Lost & Found: What to Do If You Find a Lost Dog

Stop, take a beat, and breathe. Then follow these simple steps to help the lost dog find home again.

Published November 7, 2023
A friendly dog waiting to be adopted

Have you ever stumbled upon a lost dog and felt that immediate surge of worry and responsibility? We’ve all been there! Questions run through your mind that you may never have considered before:

  • Who do I call?
  • How do I catch the dog — and should I even try?
  • Where do I take them — and where to keep them in the meantime?

Whether the pup's bounded right up to you, or you simply sighted a lost dog around your neighborhood, we've got you covered.

Lost Dog Infographic

If They Run Up To You

In many instances, lost dogs will bound up to strangers, excited at the new adventure they're on. If this is the case, get the pup on a leash or tempt them into a fenced-in yard, if you can do so safely. Check out how to create a simple slip-lead to loop over the dog's neck. 

Once you have the pup, confine them to a calm, quiet area away from other pets and people or leave them in the back yard while you get help. 

Need to Know

Never, ever handle an unknown dog if you're concerned they may be aggressive. Call the local authorities to catch the dog if you have concerns about your safety.

If The Dog Is Running Loose

If the dog doesn't approach you and you're concerned it's lost or going to be hurt, there are a few ways you can encourage it to come close. 

Stay Calm

Dogs can sense our emotions and if we are panicking, their demeanor will reflect the same. 

No Chasing

You should never chase the dog. Running after the dog is more likely to scare them away. 

Get On Their Level 

Kneel or crouch down to appear less threatening. When you're standing up, your height and size can make you seem scary. 

Speak In a Calm Voice

Use a calm, happy voice in a soft tone to reassure the dog that you are not a threat. 

Coax With Treats or Food

Offering small bites of a dog-friendly food can encourage them to come closer. 

Get Them to an Enclosed Area 

If you have a leash, slowly place it on the dog while talking calmly. If not, guide the dog into a fenced area, your car, or any other safe enclosure. Always consider the safety of the dog and yourself before taking this step.

Quick Tip

Direct eye contact can be intimidating to some dogs. Look to the side of the dog or angle your body slightly away to make yourself seem friendlier.

Contact the Professionals

Once you have the dog, or know where it's headed, reach out to professionals to help guide you on next steps and to learn local animal control protcol. 

Shelters and Rescues

Walk dogs at a local shelter

Reach out to local animal shelters or rescues and let them know you found a dog. Shelters often have experience with reuniting lost pets with their owners and can be a valuable resource. They can also tell you who has the animal control contract in your town and who can take the dog in.


Ask your veterinarian if you can bring the dog in for a microchip scan. Many dogs have a microchip implanted under their skin with their owner's contact information. Most veterinarians won't charge for this, but if they do, your local shelter might be able to do it instead.

Police/Animal Control

The local police department will often get and respond to a calls for a found dog, and at a minimum can tell you which brick and mortar shelter has the town's intake contract. This is a shelter where lost dogs are kept while waiting for their owners. Just be aware that not all towns have animal control or a facility like this, so local shelters may be more helpful. 

Get the Word Out

Once you've notified the professionals and checked for a microchip, get the word out to your neighbors and ask them to do the same.

Knock on Doors

Lost dogs often don't go far. Try knocking on your neighbor's doors and asking if they know the dog's owner.

Do a Photoshoot

Try to get a clear, visible photo of the dog, showing any unique markings or features. This will help you share around social media and put up flyers.

Post to Social Media

Once you have a photo showing the dog's face and any unique features, post everywhere and ask your friends and neighbors to share.

  • Your social media accounts
  • Community forums for your neighborhood
  • Local lost-pet websites
  • Local lost-pet social media groups.

You’ll be surprised at how quickly word gets around, and before you know it, you might have a lead. If you don't have a lead on the owner, you may also have people asking if they can meet the dog if the owner does not claim them. This could be helpful in the future. Jot down their names and contact info just in case.

Quick Tip

Most states have active Facebook groups devoted to helping lost pets. Be sure to check for groups you can post to and share a photo, along with the area the dog was found or seen.

Put Up Flyers

Man nailing a lost dog poster to a tree

In bold, large letters, write “FOUND DOG” at the top of the flyer. All capitals will capture attention. Add the best photo you have and consider putting the location and date found. If you're worried about giving out your personal phone number, consider setting up a temporary email address to use. 

Distribute to Local Businesses 

Ask local veterinary clinics, pet stores, and other businesses to put up the flyer. Also put them on community bulletin boards.

Fast Fact

Digital flyers can be shared on social media, community forums, and local lost pet websites to increase the chances of finding the dog’s family. You can use Canva to make your own for free.

What To Do With the Dog

While you’re playing pet detective, the dog will need a place to stay. Some towns require found dogs to stay at their local facility, others do not. If you’re able, consider providing a temporary home. Either way, be sure to file found-pet reports with all the local animal shelters and rescues so they can connect you with the owner if the owner contacts them.

If you do let the dog bunk with you, ensure they have food, water, and a cozy place to sleep, but keep them away from other pets and people. Remember, this might be a stressful time for the pooch, so a quiet place to relax goes a long way.

Need to Know

If someone contacts you claiming to be the owner, verify their ownership by asking for proof such as photos, veterinary records, or specific identifying details about the dog.

If You Find the Owner

Once you’ve located the owner, it’s time for the heartwarming reunion. Arrange a safe meeting place, like a busy grocery store parking lot, and bring the dog back to their human. Witnessing the joy of a pet and owner reuniting can be incredibly rewarding. Give yourself a pat on the back; you made a difference.

If No One Claims The Dog

Let's say you've waited, but no one’s come forward to claim the the pooch. You have already gone to the veterinarian to check for the microchip, shared the pup on social media, and asked the local shelters if anyone has called missing a dog. The next steps are up to you, but you have a few choices:


If you've reached out to the shelter in the beginning and they weren't aware of anyone missing a dog, it's time to ring them up again. Now, you can inquire about the possibility of surrendering the dog, since no one has stepped up to claim them.


If the shelters and rescues don't have any room left, you can offer to foster the dog until a loving home is found. There's a huge need for this and it could be your chance to love on your new found friend while the rescue finds their forever home.


If no one comes forward and you have been wanting another dog in the family, perhaps it was meant to be. They found you and you found them. You may want to consider adding the dog to your family if they get along well with your lifestyle and other pets. Just be sure to take your new pooch to the veterinarian before introducing them to any other pets, and introduce them slowly and carefully.

An Overwhelming Experience

Finding a dog can be an exciting, yet overwhelming, experience for both you and them. They're in a new place, with new surroundings, and new people. Make the dog as calm as possible by remaining calm yourself and speaking in a soft voice for reassurance. If you find their pet parent, that's awesome. If not, take the actions necessary to find them a new home, or you can let them stay at yours. 

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Lost & Found: What to Do If You Find a Lost Dog