What To Do If You Find a Lost Dog: A Comprehensive Guide to Reuniting Lost Pets With Their Families

Discover the steps to take when you find a stray dog, including checking for a microchip, taking them to a shelter, and creating a found dog flyer.

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Photo: Jim & Rachel McArthur

Discovering a stray dog can evoke strong emotions. Nevertheless, by acquiring the right information and adopting the appropriate measures, you can help reunite these misplaced pets with their loved ones.

In this guide, we’ll outline the actions to take upon finding a stray dog, share tips on preventing your own pet from going missing, and provide answers to some common questions.

Step-by-Step Guide to Helping a Stray Dog

1. Approach the Dog With Caution

When you come across a stray dog, remember that they may be scared or injured. Approach cautiously and speak in a calm, reassuring voice.

If the dog appears aggressive or frightened, don’t try to capture them yourself. Instead, contact your local animal control or a nearby animal rescue organization for help.

2. Check for Identification Tags

Before checking for a microchip, look at the dog’s collar for any identification tags. These tags may include the dog’s name, caretaker’s contact information, or a QR code that you can scan with your smartphone for more information.

If you find such tags, try to get in touch with the dog’s person directly to reunite them with their lost pet.

3. Check for a Microchip

One of the first things you should do when you find a stray dog without visible identification is to take them to a veterinarian’s office or animal shelter to be scanned for a microchip[1].

If the dog has a microchip, the vet or shelter will try to contact the family. Unfortunately, many people don’t register or update their pet’s microchip information, so this step may not always be successful.

4. Take the Dog to a Local Animal Shelter

If you can’t find the dog’s family through microchipping or identification tags, take the lost pet immediately to the animal shelter closest to the area in which you found them[2]. When someone has lost their dog and can’t find them, the shelter is usually the first place they’ll look. Shelters typically hold a lost pet for 3 to 5 days, and if the pet’s family doesn’t show up, you can adopt the dog for a fee. The price usually includes a spay/neuter, vaccinations, and a microchip.

Found a lost dog — what to do?
If you have found a stray dog, use our free Found Dog Flyer template — link below. Photo: isakarakus

5. Create and Distribute a “Found Dog” Flyer

Before going to the shelter, take a photo of the dog to put on a flyer. Include the date, the area in which you found the lost dog, and your phone number. Hold back some details, if possible, so you can make sure anyone who contacts you is the pet’s real family.

Post the flyers throughout your neighborhood, at local businesses, and on community bulletin boards. If the family is driving around the neighborhood, they’ll see the sign.

Here is a free template from Petful (Microsoft Word): Found Dog Flyer template.

6. Use Social Media and Online Resources

In addition to creating a found dog flyer, use social media and online resources to spread the word about the lost pet.

Share the dog’s photo and relevant information on your social media accounts, local community groups, and neighborhood apps like Nextdoor[3].

There are also websites, such as PawBoost and Petco Love Lost, where you can report found pets to increase visibility and reach a wider audience[4][5].

7. Ask Around the Neighborhood

Try to find someone knowledgeable about the local dogs, such as a neighbor who knows the name, breed, family’s name, and residence of almost all the dogs in the neighborhood.

Walk around and look for “Beware of Dog” signs, which usually indicate the resident is a dog person (and, with any luck, a nice one). Someone might have information on the dog you found. Take a flyer with you, too!

Quick Tips for Helping a Stray Dog (Callout Box)

  1. Approach the dog with caution.
  2. Check for identification tags.
  3. Check for a microchip at a vet or shelter.
  4. Take the dog to a local animal shelter.
  5. Create and distribute a “found dog” flyer.
  6. Utilize social media and online resources.
  7. Ask around the neighborhood for information.

Prevention Tips: Ensure Your Pet’s Safety and Identification

To prevent your pet from becoming lost and increase the chances of a happy reunion if they ever go missing, follow these essential prevention tips:

  • Microchip Your Pet: Microchipping is a permanent identification method that can significantly increase the likelihood of reuniting lost pets with their families. Ensure your pet is microchipped and register the microchip with the appropriate company.
  • Update Microchip Information: If you move or change your contact information, update your pet’s microchip registration to ensure accurate information is available if your pet is found.
  • Collar and ID Tags: Even if your pet is microchipped, make sure they always wear a collar with a tag containing their name, your phone number, and your street address. This visible form of identification can help a good Samaritan quickly contact you if they find your lost pet.
  • Secure Your Property: Regularly check your yard for any gaps, weak spots in the fencing, or potential escape routes. Repair any issues promptly and ensure gates are secure and locked to prevent your pet from wandering off.
  • Keep Your Dog on a Leash: Ensure your dog is always on a leash when outside of secure areas, like a fenced-in yard or a designated off-leash dog park. Using a leash not only prevents your dog from running away but also protects them from dangers, such as traffic or confrontations with other animals.
  • Monitor Outdoor Activities: Closely watch your pet during outdoor play, even if they are in a fenced yard. Animals can be quick and ingenious when it comes to finding escape routes, making attentive supervision essential.
  • Teach Your Dog Basic Commands: Dedicate time to training your dog to follow fundamental commands like “come,” “sit,” and “stay.” A properly trained dog is less likely to stray and can be more easily managed in emergencies.
  • Establish a Daily Routine: Creating a regular routine for your pet, which includes mealtime, walks, and play sessions, can help alleviate anxiety and decrease their urge to roam.

Taking the time to follow these valuable prevention tips can help ensure your pet’s safety and increase the chances of a swift reunion if they ever become lost.

Helping a Stray Dog: FAQs

Is it OK to Keep a Stray Dog I Discovered?

It’s crucial to follow the correct steps to locate the dog’s family, even if the dog appears to be in poor health. The dog might have been trapped or searching for its family for an extended period, sometimes days, weeks, or months.

If the animal shelter holds the dog for 3 to 5 days and the family doesn’t claim it, you may be able to adopt the dog for a fee.

What Action Should I Take if I Find an Injured or Sick Stray Dog?

When encountering an injured or sick stray dog, exercise caution and avoid startling the animal. Reach out to your local animal control or a nearby animal rescue organization for help, as they have the expertise to manage such situations.

Offer as much information as possible about the dog’s whereabouts and condition.

Laws related to reporting stray dogs can differ based on your location. In some areas, you are legally required to report a stray dog to local authorities or an animal shelter within a specified time frame.

Become familiar with local regulations and follow proper reporting procedures.

Be a Part of the Solution for Lost Pets

Encountering a stray dog can be an emotional and challenging situation — but by following the steps outlined in this guide and taking a proactive approach, you can make a positive impact on the lives of both the lost pet and their family.

Interested in learning more about pet care and safety? Explore our comprehensive resources and tips to become an even more responsible and knowledgeable pet parent and animal advocate.