How to Help a Lost Dog

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 07, 2021
3 min read

If you own a dog, you may worry about losing your dog. However, what would you do if you encountered a dog in the absence of its owner? It is essential to think about the best way to get the dog back to safety while also protecting yourself. Read more to learn about the best course of action when encountering a lost dog. 

When you first see a lost dog, do not rush up and start touching the dog or try to help them. It is important to remember that you need to stay safe as well as help the dog. Also, you never know what kind of mood the dog may be in. If it's away from home and without its owner, it may be frightened and prone to acting out. Some dogs also need a chance to warm up to new people, and react poorly to strangers. 

Body Language‌

The first thing to do is to pay attention to the dog’s body language. Look for a relaxed demeanor in the dog. If the dog seems relaxed, try and make your body smaller. Squat down and show the dog you are not trying to dominate them. Hold out your hand so that the dog can smell you. Try to keep your body sideways and avoid looking at the dog directly. 

If the dog’s body language seems aggressive or uncertain, do not force an interaction. For example, do not try and touch a dog that is stiff, has bared teeth, or whose hair is puffed out. Likewise, a tale that is wagging does not always mean that the dog is excited or feeling friendly. It can also mean that they are extremely angry or anxious. 

Dangerous Body Language‌

Sometimes, a dog’s body language is so on guard that approaching them may not be safe. In this case, you should not approach the dog. Instead, try to take a photo or video. If you cannot do this, at least get a good idea of what the dog looks like so that you can describe it in detail later. 

Having a solid description of the dog will help you describe the dog to its owners, animal control, or your community at large. In addition, if you have a photo, you can post it along with the dog’s location so that they can be reunited with their owners more easily. 

If the dog is responding well to you, you should try to restrain the dog and put them in an area where they cannot escape. Then you should try to ascertain if they have a collar. If they have a collar, you should call their owner. If they do not have a collar, you should contact your local pet rescue authorities. 

Another way to identify a dog without a collar on is to take the dog to an animal shelter. Most shelters will then be able to scan the dog to see whether or not they have a microchip. If they have a microchip, the shelter will immediately be able to find the owner’s contact information. 

Do not let the new dog interact with your other dogs or pets before they get examined by a vet. They could have parasites or illnesses that may negatively affect your other pets. 

Before you take the dog to your house, think about how long you’d like to have the dog in your home. Every jurisdiction is different, and you may need to care for this pet. Find out what the laws are for where you are in order to know exactly what you are getting yourself into. 

In some states, there is a period of time in which the owner of a pet can come and claim a lost dog from someone else. If you keep the dog after that period has expired, you then could potentially become the dog's new owner. 

However, the best course of action is to take an unidentified dog to a shelter or some form of authority. This is most likely the best way for their owner to come and find them. If there is some reason you are not able to take the dog to the shelter, you can also send the shelter a picture or poster of the dog so that the owner can identify them when they're checking local shelters for their lost dog.