How to deal with a lost dog

From a happy walk to dealing with a lost dog in a heart beat. If you follow us on Facebook you will probably know that one of our chihuahuas, Arlo our new puppy (18 weeks at time of writing) went missing in the woods recently.

My friend and I were walking happily along in the sunshine with our little pack of 6 chis, when a huge,  husky pounced from the bushes, scattered the dogs, chased Minnie and Arlo. Minnie came back but Arlo didn’t.

What followed, was a nine-hour search in the woods. Arlo came back at around 11.30pm that night. But, the sad fact is, that had we done things differently, we would probably have got him back sooner.

We had put Arlo’s photo up on Dog Lost website and later in the day a lovely lady from Lost Pals turned up to help. The information she gave us was invaluable and crucial to getting Arlo back. If you are going through the trauma of dealing with a lost dog read this.

If you would like some more information about when to let your dog off lead read this article.

This is what we learnt about finding a lost dog

If your dog runs off because he has been spooked, scared or he just got lost, our instinct is to run about calling his name. This is OK for the first couple of moments but, if you get no response, stop. You are wasting time and energy.

Retrace your steps back to the car or the entrance you entered the park or wood. Chances are your dog will do the same. They have an acute sense of smell and will know the route.

Arlo did this twice, but because we were running about in the woods we missed him. Get someone to wait by the car.

If he hasn’t returned in a reasonable time frame, then notify the local dog warden, if you are in the UK, (a good idea is to find out now if you have a local service like this where you live), put a post on local chat groups. Facebook is great for this.

People may turn up to help, this is really kind of them but lots of noise and strangers can drive your dog further away. It is important that helpers follow the procedure below and don’t go crashing around shouting his name. He is not going to respond to strangers. In some cases, less is more.

The advice from Doglost is: Stop, Drop and Think. You can download a helpful pdf here.


Chase the dog
Try and grab the dog
Shout his name or whistle
Make direct eye contact
Approach him head on (dogs see the last two as aggressive) Turn sideways on
Try and restrain him unless you are sure you will be successful


Move slowly
Drop to the ground so you are on there level and don’t appear so threatening
Speak softly and soothingly
Lure him with tasty treats
Be prepared to build trust with patience.
Understand that there is a possibility you may get bitten.


If your lost dog has been out for a while he is probably hungry, you can use this to your advantage. Drop some smelly food near where you came into the wood or park, frankfurters or the juice from sardines.

Light a disposable barbecue and put an open tin of sardines on it. It will stink, but that is the effect we are going for.

Note: When you are finished, do not put the warm barbecue in your car, the carbon monoxide will build up in the car and can kill you. Pour water on the coals and go collect it the next day.

Get your scent out there

Empty the contents of your dirty washing basket around the area.

Pee in a spray bottle and spray it around the area. Or just nature pee.

If you don’t get him back that day, then put up posters around where you lost him with a good photo and description, go back to the area the next day and start again.

Be patient if your dog goes missing

Getting a lost dog back is about being patient and playing the waiting game. It’s also listening rather than shouting. A frightened dog may not even respond to his owners calling him. So, if your dog makes an appearance, don’t rush at him shouting his name and expect him to jump into your arms. He might, but don’t risk it. Sit quietly, offer him some food and wait for him to come to you.

We got Arlo back at around 11.30pm. Everyone had gone home, and it was just my partner and I sitting by the car talking like we would at home. The first indication that he was nearby was the tinkling of his collar. I had to resist the temptation to get up and look. We sat and continued to talk and pretended to eat.

Then, he just appeared on the trail ahead of us, our little white puppy, ears back and tail down. I offered him some food and when I was sure he was not going to run away again I picked him up.

Further reading

Here is a lot of information that will save you time and help you get your lost dog back earlier. How to deal with hoax calls, demands for money and what to do if you must escalate the search. Follow the link to the Lost Pals website.

Take away

But the takeaway  to get back a lost dog seems to be, do the opposite of what your instinct wants you to do. Softly softly finds my dog.