9 min read

What To Do If Your Dog Runs Away

Follow these steps to help him get home safely.

A missing pet can be one of the most panic-inducing situations imaginable. Whether he slips his lead or breaks out of the backyard bolting after a squirrel, when your beloved dog disappears, you are going to lose sleep.

While the situation may naturally make pet owners feel distraught and helpless, if you are wondering what to do when your dog runs away, there are a few important steps you can take to help recover your pet and bring him home safely.


A multitude of reasons can prompt an otherwise happy dog to turn into Houdini, so try not to take his escape personally. If you have recently moved, your dog may be attempting to look for more familiar surroundings. Other motivations can include boredom and loneliness, curiosity, fear or looking for a mate, according to WebMD (one of the many reasons to always spay and neuter when adopting a pet).

Your dog will face dangers on his own, so the first 24 hours after you notice that your dog is missing will be key, explains Kenny Lamberti, vice president of companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

“Traffic is the most obvious danger. A lost dog is likely to be scared and that can make him or her less trusting of people and harder to ‘catch,’” Lamberti tells The Dodo. “There are also potential wildlife risks depending on region and risk of getting in fights with other dogs.”

Even winding up in a shelter can be an issue if the dog’s owner is not committed to finding him, suggests Lamberti. “A dog can be safe in a facility somewhere, but if the owner is not diligent in their search, they may not be reunited with their beloved family member.” More dogs run away on July 4 than any other occasion, and many will be picked up by animal service officers the next day (such as the pup pictured above). If pet owners do not check with local shelters, their pups may end up adopted by someone else.

So how do you start searching for your pet? Here’s what to do when your dog goes missing:

Patrol the area

Chances are your dog has not gotten far on his own, so start by looking within a 2-mile radius of your home. Search smart by checking places that your dog visits frequently, as well as areas where shelter or food are most accessible.

“Patrol your local area, especially neighbors who may have dogs, dog parks, pet stores and places your dog has been regularly,” Lamberti says. When looking around your neighborhood, make sure you are prepared with dog treats and your pup’s favorite toys, in case you need to coax him back. Covering a lot of ground can be difficult for one person, so don’t be afraid to enlist help from your community in the search.

Make a flyer

To get word out in your area, creating a “lost pet” flyer for your dog is fast and effective. Be sure to include your contact information, a picture of your pet and a detailed description of him noting his breed, coloring, age, name and where he was last seen. Use eye-catching paper colors and designs to make sure the signs get noticed, and post them on signposts, in coffee shops, places of business, community message boards and wherever they will be most visible.  

Contact local shelters

You will also want to broaden your search by checking with animal facilities in surrounding counties. “Check with all the local shelters and rescues. Provide description and pictures if possible. Many facilities have online resources that track intake so that’s a good first step,” Lamberti explains. That way, if your pup turns up, they’ll know who to call.

Check classifieds online

Check sites such as Fido Finder, Petfinder and The Center for Lost Pets’ lost and found dog listings online. Be sure to check these regularly, and post on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to involve online communities in your search. If you have performed all these steps and still have not found your lost pet, don’t lose heart. The odds are still in your favor — a 2012 study found that 93 percent of lost dogs eventually find their way home.

So what can you do to prevent your dog from running away in the future?

When it comes to letting your dog outside, it’s better to be safe than sorry, explains Lamberti. “As a general rule, if your dog does not have a solid re-call command they shouldn’t be off-leash anywhere that isn’t fully enclosed,” Lamberti says. “Regularly check the perimeter and security of yards and fences for holes or weak spots.”

And remember, microchipping and making sure your dog has a collar with a name tag are important safeguards that can help pet owners locate their pets with speed and ease.