First, get a street map of the town where the dog was lost. The map should include all border towns. (Office supply or drugstore)* Mark the streets where you posted flyers or went "door to door" with a highlighter pen. It is very important to keep a record of every call from the beginning & keep it until the search is over. You will actually be "tracking" the dog's movements. Get as much information as possible from every call and write everything down - no exceptions. You need the date, time, street and nearest cross street, or with luck, exact location that the dog was seen. Be forgiving of callers with their descriptions. It is not easy to see details while driving or on a dog that's running. At night, it's even harder to see & colors get distorted. They can see a dog, not the collar, but they may hear license tags clinking. Gently question them and ask them to tell you what they saw without putting words in their mouth. It's hard to accurately guess a dog's weight but they can estimate the body size in relation to another breed they are familiar with. Key on easily seen markings that the dog may have.
Many calls are vague and left on answering machines. Be advised that two people can see the same dog and give two entirely descriptions. One may see the leash attached that the other doesn't. Never dismiss a sighting because the caller's description isn't a perfect match. Talk with the residents who live in the area as soon as possible after receiving a call. They are usually familiar with the neighborhood dogs and their information may help you dismiss a call or mark it on the map as a valid sighting. It may well be a local dog that looks like yours and is allowed to run loose. A "stray" could also be in the area and be mistaken for yours. If you think it's a stray, call the local ACO. It could be a lost dog belonging to someone else.
Dogs can go great distances in a short amount of time. They take shortcuts (that you can't) to get to other streets. It seems there might be a pattern if a dog is not familiar with the area from where they bolted. Many seem to stay in a 3-mile radius from the exact spot where they bolted. They may travel a great deal within this "circle" and even return several times to pass the spot where they bolted. This is a general observation, not a rule. Some dogs have made a smaller circle while others go just beyond. A few bolt straight down a road for a mile or two, stop and then establish a "home range." Never be discouraged by lack of calls. Think! Flyers could be in the wrong areas, not enough distributed or you didn't personally talk to enough people yet. You get a lot of good information when you get out and talk to people. They also remember you and are more apt to make the call once you have made it a "personal" thing. It is time-consuming work. It is emotionally & physically draining. Do not rely solely on an Animal Control Officer. They are usually very busy and cannot devote all their time to your lost dog. The best advice: Be focused, be organized and be strong until you find your dog. They are dependent on you to be smarter than they are. If your dog is a repeat visitor in an area, do not hesitate. Talk with Animal Control or Animal Rescue League & see if they can set up a humane cage trap in an appropriate place. If not, try to find a person who will let you leave a "scent" item as well as food and water in their yard. You should visit the area frequently & try to spot your dog. If seen, be calm, kneel/lay down, talk in soft & reassuring tones. Lure it to you with bits of food and be very patient.
Reprinted with permission of Debbie Hall