiting shelters, checking out leads and manning feeding stations and traps can be a full time job.

3. Pressure from family and friends – This is often related to the two factors above.  Family and friends who aren’t as emotionally committed to the dog as the owner may start to resent the amount of time or money expended in the search. The family may want their lives to go back to normal; instead of  spending every free moment or spare dollar looking for the lost dog.

4. Emotional burnout – The highs and lows of sightings and possible leads take an emotional toll on an owner already stressed and frantic about their dog’s disappearance.

4. Myths and misconceptions -Well meaning but uneducated people, often co-workers and neighbors;  may diminish an owner’s hope by spreading rumors and misconceptions. These include saying things like:

  • a coyote (eagle, hawk, wolf) probably got your dog.
  • your dog was probably stolen for research
  • your dog was probably stolen for dog fighting bait
  • your senior dog probably went away somewhere to die

Although we never say never; we have found the four things listed above to be exceedingly rare. But these rumors spread like wildfire and discourage owners, causing them to give up hope. Unless physical evidence is found that a dog is deceased; the dog is probably very much alive and relying on their owner to bring them home. Never doubt a lost dog’s resourcefulness or ability to survive.

Are you perpetuating these rumors?  Please carefully consider your words and actions. Are you unintentionally causing people to give up hope? Let’s all work together to get more lost dogs home.

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The Problem with Dandelions

One of LDOW’s long-time volunteers has coined a clever name for some of our missing dogs.  She affectionately calls them  ”dandelions” because they are common and they all look alike.

The problem with dandelions is that they can present a real challenge to their owner when they get lost. Here is the list of most common dog breeds in America according to the American Kennel Club:

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. German Shepherd Dog
  3. Beagle
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Yorkshire Terrier
  6. Bulldog
  7. Boxer
  8. Poodles
  9. Dachshund
  10. Rottweiler
  11. Shih Tzu
  12. Miniature Schnauzer
  13. Doberman Pinscher
  14. Chihuahua
  15. German Shorthaired Pointer

So if your dog is mentioned above and he has no distinguishing coat color or markings – you have a dandelion. If he is also a friendly dog and fits our profile of theHappy Wanderer, you really have your work cut out for you. For instance: consider the Labrador Retriever. They are the most popular breed in America. Many people own them or want them. They look alike, especially to the average person who may not see slight differences in coat color or small markings. They are often friendly and may travel a long distance. If they are lost in a rural area they are often assumed to be wandering farm dogs and sighting calls may be few and far between. This puts them at a very high risk of being picked up and kept, rehomed or ending up at a shelter and adopted out to a new family before the owners can find him.

If your lost dog is a friendly “dandelion” consider these extra steps to help you get him back home safely. Give out details about your dog. (Sometimes we advise against this. But in the case of dandelions you have to carefully weigh the risks. Is there a better chance that somebody might see and recognize your dog or that somebody may falsely try to reclaim your dog?) Is he or she spayed or neutered? What is his age? What was the color of the collar he  was wearing? Does he have any birthmarks or scars? You will need to make it EASY for the shelter staff and public to help you.

Contact and keep contacting shelters, stray holding facilities, and vet clinics in a hundred mile radius. Your dog might have been picked up and taken to a shelter far away. Get the public emotionally involved in the story of your missing dog. Make your dandelion stand out from the other dandelions in the minds of the public, vet staff, shelter staff and volunteers, animal control officers and police officers.

Flyer, flyer, flyer some more. Use intersection signs strategically placed to catch the eye of passing motorists. Increase your range of flyers and signs by five miles a day.  Whether a lost dog is still simply lost and confused or has been picked up – the key to getting them safely back home is to generate sightings.

Never give up! Your “dandelion” is out there somewhere depending on you to bring him safely home.


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What Do Lost Dogs Eat?

bird feederMany owners worry that their lost dog will not find enough to eat. A couple of things to remember: dogs (like people) are omnivores; not carnivores (like cats). Dogs can survive without meat (of course they would prefer meat, but they don’t need it).

When you are looking for your missing dog, keep in mind that these readily available food sources are where your lost dog could be eating:

  • outdoor cat food (someone feeding barn or feral cats)
  • spilled grain around feed bins at farms
  • bird seed from bird feeders
  • corn fields
  • vegetable gardens and fruit trees
  • restaurant dumpsters and cooking oil dumpsters
  • convenience and grocery store dumpsters
  • trash cans at picnic areas, rest stops, parks and campgrounds
  • fire pits at campgrounds
  • nuts, berries, grass, horse poop (and other sources of animal waste)
  • barbecue  grills (they lick the drippings under the grill)
  • mice and rabbits, eggs in waterfowl nests, chicken eggs and chickens
  • road kill, hunting remains, fish guts and heads
  • food processing plants or pet food processing plants
  • feed mills
  • June bugs, earthworms, grasshoppers

Use your nose! If you can smell it, your dog definitely can. Even though he may not be getting food from the nearest fast food restaurant or steak house; he will keep checking in there, lured by the smell; to see if any tidbits have been dropped. Leave a flyer and talk to the restaurant staff at every restaurant in a 10 mile radius of where your dog was last seen.

