3. Search Tips

Pet Owners, please see below the searchers instructions on this page.

Remember … It’s not over, until it’s over. Read LostDogsofWisconsin.org’s stories on their home page blog, later. Especially the one of Princess, a little Chihuahua in Waukesha who survived in the nasty Wisconsin winter season, from November to February! All on her own, and staying very plump! And Zena! We will help with trapping when the time comes. We use trail cams to help find your missing dog to know where to place the trap. We’ll help reach out to property owners. We have done this before, successfully.

Dear Volunteer/Family/Friend:

Thank you for stepping up to help the dog owner you are helping. Be sure a homebase person (see below) has your cell number, or use fb messenger, and your phone is charged or you have your charger with you! Then put it on vibrate! We’ve had dinging phones scare skittish dogs away from searchers and distract us from listening for the dog. Only communicate important need to know information in the chain, sightings by you or neighbors now or earlier, so you can use a timeline to see where the dog has headed.

Call out playfully to the dog, not firmly. This is not the time to get stern, despite your excitement/emotions. It can make recovering the dog even longer.

+ Divide up into two main categories: But remember you are only there to help get or keep eyes on the dog! NOT to chase or catch the dog!


Home Base: There should be someone at home base. If there is someone who wants to help that the dog isn’t the fondest of, is scared of, or is just not used to, have them stay at home base to take calls and post online.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given, is don’t be a hero. It can chase the dog further away, out of a safe place, and/or into danger like a busy road. When the dog is literally running scared, they don’t look both ways before darting across that busy road or river.

Everyone should take some flyers in case you come across joggers, dog walkers, or others out where you will be looking. Even quickly written on the doorstep flyers are ok, just to get that owner’s phone number in the hands of anyone who might see the dog. Take treats or smelley food, a leash, and a flashlight if it’s dark out.

Quickly figure out a game plan of who is going what direction, whether driving or walking. Have the drivers cover surrounding streets a few blocks out and have walkers closer to home and work their way out. Most dogs won’t cross busy streets right away. Think of busy streets as barriers. But they could be hiding in a yard on a busy street too. Do not overlook any area.

You are only trying to get the dog in sight FOR THE OWNER! … DO NOT TRY TO BE A HERO! … Do NOT get an ego here. It’s not about you.

You need to think like the dog on this search, not how you hope or want the dog to think. Are you trusted by the dog? A dog sitter or family friend the dog sees often? Or are you one who’s met the dog a couple times or the dog is skittish?

= TRUSTED BY DOG: This should be people that the dog trusts. If you fall into this category, or if the dog is extremely friendly and trusts absolutely everyone, then please call for the dog SOFTLY or PLAYFULLY while goint the opposite direction the dog was going. This can get them to come ‘chase’ you in a game of play! Run towards home. Call the home base so they can get the owner out there.

If you come across the dog at a close range, or are family called to a sighting and are close, calling playfully and offering treats or a car ride may lure them to you. Even calling them playfully and running away can work. But when the dog is coming towards you, drop to the ground to welcome them to you. If they seem unsure of you, turn slightly away and don’t stare at them, watch from your peripheral vision. Use the treats to lure them closer if they hesitate. Throw the treats towards the dog, not at the dog. Be patient. Text or call the homebase or group AFTER you actually have the dog.

= SKITTISH DOG: If the dog is more on the skittish side but trusts certain people, they should not chance it and only text the homebase and group  – DO NOT CALL on the phone OR TO THE DOG!, so as not to scare them away. If the dog thinks they are in trouble or are being chased, they could be chased into danger and/or further away. Only family should be quietly calling and being playful, when they are close to the dog.

Look everywhere. Watch fowl on ponds. They will move away from a dog on the ground or coming into the water, or already swimming in the pond. And can even be noisy if there’s a dog around. Check inground pools and yard ponds if the dog likes water. Check neighbors yards that the dog loves and knows. Look under cars, trucks, bushes, pine trees, porches, and other areas they might hide. Be smart, think of the size of the dog. Don’t forget to look behind you often as the dog may come out of hiding after you’ve passed. Pause at intersections to see if the dog is moving in yards or down alleys. Watch for movement. Do this quietly until you see the dog. Your ears can be just as important here as your eyes.

Again, be cautious. DO NOT YELL AT or FOR the dog. OR CHASE THEM! This is NOT the time to be firm with them. Stay calm if you see the dog.

If you come across the TRUSTING  and friendly dog, you need to walk very slowly and stop moving when they look at you. When you have their attention, get playful and pat your leg as if calling them towards you, VERY FRIENDLY OR PLAYFULLY, and start running the other way while calling them playfully. Use key words like “let’s play with/ ___” or “i got your treat” or “let’s go for a ride or bye-bye”. THINK LIKE THE DOG! What would the dog want? If the dog does not follow, drop to the ground and turn away a bit and just put your hand out and soothingly call the dog to you. Let them come to you on your terms.

