Keep a record of sightings and track a dog’s travels on a map until the search is over.
Buy a street map that identifies all roads in the town where the dog was lost.  As dogs often cross city/town limits, it should include all bordering communities.  A map is a field tool that doesn’t depend on tower signals or batteries.  It identifies major points of interest and shows how a dog gets from point A to point B.  Circle sighting locations with pencil and erase false leads.  Use a highlighter to mark flier distribution and posted signs and/or create a paper list.  Small, spiral-bound 3 x 5 notebooks work well for on-the-go quick notes, lists, etc.

Change greetings on all phones (landline/mobile) listed on fliers as contact numbers.
Encourage callers to stay on the line – some will hang up when they hear a recorded message.
Sample greeting:  “Hello, if you’re calling about our lost dog (use “name” or not), THANK YOU!
We need the day, time, street, and nearest cross street, or exact location you saw (him/her). 
Critical information could be lost if a call ends up as a voice message.  List two (2) numbers to help callers get a “live” person.  Keep mobiles charged.  Calls come in when least expected so have paper and pens everywhere.  It’s common to get excited and forget to ask things of callers.  Create a short list of questions.  The “sightings” list should note the date of a call, date and location of sighting, caller contact information (if available) and details reported.  Two people can see the same dog yet give different descriptions.  One is “white with black patches” while the other is “black and white spots.”  Try to narrow down what was seen.  Does a Portuguese Water Dog look like a fancy Poodle?  Yes.  Keep it simple.

Keep an open mind.  Never dismiss a call because the description isn’t a perfect match.
Don’t convince a caller that they did OR didn’t see your dog when the opposite is true.  Every caller should have a picture flier in hand to help them confirm their sighting.  A lady is absolutely sure she saw your dog.  She didn’t see a collar but heard ID tags clinking.  If your dog didn’t have a collar, then it probably wasn’t your dog, but if it’s been lost awhile, check to make sure someone didn’t adopt the “stray” (your dog) as their own and put a collar and tags on.  

A dog can be seen at dawn, noon, or wee hours – just now, last night, or six weeks ago.
It’s not easy for people to remember details about an unfamiliar dog.  Collars may not be seen, especially at night.  Colors get distorted in low light and are hard to distinguish at a distance. 
A leash may not be seen, depending on the color, amount of daylight, and angle of view.
If needed, compare the size of the dog seen with a breed that callers are pretty familiar with.  Was the dog as big as a Beagle?  Up to an adult’s knees?  Let people tell you what they saw before you describe your dog.  People usually get a split-second glimpse.  They don’t see direction of travel and don’t remember anything special – yet their calls are valid.  Try to jog memories by mentioning distinctive features like pointy ears or extremely curly, white-tip tail.   

Dogs travel a great distance in a short time by taking routes not accessible to searchers.
Convenient routes provide direct access to shelter, food, and water.  Using fields or power lines can lead to sightings at separate locations at the same time.  Use a map to figure out if a dog uses shortcuts, validating multiple but opposite sightings.  Dogs seeking food and shelter at night or at the crack of dawn, reduce the odds of being seen.  They often stay close to reliable sources of food (cat food, bird seed, food litter, trash), water (stream, lake, or pond) and shelters (under porch decks, open barns, under evergreens).  Making the most out of limited resources, they usually stay close to an area if overall conditions are favorable.  A lost dog constantly makes decisions as to what’s acceptable and what’s not.  It stays put or moves on.  It may return to previous shelters or food sources if “greener pastures” are not found elsewhere.

When you get a sighting, grab a bag of food, and go to the area ASAP.  Once on site, get out of the vehicle to assess your choices.  Find a quiet place to sit/lure/talk, briefly visit caller, or try to find someone else who saw the dog.  Door-knocking helps – residents often know what dogs go out off-leash.  The dog could be yours, not yours, a look-a-like, or a “stray” (report it).
If the “new” dog has been roaming a while, ask how long?  Has your dog been lost that long? 

Always carry tubs of bait food (Cesar) or bag of tidbits for spontaneous luring.  Lost dogs, cautious but still curious, usually watch us from a distance.  You see nothing, but the dog is watching you.  Some discreetly follow a person who’s leaving a trail of food to a spot that’s advantageous for ground luring.  A dog should hear its name.  This is not a group call (scary) but a one-on-one, encouraging, sweet talk, preferably from a favorite human.  Assume a dog can hear you.  This has worked well for a dedicated searcher, no relation to the dogs.  It also tells a dog where you are and gives it space to investigate.  Walk and talk, stop a bit, walk more, find a place to sit/lay low (ground best).  Give the dog a chance to smell scents you offer and hear a beloved squeaky toy (daytime only).  Searchers drive about endlessly when odds are better to see a dog while walking or sitting quietly.  Don’t leave food all over or drop tons when creating a bit trail.  Pick a spot to sit for up to an hour where your dog has a good chance of being lured in by you or a search helper.  Assume the dog is still there, hiding, and work the site. 

Don’t be discouraged by lack of sightings – there are never enough until a dog is caught.  Searchers may go for days or weeks without a sighting, but there’s always a reason.  Did you skip too many houses delivering fliers?  Did you visit the quiet house at the end of the street?  What about the farm with open barns?  Did your black Lab buddy up with another and locals don’t realize they see two different dogs, one at a time?  Many a lost dog is assumed to be dead when they are not.  If dead, you don’t always find a body, but there’s no proof without a body.  .  If the dog was out in an unfenced area, look for a collar, bits of hair, remains, or other signs it crossed paths with a predator.  It’s a necessary part of the basic search process, not the focus. 

Don’t give up too soon.  Lack of sightings is common.  A dog adept at hiding may not be seen for weeks or longer.  Many don’t venture out until human activity has ceased and it’s dark out.  Asleep, at work, or on vacation, people won’t see a dog coming or going from under a deck.  Look for leads by talking with people, house to house.  Start where the dog bolted and work outward.  Residents often try to be more observant if they meet a searcher in person.  If you “disappear” from an area, they think you found the dog or just gave up.  Share information with shelters.  ACOs, Humane Officers, and professionals similarly titled, can be an immense help with their knowledge and experience.  Most have access to (or can source) equipment like humane cage (box) traps, nets, net guns (shoots out a big net) and tranquilizer dart guns – with or without a tracking device.  NOTE – Dart guns are not a “quick & easy” method and considered a last resort under certain conditions.  Don’t totally depend on others to catch your dog unless there’s special circumstances.  You can’t expect professionals or volunteers to ignore their own work/life for the duration of a search.  Be organized and make the most of available resources.

If you do see your dog, immediately assume a non-threatening posture by slowly lowering yourself to the ground below his/her eye level.  Gently lure with food bits and toys, using familiar phrases in soft, reassuring tones.  A dog will often come to you if it thinks you can be trusted.  Food can buy a lot of trust from a hungry dog.    See “SPOT THE DOG! – NOW WHAT?

 Debbie Hall copy 2/2005 

 Debbie Scarpellini Revision Jan 2022 

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