What to Do if You Find a Lost Dog

Finding a lost dog means you can reunite someone with their four-legged best friend. But what exactly do you do when a stray dog crosses your path?

Oct 30, 2023By Heather Jarek, BA Veterinary Technology
what to do if you find lost dog

When a dog becomes lost, it feels like a part of the family is missing. It can be devastating for owners and dangerous for the dog. Millions of pets go missing every year, and many end up in shelters, unable to be reunited with their families. With so many stray dogs, there is a good chance you may encounter one, and you will be that crucial link that reunites that dog with its family. This article will educate you on the steps to take when you find a lost dog.

Never Chase a Lost Dog

dog poodle running down trail

The first step to helping a dog find its way back home is safely capturing it. Most lost dogs are scared and anxious, so it’s important to approach them with caution. Attempt to call the dog over by using a calm and inviting voice. If you have any food or treats handy, use them to try and bribe the dog and then slip a leash over its head. You can use a rope or slip a belt under the dog’s collar if you don't have a leash. If you have no means of securing the dog, try to coax it into the back of your vehicle or a fenced-in yard.

If you approach a dog and it runs away from you, do not chase it. You can cause the dog to panic and run into the road, where it may get injured or cause injury to others. Never attempt to capture or approach an aggressive dog. If a dog runs away from you or is acting aggressively, call animal control or your police department. Try to give them a description of the dog and where you last saw it.

Check the Dog’s Collar

dog collar identification

Most owners put identification tags and the dog’s rabies tag on their collars. Once the dog is secured, try to check if it is wearing a tag attached to its collar. If the dog seems nervous or won’t sit still for you to read the tag, remove the collar to get a better look but be sure to have the dog otherwise secured. If there is a tag, great! It will usually have the dog’s name, the owner’s phone number, and possibly the owner’s address. You can call the owner and arrange to reunite them with their dog.

If the owner does not answer, leave a detailed message explaining that you found their dog and what you plan to do with the dog while waiting for their returned call. If you decide to keep the dog while waiting to hear from the owner, alert your local animal shelter or police department. This is in case the owner calls them first looking for their dog. You can give the dog some water and ensure it’s in a safe place, ideally a kennel.

If the dog is not wearing a collar or identification tag, don’t worry! You can still do several things to help it find its way home.

Post a Picture of the Dog on social media

run away stray dog

Social media platforms have become an excellent way to reunite families with their lost pets. You may already be a part of your town’s community page on Facebook, where you can reach thousands of those in your community. Get a good picture of the dog and post its description and where you found it. Be sure never to give out your address. Just let the owner or other readers know they can message you on the platform for more details or if they have any information on who owns the dog.

Find Out if the Dog is Microchipped

dog scanned microchip

If you find a dog without a collar or identification tag, you can try to see if the dog is microchipped. Take the dog to the local shelter, animal control, or even a police station if you suspect dog abuse, where they can use a microchip scanner. If the dog is microchipped, a registration number will be detected. This number can then be used to find the owner’s contact information through the microchipping company.

Bring the Dog to You Local Animal Shelter

dog in cage shelter

If all else fails and you cannot make the street dog your pet, bring it to your local animal shelter. It may not be easy to bring a dog to a shelter, but this is the safest option for the dog. The staff will take great care of the dog while doing all they can to find its owner. You can always call the shelter after a few days to follow up and see if they were able to find the dog’s owners. If you find a lost dog after the shelter has closed, you can bring the dog to your local police department or try calling animal control.

Heather Jarek
By Heather JarekBA Veterinary Technology

Heather is a lover of all animals, big and small. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology in 2014. She has been working as a licensed veterinary technician for the last eight years. Her favorite hobby is horseback riding, and she has been riding horses since the age of eight. She enjoys spending time with her family at the lake with their golden retriever Calista in her free time.