What to Do If You Found a Lost Dog

Sad stray dog with gray shaggy fur.

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If you’re an animal lover, it’s normal to want to step in to help if you find a lost dog. And you should! Chances are that there is someone out there who is very distraught over their missing pet and who would much appreciate a kind stranger making sure their dog gets home safe. Likewise, if you find a lost dog and it doesn’t have a caretaker you can help ensure that it gets on its way to a forever home.

Each situation is different, and you’ll have to pay careful attention to the dog’s body language in order to know how to proceed. Dogs can quickly become wary of strangers when they’re lost, and even friendly dogs may react aggressively or run away if you proceed too quickly. As a better alternative, follow the advice below to help make sure that you get the dog help quickly and safely.

Approaching a Lost Dog

Most lost dogs will bolt if an unknown human approaches them too quickly.

Take your time, and read the cues you’re getting from the dog as best as you can. Ears down and tail between the legs both signify the dog is afraid and that it may run the other way. Speak very softly and calmly, and try to stay low to the ground. Approach from the side instead of head on, and try to avoid making direct or sustained eye contact.

Be careful not to rush forward at any point or otherwise spook the pup. If he is trying to move away from you, try to guide him in a certain direction, ideally toward a wall or somewhere else where he has less options for getting away. Never guide a dog toward the street if you can help it. Meanwhile, if a dog is curious about you, you may even be able to stay in place and have him come to you instead. Use food to entice them, if you have any.

A caveat to this is if the dog is showing signs of aggression, such as baring his teeth or growling. If this is the case, keep your eyes on him so you don’t lose sight and call animal care and control immediately—they’ll be able to send someone out who can safely handle the dog. If the dog runs away, call them anyway to alert them to the sighting so they can take proper action.

Home or Shelter?

The first step is getting a lost dog safely in your care, whether that means in your arms or in your car. But what do you do from there? The following questions will help you figure out whether you should take the dog to your home or to a shelter. Note that if you choose the former option and have other pets at home, you should bring the dog to a vet first to make sure they have a clean bill of health.

Ask: Does it have a collar? If yes, it’s someone’s pet. Take it home while you try to get in touch with its owner, or take it directly to its owner’s home. If no, there’s still a chance the dog is microchipped. Go to a shelter or veterinary office to have the dog scanned.

Ask: Is it friendly? If yes, you’re probably safe to keep it in your home while you hunt for the owner. If no, trust its care to a shelter, since they’ll have more expertise handling difficult dogs.

If you are at all concerned about bringing a lost dog to your home, don’t! Work with the animal welfare resources in your area to find an alternative solution where the dog can be safely housed until it is reunited with its human mom or dad.

Finding the Owner

You have a few different avenues that you can use to help find the dog’s caregiver, and it’s advised that you cover as many bases as you can. Take these steps whether you are able to capture the dog or not.

Call around. People who lose dogs will often call local shelters and veterinarians to check whether they have any leads. Call the ones in your area and ask if they’ve had any lost dog inquiries.

Create a flyer. Use a site like FindToto to create a free Found Dog flyer that includes any identifying information and an image of the dog, if you have one. Email the flyer to shelters and vet’s offices, and print out a stack you can post around town, too. Focus heavily on the area where you found and/or sighted the dog, since a lost dog will typically stay within a five mile radius.

Spread the word. Share the dog’s information in as many places as you can, including on social media. Create Found Pet reports on 24PetWatchPetAmberAlertPetKey, and more, all of which are sites that caregivers of lost pets frequent to see if there are any updates. Share the flyer you created on their social media pages as well.

Next Steps

Ideally, you’ll hear from the dog’s caregiver and be able to facilitate a happy reunion. But what if that doesn’t happen? If it’s been a few weeks and nobody has contacted you about the dog, you’ll need to make a decision about what to do next.

You have a few options here. You can adopt the pet yourself of course, or you can work within your own social network to find it new parents or a foster home. You can also relinquish the dog to a local shelter.

There is a lot of work to be done when you find a lost dog, but it’s all worth it. Be patient, and rest easy knowing that no matter what, at least the dog is safe and cared for.