What To Do...

What To Do If You Find A Lost Dog

By Andrea Quarracino | October 12, 2021

If you've ever encountered a collarless dog when you're walking down the sidewalk or noticed a pet sprinting for the woods as you're driving down the road, you've probably felt concerned and, perhaps, unsure of what to do. Wondering what you can do to help bring a lost pet home safely? We've got you covered.

When it comes to reuniting pets with their people, research by the Missing Animal Response Network suggests that the behavior of the rescuer is a crucial piece of pet recovery. "What they think and believe will influence what they do," says pet detective Kat Albrecht of the Missing Animal Response Network. 

How To Tell if a Dog Is Lost

First, it’s important to not make assumptions about the found dog being feral or abandoned based solely on their location, look, or behavior. Behind every skinny or shy animal, there could be a family searching frantically for their best friend.

"Many dogs, even dogs that normally are not fearful at home, become terrified when they become lost," says pet detective Kat Albrecht. If you see a scared, skittish dog on the run, odds are you've had a lost dog sighting.

How To Approach a Lost Dog

According to Albrecht, it’s best not to approach a lost dog. Instead, try these steps to lure a lost dog to you:

1. Grab a potato chip bag — or something equally crinkly that may signal that you have food — and some dog soft treats.

2. Keep your gaze averted and focused on the food. Notice where the dog is out of the corner of your eye.

3. Take a non-threatening posture, like kneeling or sitting, and crinkle the treat bag to mimic eating noises.

4. Without looking, toss a few treats in the direction of the dog.

What To Do if You Find a Lost Dog

Outside of reporting the found dog on Petco Love Lost, you'll want to do the following if you find a lost dog:

  • Take a photo (if possible). Upload it to Petco Love Lost and search our database for matches. You'll want to create a found pet listing even if you can't recover the lost dog.

  • Check for a collar and ID tag. If you can see a collar, but can't get close to the dog, try to note the color of the collar or any other details that would set the pet apart. Be sure to put this information in the found pet alert. If you can reach the collar, contact the dog’s family. Try to do this before moving the dog from the spot where you found them—you might be mere houses away from the lost dog's home.

  • Check for a microchip. The best way to do this is to bring the dog to a shelter, a vet office, or your local Petco↗ to get them scanned.

  • Knock on neighbors' doors. If a dog is wandering around a neighborhood, it may have slipped out of a nearby yard. A neighbor might know and help you contact the dog's family. "We are finding that most dogs are found within 1,000 feet of their home," says Gina Knepp, National Shelter Engagement Director of Michelson Found Animals↗. "A private citizen will have more luck walking a dog around a neighborhood and reuniting it than the animal control officer who drives the dog miles away from its neighborhood to a shelter."

  • Note the environment. If you've spotted a dog in a dangerous location, like by a busy road or in a remote area (like the middle of the woods), that could indicate that you've found someone's missing pet. They're likely to need quick intervention to keep them safe.

  • If the dog comes to you, see if you can secure it with a leash or have the dog jump into your car.

Who To Call When You Find a Lost Dog

Spreading the word that you've found a pet is the fastest way to ensure that you're helping to bring a lost dog back to its pack.

  • Call your local animal shelter, non-emergency police number, animal services, or animal control office. They'll know if a dog has been reported missing and can also scan for a microchip to help get your dog back home.

  • Share the found pet listing you created on our site to a social network like Nextdoor or a local Facebook page for lost and found pets. Frantic parents may be sharing pics of their missing pet, and you can help make a meaningful connection.

How To Catch or Trap a Lost Dog

If you've seen a dog roaming in your neighborhood, you may consider trying to catch or trap the dog. Before doing so, follow the steps to alert local animal rescue organizations and see if they can lend their expertise. If calming and attracting the lost dog has not been effective, the dog may be scared or injured and need additional help. 

"It is very important to select the right dog trap and set it up, bait it and monitor it properly," Robertson says. "The wrong trap may injure [the] dog or allow them to escape, and once they have had a bad experience with a trap, they will be much more difficult to trap again."

To select a humane dog trap↗, Robertson recommends: 

  • Choosing a humane trap made from quality materials so that the lost dog cannot escape

  • Ensuring that the trap you select is big enough so the stray dog can fit fully inside before they step on the trip plate

Again, the most critical aspect of trapping is to keep yourself and the animal safe. If in doubt, reach out to a professional first.

Where To Take a Lost Dog

Bring the dog to your local animal shelter or animal control office if you can't keep them with you. "Shelters are the first place an owner is going to look for their lost dog," says Danielle Robertson of Lost Pet Research & Recovery. "Only keep the dog if you are going to make sure that animal control/shelters know that you have the dog, and you are going to make extra effort to find the owner."

Some people may avoid bringing a found pet to an animal shelter for fear that it'll be euthanized. However, connecting a pet with an animal shelter, veterinarian, or other means of checking for a microchip can make a critical difference in getting lost pets back home. Be mindful that personal views or experiences may lead to incorrect conclusions and a missed opportunity to get a pet back to their parents.


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