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Stray or lost dog in the street

The essentials

  • Approach the dog cautiously — Keep your hand movements slow and steady and don’t do anything to make the dog feel threatened.  If you feel the dog is aggressive or won’t let you near, contact animal control or the police for assistance.
  • Check for identification — Many pet owners get their dogs microchipped or get a specialized FidoAlert tag. Check for these forms of identification as well as the phone number and address on the collar tag.
  • Report the lost dog — Take a photo of the dog and get the word out as quickly as possible through flyers and social media posts. Also, enlist the help of neighbors and local business owners.

It only takes a second for a dog to bolt out of an open gate, front door, or car. Losing a dog happens to almost 15% of dog owners within five years, which can naturally be a terrifying experience for the doggie parent. If you see a lost pet, you can take certain steps to ​reunite the lost pup with their owner for the best outcome.

How to approach a lost dog

If you see a lost dog, approach cautiously, for your safety and to gain the dog’s trust.  You want to speak gently and try to reassure the dog that you don’t pose a threat. You also want to gauge if the dog is acting aggressively. Follow these tips for safely interacting with a stray dog.

  • Assess the dog’s behavior. An aggressive dog usually exhibits certain behaviors that include a guttural bark, lunging, growling, showing their teeth, or snarling.
  • Keep your distance while making contact. While you might want to reassure the dog with kind words, don’t get too close, especially if you suspect aggressive behavior.
  • Use body language to communicate. To appear less threatening to a dog, don’t look directly at them. Also, angle your body when approaching and keep your hand movements slow and steady.
  • Don’t chase or call the dog. Lost dogs are often panicked and will run from people, even their owners. Calling a dog can lead to chasing which can be dangerous for the pup, especially in a high-traffic area.
  • Call for help. If you feel like you cannot safely approach the dog or the dog runs away, call your local animal control, local shelter, or police department. The experts will take it from there.

Check for identification

If you’re able to gain the dog’s trust and make contact,  immediately search for any kind of identification that can help you find the dog’s owner.

  • Look for a collar and tags. Check to see if the dog has an ID tag, including a specialized FidoAlert tag. With this free nationwide pet alert network, you use a QR code to enter the dog’s ID number and notify the owner.
  • Check for a microchip with a vet or shelter. Pets without tags may still have a microchip, which provides a permanent source of identification. Your local animal shelter or pound should be able to determine if the dog is microchipped.

Take the dog to safety

If you’re able to safely take the dog with you while trying to connect with the owner, that’s a good stopgap measure. However, if you have your own dogs at home, bringing in a stray dog may not be the best idea. This could make the lost dog feel more stressed or could make your dog or dogs feel threatened and territorial.

If you have a garage or other enclosure, this could work temporarily, as long as you provide food, water, and ensure the dog is not too hot or cold. If the dog appears injured in any way, take them to the nearest veterinary clinic.  If the animal has no ID tag or microchip, its best chance of being reunited with their owner is generally at an animal shelter.

Report the found dog

The sooner you can get the word out about the lost dog, the better.  Enlist the help of professionals through your town’s shelter or veterinary clinics. If you aren’t able to make a trip and you have the dog in your custody, make paper flyers and also post their picture and info onto social media sites. Make sure, too, to check out anyone who contacts you as the dog’s owner.

Additionally, you can contact an animal control agency to report the lost dog. You can also contact a no-kill animal shelter for assistance. Explain that this isn’t a surrender but rather a found dog that you want to reunite with their owner.

Search for the dog’s family 

Word of mouth can be a really effective way to help reunite the lost pup with their family. You’ll want to tell as many people as you can, as soon as you can, about the dog you’ve found.

  • Post a flyer. You can easily snap a photo of the dog and create a “found flyer” with the picture and your contact information. Make lots of copies and post them within a mile or so of where you found the dog.
  • Social media. You can share a photo of the dog and a few details on your personal and community social media pages. Lost Dogs of America is a free network of Facebook pages across America in addition to special sites, like Helping Lost Pets (HeLP), Petco Love Lost, and Pet FBI.
  • Talk to neighbors and local businesses. If you can, go door to door in your neighborhood to see if anyone has lost a dog or may know the owner. Talking to local business owners also can be helpful. They may allow you to post a flyer in their front window, too.
  • Check lost and found postings. Look through the local social media sites, such as Next Door and Facebook, to see if anyone has posted a lost dog. Often, this is one of the first things an owner will do when they realize a dog or cat is missing.
  • Make sure the owner is legitimate. If someone calls you claiming to be the dog’s owner, ask for proof. This includes vet records (call their vet to confirm), adoption or ownership papers, and dated photos with family members.

Think about how heartbroken you would feel if your pet was lost. If you find a dog that clearly belongs to someone, it’s important to be proactive in helping them to find their way home. At the same time, this experience is a good reminder about the importance of responsible pet ownership, including making sure your dog wears identifying tags and gets microchipped.

Frequently asked questions

What do you do with a stray dog?

If you find a lost dog, remain calm and don’t chase them. If the dog isn’t aggressive and you’re able to make contact, take the dog with you, if possible, until you can locate the owner. You also can transport the dog directly to animal control or a local animal shelter.

What do you feed stray dogs?

If you have the dog in your possession for more than a few hours, you probably want to feed them. Purchase a few cans of dog food that indicate it’s 100% nutritional. And make sure they have plenty of clean water to drink.

How can I read a lost dog’s collar tag without it biting me?

First, you need to establish that the lost dog isn’t aggressive. Talk to the dog in a gentle voice, watch your body language, and see if you can establish trust before going near it. If the dog seems calm, approach them slowly to look for identification. If you determine this isn’t a safe option, contact animal control or the police.