Don’t give up! Your dog has the instinctive ability to survive for weeks, months and even years on his own.


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Google Maps – A Useful Tool for an Elusive Dog

You’ve lost your shy dog and you’ve done a good job delivering flyers and posting intersection signs. Now your sightings are coming in but you’re having a hard time keeping track. The sightings seem to be all over the place. It couldn’t possibly be your dog, in so many places, in such a short amount of time. Or could it?

Lost dogs in survival mode require three things. They require food and water, hiding places, and avoidance of predators (people).  If you use maps and satellite photos to assess food sources, hiding places and safe, secluded routes of travel; you may start to see a pattern emerge. Using an online mapping service is an invaluable tool to help you record and evaluate your sightings.

Google Maps is a free web mapping service that can help you plot your sightings and give you  clues to your dog’s whereabouts. Be aware though, that Google maps and satellite images are not updated in real time, they could be several months or years old. New construction may not appear on the maps and photos. Buildings and landscapes change and you will have to take that into consideration. Photos are taken during different seasons. Summer photos will appear very different from photos taken in the same area in the autumn after the leaves have fallen.

Different areas of the country have satellite photos taken at different resolutions. Generally, the more populated the area – the better the photo, and the closer that you will be able to zoom in and see detail. Many urban and suburban areas also now have Street View – a setting that lets you see buildings and landmark features as if you were standing on the ground in front of them.

This blog isn’t a tutorial on how to use Google maps. There is plenty of information on-line. Instead, we want to give you some specific tips on how to determine where your dog may be. The best way to learn how to use Google Maps is to dive in and try it. Enter the address where your dog went missing from. Practice changing from map to satellite (aerial photo) view, and zooming in and out.

Practice adding place markers for the following. Use different colors and symbols for:

  • Locations where your dog went missing from
  • Every sighting with a time and date
  • Areas flyered
  • Sign locations
  • Potential food sources
  • Potential hiding places
  • Potential routes that your dog is traveling

Switch to satellite view. Objects viewed from the air appear different from the ground.  Practice somewhere  you are familiar with. What do these things look like from the air?

Common landmarks:

A golf course:

A cemetery:


A shopping mall:


A mobile home park:


Vertical  landmarks from the ground may not be easily apparent on a satellite photo.  Watch for the shadows made by the objects. Vertical landmarks include:

  • Water towers
  • Power lines
  • Church steeples
  • Cell phone towers
  • Tall buildings
  • Doppler radar sites


A water tower in satellite imagery. It looks like a golf ball, but notice the shadow that it casts

Look for possible hiding places that lost dogs commonly use:

  • abandoned farms and homes
  • cemeteries
  • golf courses
  • parks near populated areas
  • industrial areas
  • run down neighborhoods
  • quiet suburban neighborhoods especially if they adjoin parks and trails

Look for possible routes of travel that lost dogs commonly use:

  • bike and hiking trails
  • fence lines and the edge of fields
  • logging roads
  • power lines
  • pipelines and cut lines
  • railroad tracks

Be aware that narrow roads, trails,  and power lines may “disappear” in summer photos because of tree foliage. Railroad tracks are usually very apparent in photos because of the width of clearing around the track bed. Trees do not usually overhang train tracks.

Look for possiblefood sources:

  • restaurants and hotels
  • farms (cat food, corn and spilled grain)
  • convenience stores and grocery stores
  • campgrounds, picnic grounds, rest stops and parks
  • golf courses with food services
  • food processing plants
  • feed mills

Keep your Google map updated and share it via email link with the friends, family and volunteers that are helping you. Lost dogs will often fall into an habitual pattern, visiting the same food sources and using the same hiding places and routes of travel. Flyer these areas heavily to get more sightings. Place intersection signs strategically so that passersby will also be on the lookout for your dog.

You may realize that sightings that seemed impossible at first, really are possible when you view them from the air. Driving routes are often much longer than the routes that lost dogs will take. Using shortcuts, they can travel what appears to be a long distance in a short amount of time.

Advances in technology are giving us more and more tools in the toolbox of lost dog recovery. Using Google Maps can save you valuable time when recovering your lost dog.

A tutorial showing how to create a Google map and drop markers to help you organize an effective search for a dog created by Retrievers Volunteer Lost Dog Team:


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