Lost Dog Advice

This is every dog owner’s worst nightmare come true. What would you do? Of course, your first instinct is to go looking for them straight away, shouting their name – but, is this the best thing you can do to find your dog?

Help, my dog has gone missing!

This is every dog owner’s worst nightmare come true. What would you do? Of course, your first instinct is to go looking for them straight away, shouting their name – but, is this the best thing you can do to find your dog?

This article will outline a few simple steps you can take to help your missing dog find their way back to you. Dogs run off for various reasons: they are frightened by a loud noise and slip out of their harness; you trip over and drop the lead by accident; they catch the irresistible scent of a dog in season or a squirrel has just caught their eye and they are going to catch it! Whatever the reason, stay calm and stay exactly where you are.

Stay calm and stay where you are...

If possible, you should not leave the location where your dog has gone missing from, the point of escape, whether this is on a walk or from home. Most dogs stay around for a while and generally circle the area. Most people start searching for their dogs straight away, so when the dog returns to the point it went missing from nobody is there to get them.

Eventually, the circles your dog travels gets bigger; this is when a ‘stakeout’ is required. Ask someone to bring you a comfortable chair, food, drink and clothes/blankets depending on the time of year – this is so the owner is able to stay in the area for as long as possible. Statistics show that most dogs come back within the first 24-48 hours. An alternative to sitting outside is sitting in a car, but be mindful that you need to be as close to point of escape as possible.

If your dog escapes from home, keep gates open and offer food. In the best case use a motion-triggered camera so you can check who is actually taking the food during the night.

It is important to note that most dogs usually show up again during late evening or during the very early morning hours, for example between 10 pm and 1 am and again between 4 am and 6 am.

Be sure not to fill the food bowl with a large amount of food but leave only a small amount, an appetiser. The dog should get more of an appetite and become curious if the bowl will be filled again next time it comes back. If you offer too much food the dog may disappear again for a few days until it becomes hungry again.

It is important that people with a connection to the dog do NOT run around looking for them, especially not the owners. The dog will search for familiar scents in order to find its way back, if lots of familiar scents lead in all different directions this will confuse the dog. Owners should stay wherever they lost their dog – strangers can go searching because the dog won’t mind the scent of people that they are not related to it.

Do not call your dog, be patient...

Most dogs – not only the ones from rescue organisations – do not recognise their owner immediately when they show up. So, it is very important that if you see your dog you turn away – DO NOT CALL THEM – make yourself small. BE PATIENT, in case your dog comes a bit closer but again freezes, best to turn and walk in the opposite direction away from the dog. Maybe leave some very high-value tasty treats on the way, so the dog may become curious. These actions are also important for anybody who is helping you search.

This is often very difficult for people – but dogs read our body language much more than anything else. EVERYBODY who is stressed and worried about their lost dog will exhibit lots of anxiety and stress in their body language.

Also, dogs can smell adrenalin and even our voice changes completely if we are calling them whilst stressed. This combination of an unfamiliar voice, stressed smell and strange body language keeps dogs away. In the worst case they will run away again, in the best case they will recognise you after 10-30 minutes.

“It is important that people with a connection to the dog do NOT run around looking for them, especially not the owners.”

They've not come back...

If you do not know the direction in which your dog has run, you can set scent trails to help your dog find their way back to you.

Lost Dog: Laying scent trails back home

What do I need:

  • Scent article of the owner e.g. t-shirt that has been worn – but worn BEFORE the dog went missing and has not been washed. Clothing worn after the dog went missing will contain adrenalin from the anxious owner, which the dog will avoid. If no worn clothes are available, use a pillowcase.
  • If the dog is new to the owner (a few days), if possible, get a scent article from the previous owner.
  • Someone to drive the owner/person (trail layer) laying the scent trail.
  • String to attach the scent article to the trail layer so it can be dragged along the ground.


  • Using the house as the centre point, the trail layer is driven away from the house and dropped off.
  • The trail layer attaches the scent article to their e.g. belt and walks back towards the house whilst dragging the scent article behind them along the ground.
  • This process is repeated, each time starting the scent trail from a different direction. Eventually laying trails in all directions back towards the house.

If the dog has run away from home, these trails should be set in the area and lead the dog back as close as possible to the house/in the garden – with a food bowl.

If the dog has gone missing whilst out on a walk, far away from home, the trails should be set leading the dog back to the point of escape – there should also be a partially filled food bowl here as well. If a motion-triggered camera is available, set one up. This food bowl should be filled twice a day, in the early morning and evening. If it takes a while for the dog to gain trust again, it should learn that this food bowl can be relied upon. If possible, someone should be waiting for the dog and follow the advice outlined above in order not to scare them away.

If no scent article is available, a ‘soup’ can be made by boiling meat/sausage/fish in water. When cooled, put the soup into a large plastic bottle with 2-3 holes in the cap. Whilst laying the trail you need to place a few drops of ‘soup’ every few steps – a lot at the start of each trail to attract the dog and more at points where the trail becomes ‘difficult’, e.g. goes around a corner or crosses a path etc.

The DIRECTION of the trail is VITAL – it must lead back towards the home or the point of escape. Dogs have the ability to smell the age of a trail. They will always follow scents from the oldest to the newest i.e. from the start of the trail laid earlier to the end of the trail laid later. Trails should always lead towards the point of escape or house, NEVER away from it.

What else can I do?

If there are no sightings distribute as many leaflets as possible in the area. Use any forms of publicity/social media e.g. Facebook, lost dog pages etc. Contact local rescue centres, vets, taxi companies, council workers, postal workers etc. to keep a lookout for your dog. A new sighting is necessary to have a focal point from which to repeat the previously described actions.

Do other people walk your dog? Share this advice with them, through awareness and education we can help get our dogs to get back home safe as quickly as possible.

We are here to help

Pettrailer UK offers free tailored search advice and guidance for anyone who has lost a pet. We work closely with our Pettrailer colleagues across Europe who have extensive knowledge in animal search and have actively been involved in reunited lost pets with their families for over 30 years.

Our main aim at Pettrailer UK is to train dogs to become Professional Pettrailers, qualified dogs that have been specially trained to search for lost pets by means of trailing. Our dogs follow the scent trail left by missing animals to help locate them as quickly and safely as possible (pettrailing).

Our search dog trailing teams take part in regular training to keep their skills up to date and undergo assessments to ensure we offer the best possible service to those who need us. Contact us for more information.

Can my dog become a Pettrailer?

Yes! Most people start trailing to give their dogs a job to do and provide them with a mentally stimulating challenge which is fun and motivational for both them and their dog. Pettrailer UK is the only organisation in the UK to provide training based solely on animal search. Our sessions are all-inclusive, so any dog can join us whether big or small, young or old, fearful or aggressive, deaf, blind, 2 or 3 legged…it doesn’t matter.

Simply join us for some pettrailing and mantrailing fun with the option to take your training to the next level and become a Professional Pettrailing team with your own dog and help reunite lost animals with their owners.

Our Expert

Pettrailer is the UK’s only provider for pettrailer training in the UK. PetTrailer UK teaches the Pettrailer style of dog trailing in a structured manner following an established training syllabus and structured assessments for pettrailing and mantrailing developed and practised in Austria and adopted by companies in Germany, Switzerland and now the UK.

For More Information: www.petrrailer.co.uk