What to do if you find a lost dog


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If you're reading this article, chances are that you may, or have come across a lost dog.

What should you do?

What if the dog isn't actually lost, but is just a stray dog in the vicinity?

While most of the time dogs are more than capable of finding their way home with their senses, sometimes they might be disoriented, or genuinely lost.

Read on for some helpful tips to help guide you through what to do in these different situations.

Friendliness of dog

First to do is to check if the lost dog you see is friendly.

Friendly dog

If the dog approaches you and is wagging its tail, it's likely that the dog is friendly.

On the other hand, if the dog barks aggressively or tries to run away from you, it may be best to stay away and call animal control instead.

A friendly dog is a little easier to help identify and get back to it's owners - since they're already trusting of people, it wouldn't be too much trouble to help them out.

Check for dog tag on collar

Assuming that the lost dog is approachable and friendly, the next step is to check for a tag on its collar.

The name and contact number of the owner will usually be listed on the tag.

That way, it's pretty easy to get ahold of the owner or bring the dog back home, if it's nearby.

friendly dog with no collar

If you can't find a tag, take down as much information about the dog as possible - like where it was last seen, what color it is, any distinctive markings or scars, etc.

Using that information above, call the local animal shelter - the staff there might know whose dog it is, especially if it was recently adopted.

This information can also help in locating the owner if you decide to knock on nearby doors as well - it might be a neighbor's dog after all.

If you're willing, you could also wait around with the dog - there is also a good chance the owner is looking for the dog, and are either trying to retrace their steps, or searching in their vicinity.

The worst case in this is that the previous owners abandoned the poor dog, but at least it'll be in safe hands at the vet, who will then take steps to have it brought to a shelter, or rehomed.

Failing which, you could also bring the dog home for the time being if no one comes forward, and the dog is healthy.

You could also call animal control for help to temporarily house the dog if you're unable to!

Sick stray dog

The last thing to check for are for injuries or if it looks sick - the lost dog might have gotten disoriented and separated from its owners.

If that's the case, it might be better to bring the dog to a nearby vet to access the dog's health.

The bonus is that the dog might also be microchipped, which will definitely help in finding the owner.

If not, you would have at least saved that dog's life, and gave it a fighting chance to be rehomed and adopted into a loving family.

Unfriendly dog

Sometimes you might encounter a stray dog who is friendly, or is skittish in general.

If that's the case, it's important that you don't try to approach them.

This could scare the dog and make him run away even faster.

Instead, go back inside your house or car where he feels safe, call animal control services for help.

If they are not open 24 hours, and wait there until an official arrives with proper equipment like a catch pole or muzzle.

In this way, it's a lot safer for both you and the dog, who is already frightened and alert at every potential threat at it's life.


A happy and friendly dog just came up to me with no collar what should I do?

  1. Check for it's ID tag on it's collar
  2. Note it's features - scars, color, what breed it looks like.
  3. If no ID tag or collar, call animal control - the dog might have been recently adopted, and has a history of being an 'escape artist'
  4. If in a neighborhood, knock on a few doors and ask if they've seen this dog before. The residents may be able to direct you to the owner if they live nearby
  5. Wait with the dog for a while - the owners or animal control will show up eventually.
  6. If the dog is friendly but looks exhausted or sick, it's better to bring the dog into a local vet to examine it.
  7. The vet may also be able to scan the microchip and find the owner's information on it
  8. If animal control or the vet is not open, and the dog does not belong to anyone nearby, you could temporarily bring it home and call animal control or the vet when they open.

What to do if I find a stray dog?

If you find a stray dog (i.e. never lived in a home before), the same rules apply above.

  1. Do not approach them, find somewhere safe and call animal control.
  2. The dangerous thing with strays sometimes is that if they're aggressive, they may also be carrying dangerous viruses like distemper, or rabies.
  3. It's far safer to call animal control for help, to be safe.

What to do if you find a lost dog at night?

  1. Call animal control services if the dog is unfriendly or aggressive.
  2. Do not try to approach the dog because it makes them skittish and more likely to run away, increasing their chances of getting hit by cars or trucks.
  3. Wait until morning when someone comes along to safely look after them overnight in your garage or porch (if safe).
  4. If the dog seems friendly, you may bring the dog inside. Being outside at night for a stray can be fatal, especially near busy roads!


The best thing you can do is to take the dog to a local animal shelter and call the number on their website.

Or if that isn't possible and the dog is friendly, you could temporarily bring it home and then call the relevant organizations for help.

If you find any valuable information, such as tags or identification papers, we recommend contacting your local police department for further assistance.

We hope that by knowing what steps to take if you happen upon a lost pup will help make sure that they get home safely.

Remember it's always better be safe than sorry when dealing with stray animals - please follow these simple guidelines next time you encounter an unknown canine!

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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