Category Archives: Search Strategies

Creating and Placing Effective Signs

Effective signsPosting signs is one of the most effective things you can do to get your lost dog back home.  But it’s important to realize that not all signs are created equally, meaning some are more effective than others.  If you follow the steps below, you will be successful at both creating effective signs and putting them in the appropriate locations.

  1. Purchase the following supplies if you don’t already have them:  seven colored foam poster boards that are at least 15” x 20”, rolls of clear and silver duct tape, a large Sharpie and scissors.
  2. Print one 8 ½” x 11” picture of your dog for each poster board.
  3. Write, “LOST DOG,” at the top of each poster board with your Sharpie.
  4. Tape a picture of your dog in the center of each poster board using clear duct tape, making sure to cover each picture entirely with clear duct tape or putting the picture into a ziploc gallon bag (w/opening at the bottom) to protect them from wet weather.
  5. Write a contact number below your dog’s picture.
  6. Waterproof your signs by covering their foam edges with clear duct tape.
  7. Put a sign in your yard so it can be seen easily by passers-by.
  8. Map a 3-mile area around the location where your dog went missing in the form of a hexagon.
  9. Secure signs at the intersections nearest to each point of the hexagon using your silver duct tape and scissors.
  10. Move your signs after each reported sighting of your dog by mapping a new 3-mile wide hexagon around the spot where your dog was most recently seen, and hanging signs at the intersections closest to each of the hexagon’s points.
  11. Last but not least, always make sure you have permission from the land owner before placing a sign, including city and county property.

Flyer, flyer and flyer some more!

Your friends and family members are eager to help you find your lost dog. They are willing to do whatever it takes to bring him/her home, including combing through every street and back alley in your neighborhood. They are all waiting for instruction from you. But, what should you tell them to do? What is the best way to use their time and effort to find your missing dog?

Friends want to help? Send them out flyering

Friends want to help? Send them out flyering

Even though it may seem counter intuitive, you should not send your friends and family members on a wild goose chase, or, in this case a dog chase, through the streets. Looking for a lost dog by wandering through the streets is like looking for a needle in a haystack. And, a dog who is approached by someone the animal doesn’t know well may get scared and run even farther from home…even if all the person was trying to do was return the dog to its family.

What you should say to your friends and family members is that you’d appreciate them taking some time to put out flyers all over town. Hand each of them a stack of flyers that include a full, current picture of your dog, a description of his or her appearance that highlights any unusual physical or behavioral traits the dog has, and your contact information.

When your friends and family members look at you like you’re crazy, remind them that the most effective way to find a lost dog is by putting up and handing out flyers as soon as possible following an animal’s disappearance. More often than not, a dog is reunited with its family because someone who has reviewed a flyer sees the lost pet, and calls the dog’s distraught owners.

So, if your pet goes missing at some point in the future, gather as many friends and family members as you can, and send each and every one of them out with big stacks of flyers. It is the best way to ensure your lost dog will be returned to your loving arms.


Every Door Direct Mail® Can Help Deliver Your Flyers

The number one way that lost dogs are successfully recovered is through the use of flyers and signs that alert the neighborhood and surrounding areas that your dog is missing.

Printing and delivering flyers can be time-consuming and costly. Also, it is illegal for the general public to put flyers into US mailboxes. The USPS has a service to help. Every Door Direct Mail® costs  14.5 per piece and does not require a postage permit. How does it work? You pick the neighborhoods you want to reach, and a Postal Service Letter Carrier takes your printed flyers to every home while delivering the day’s mail. Your lost dog flyer gets directly into the hands of the homeowner.

Ask your local postmaster for details.  Some printing requirements apply.

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.

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.

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.


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: