One morning, I woke up and my little dog, Lolita, was nowhere to be found in my apartment.
It was early fall and the weather was nice, so I had kept a window open while I slept. It was a rookie dog owner move on my part. I assume she saw a raccoon — we had a few of them in the neighborhood — and took off out the window.
Lucky for me (and Lo), she was only lost for a few hours. Some neighbors found her curled up on their porch in the morning, brought her inside, and contacted me as soon as they saw my worried social media post with her picture. They were animal lovers, and they did everything right to make sure Lo made it home, safe and sound. But not everyone knows what to do if you find a lost dog.
We all want dogs to be happy and safe with their families, which is why it’s important to learn all the steps you should take if you ever come across a pet who’s lost. They often need help finding their way home — or, at least, a safe place to hang out while their owner is looking for them. Here’s what to do if you find a lost dog so you can help ensure they reunite with their owner quickly and safely.
Step 1: Safely Catch and Contain the Lost Dog
Depending on a lot of different factors, the first step can be the hardest one: You have to catch the dog, and you have to do it safely.
Some dogs will just come right to people, even if they’re lost. But a dog that’s scared or nervous around strangers can be very hard to catch.
How to Catch a Lost Dog
Start by approaching the dog calmly, while speaking softly. It might help to move sideways toward the dog, as it will make you appear less threatening. If you have a dog-safe treat to offer, use it. Most importantly: Don’t try to chase the dog. This is likely to scare him or her, and could cause them to bolt away from you.
A good trick for catching a loose dog is to open your car door and say, in an excited voice, “Let’s go for a ride!” This will cause many dogs to jump happily into the car.
If the dog seems very scared or is acting aggressively, don’t try to catch it. In that case, alert your local police or animal control, and they can send a trained professional to help.
Once You’ve Caught a Lost Dog
Once you’ve caught the dog, you need to keep it safely contained. If you have any item, like a belt or neck tie, that you can make into a slip lead, use that.
Try to get the dog to a secure place as quickly as possible, like a safe backyard or a room in your house. If you take the dog home, don’t let it mingle with any other animals you have — it may not be friendly toward other pets, or it may have illnesses or parasites it could pass on. Don’t leave the dog in your car — this is extremely dangerous, and many dogs die each year because the temperature inside a car can rise so much faster than the temperature outside.
And before you take a lost dog home, make sure to check it carefully for any signs of illness or injury. If anything seems amiss, you might want to take the dog to a veterinarian first to make sure it’s healthy and free from injuries.
Step 2: Check the Dog for Identification
Once you’ve caught a lost dog and gotten it to a safe place, you can take the first steps toward finding its owner to reunite them.
The first place to check is the dog’s collar — if you’re lucky, he or she might have an ID tag with their owner’s contact information. Even if there isn’t an ID tag, check other tags, like a rabies vaccine registration tag, which may have a phone number for the dog’s vet, who can help connect you with their owner.
If the dog doesn’t have a collar or any tags, the next step is to check for a microchip. This will require taking the dog to a vet’s office or an animal shelter. All you need to do is ask them to scan the dog for a microchip, and they’ll use a special scanner that they should have on hand.
If the dog has a microchip, it will contain an ID number. You can then contact the microchip company’s registry and give them the ID number, and they should be able to provide you with any contact information they have for the dog’s owner. As long as that contact information is up-to-date, you should be able to reach out to the owner and let them know you have their dog.
Step 3: If the Dog Has No Identification, Take These Steps
If the dog doesn’t have a collar with tags, and doesn’t have a microchip (or if the contact information on the microchip registry is out of date), don’t worry! There are still things you can do to help reunite the lost dog with its owner.
You Can Surrender the Dog to an Animal Shelter
If you aren’t able to take care of the dog while you search for its owner, you should surrender it to an animal shelter. If at all possible, try to choose a no-kill shelter, where the dog won’t be euthanized if its owner can’t be found.
Animal shelters have a lot of experience and resources for reuniting lost pets with their owners, and if this dog’s owner can’t be found, they can place him or her on the adoption floor and look for a new forever family.
However, you don’t have to surrender a lost dog. You can keep the dog with you while you search for its owner, if you’d rather. Just be sure to report the lost dog to local animal shelters, so if the owner calls or goes there looking for their dog, they can point them in your direction. And if you’re going to keep a lost dog while you look for its owner, you should probably take it to a vet, and make sure you have good quality dog food, a safe space, and toys and other supplies to keep the dog healthy and happy during your search for its owner.
Ask Around the Neighborhood
Canvas the area where you found the dog. Take a picture of it, and ask neighbors and pedestrians if they’ve seen the dog before, or know who it might belong to.
Lost dogs can cover a lot of distance, especially if they’re disoriented or if they got lost in an area they aren’t familiar with. Start your search within a one-mile radius of where you found the dog, but if that doesn’t produce results, know that you’ll need to widen your search area.
Put Up Fliers and Ads
Using photos you’ve taken of the dog, make some colorful fliers that include at least one picture, where the dog was found, and your contact information. Put them up everywhere you can — on light posts, on bulletin boards, and at businesses that are willing to help — within a mile or two radius of where you found the dog.
You should also post online ads. Make a Craigslist ad using the dog’s picture. Make social media posts and share them to lost and found pet groups and pages for your community. Ask local animal shelters if they can share a social media post, too. If you have a community social network like NextDoor, post there.
And finally, newspaper ads may seem old-fashioned, but if your lost dog’s owner is elderly, that might be the first place they go for help. Most community newsletters will allow you to post a found pet ad in their classifieds for free.
Ask Anyone Claiming to Be the Owner for Proof
It’s a sad fact that dog theft happens. People steal dogs to resell later for a profit, or to use for breeding, bait dogs for dogfighting, and even more nefarious purposes. That’s why, if anyone comes forward claiming to be the owner of the lost dog you found, ask them to show proof, like pictures of the dog.
Join the Huan Pet Protection Network to Help Animals in Your Community
Want to go a step further to help keep animals safe where you live?
Whether you have pets of your own or not, you can download the Huan app and join the Pet Protection Network, which will send alerts to your phone if someone’s missing pet is nearby.
And if you do have pets that you love, Huan is the best way you can protect them from getting lost. Huan Smart Tags are small enough to attach to any dog or cat’s collar or harness. It has a long battery life and uses safe, radiation-free bluetooth to send signals to nearby smartphones. If your pet ever goes missing, you can mark them as lost on the Huan app, and then use the Pet Protection Network to track their location.
Huan is the best way to protect your pet from getting lost, but don’t just take our word for it. Read about some of the best stories of lost pets reuniting with their owners (including some who were found because of Huan). And then make sure all the animals you love are protected with Huan — Join our pack today.