All others need to not come running in to try catching the dog. But you should all come … calmly. Everyone needs to come in from different directions not acting like they are there for that dog. If the dog is still acting just a little cautious, others can drop and try calling the dog too. But not too many at once to confuse the dog. Take turns. BE PATIENT!!! It has taken some an hour, some fifteen minutes, some longer. You are in this for the long haul when you get to this point.

1. Walkers

If the pet does not know or trust you, hand out flyers door to door to the neighbors or volunteer to be the one at home base. Get a grid plan set up quick and move from the closest nieghbor to home and move outwards from there. Tell neighbors not to chase after or yell to the dog. This can chase them further away and into danger. They will already have people out looking for them, hopefully. Neighbors can fall into the two above searchers categories. You do not need every neighbor out looking too, unless the teams are short handed. There never seems to be enough people out looking. They are just as important at home looking out their windows as those out searching on the streets. If you see the dog, reach out to home base to let the others know where the dog is and what he’s/she’s doing.

2. Driving around:

Everyone driving pick a street to go up and down, or multiple streets. Criss-cross and keep going up and down and look in yards, under bushes or trees. Bring flashlights if it’s dark out, or going to be soon.

Have a plan for when it gets later in the day, if there’s no leads. Who will start to drive out further and further? At what point? How far out?

If you are in the city, this is pretty straight forward. General rule of thumb is start within a six block area for each hour missing, unless a small or skittish dog as they stick closer to home longer than a more trusting, playful, or friendlier dog. Consider the size, breed, and temperment for this. Lost Dogs of Wisconsin can help with this!

If you are in the county/country, you have vast spaces between roads. Roads here are typically a half mile to a full mile apart, unless in a subdivision in the county. If there are more roads or neighborhood areas, continue as if in the city described above. Otherwise, stick within the half mile to full mile radius and drive slowly with your flashers on. Pull over to let traffic pass you. Watch tree lines, around barns and outbuildings, watch livestock and how they are acting. If livestock are casually grazing or laying around, the dog is probably not too nearby to them. But scan outside the pasture areas. They may have dogs on that farm that mingle with the livestock. You just don’t know.

Pet Owners:

Make sure you you have a home base person with your number handy and have them man the phones and online postings. The home base should have everyone’s mobile phone or a chain of callers to get information to and from your quickly. Even a group FB Messenger chat works great on searches. Have everyone quickly write down their phone numbers/profile for the home base person to start a group text/chat immediately, before they leave. Send a test message to the group.

Tell the searchers your dog’s temperment. How friendly or shy your pet is, food motivated, likes trash or water (if pools would be up for the season or ponds are anywhere nearby), etc … Anything to help them locate and/or lure your pet. Hand out your pet’s favorite treat for luring, if a friendly and very trusting dog, or anything yummy and super smelly.

= OWNER AND FAMILY: You should also be very friendly or playfully. Think of calling the dog to play a game of fetch or saying you have treats for him/her. Even calling the dog playfully and running in the opposite direction can get them to come ‘chase’ you. You need to be doing this on the dog’s terms, not yours. If you are calling out firmly or demanding, they are going to think they are in trouble and you could drive them further away. They will not come to you if they think they are in trouble. But when the dog is coming towards you, drop to the ground to welcome them to you. If they seem unsure of you, turn slightly away and don’t stare at them, watch from your peripheral vision. Use the treats to lure them closer if they hesitate. Throw the treats towards the dog, not at the dog. Be patient. Text or call the homebase or group AFTER you actually have the dog.Don’t chance it. Err on the side of caution and call playfully.

If you see the dog down a street, send out a text message immediately with the street and block numbers. What cross street is the dog closest to? A screenshot of a map with your location helps here if you unfamiliar with the neighborhood. What direction ist the dog is going? Is he running or taking his sweet time? Is he in the street or in the yards, for the most part? Is he watching you or just going along his merry way? Are noises spooking him? Watch and follow without running and chasing. Try to get closer without the dog realizing you are doing so. Hide behind trees if you can to watch and make your moves to get closer. Everyone else alerted should be starting to close in on the area very cautiously. It doesn’t matter how trusting the dog is, if they feel like they are being chased, they will bolt. A FAMILY MEMBER NEEDS TO GET TO THE DOG PRONTO!

Print this page above and give to searchers, or read to them before they go searching.

These are tips for the searchers. Please do not dismiss these tips. They are tried and true. Not just our experience, but the experience of resources around the country and web. Plenty have learned the hard way not to ignore these tips.