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How to Help a Lost Dog

Know how to help a lost dog.

Have you ever seen a dog running along beside the street or, worse, in it? Maybe a confused pup has bounded into your yard, trying to get into your house. You might have been playing at the park with your kids when a sweet dog came ambling up to you, no owners in sight.

Odds are, if you see a lost dog, you want to do what you can to help him. Here's what you need to know.

Take Care When Stopping Your Car

If helping a lost dog involves stopping your car on the side of the road, make sure you use extreme care. Don't slam on the brakes if you can help it because you might cause an accident. Instead, use your signal, brake slowly, move your car to the side of the road, stop, and turn on your car's hazard lights.

Be Careful Around the Dog

When approaching a lost dog, never forget that you don't know him, and he doesn't know you. A dog that is lost may be confused, overexcited, or afraid. Any of those emotions could cause him to bite you or run away from you. The last things you want to happen when you're trying to help a lost dog are to become injured yourself or to cause him to run into traffic by approaching him too quickly. Use the following tips when trying to get a lost dog to come to you.

  • Speak to the lost dog calmly and positively.
  • Try squatting down and holding out a hand invitingly.
  • It may help to turn and move in the direction you'd like the dog to go and excitedly pat your leg to entice him to follow you.
  • If at all possible, approach the dog from the side rather than head-on.
  • If you can't catch the dog or he appears as though he may bite if you try, do your best to contain him away from any dangerous areas such as the road, and call for help.
  • If the dog is obviously injured, use even more caution when approaching him. Remember that, even if you don't see an injury, the dog may have one, and this may make him more prone to biting you.

Keep a Leash and Treats in Your Car

Many times, when lost dogs are encountered, it is while you are driving. Keeping a few dog treats and a leash in your car can really help in these situations. A lost dog may not be wearing a collar and it might not be the best idea to grab it and click a leash to it even if he is wearing one, so a slip leash is the best type to keep with you. With this kind of leash, you can form a loop in the end which can be passed over the dog's head and then pulled snug, all while allowing you to keep at least an arm's length between you and him.

Look for Identification

Once you've managed to get your hands on the lost dog, the first thing to do is look for identification. Check for tags on the dog's collar, and give the owner a call if you find any. If there are no tags, take the dog to your veterinarian or a local shelter, and ask the staff to scan him for a microchip. This is a tiny radio-frequency device that is placed under the dog's skin, usually between the shoulder blades, and a scanner will read the chip's unique ID number. The microchip company can then be contacted and given the number to acquire the owner's contact information.

Get the Word Out

You'll want to make sure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to see the lost dog's face. Use your social media accounts, contact local veterinarians' offices and shelters, and put your foundling's picture up on The more people who have an opportunity to see the dog, the greater the chance that someone will recognize him. And while you're visiting, make sure to get pictures of all of your own dogs into the system in case any of them are ever lost.

Program Your Phone

There may be times when you can't catch a lost dog, it isn't safe to do so, or you just don't have the time to stop and try. These are the moments when it's important to have the phone number of your local animal control office programmed into your phone. That way, even though you aren't able to directly rescue the dog, you are doing something to help get him safely off the street.

Use Caution If You Take the Lost Dog Home

If you decide to take the lost dog home until you can find his owner, there are certain important things you should keep in mind:

  • If you have other dogs, you should keep them separated from the lost dog because they might not get along. The lost dog also may have fleas, viruses, or other parasites that could be contagious to your dog.
  • If you have cats at home, you should not allow the lost dog near them because you don't know how he reacts to cats, and he may hurt yours. It can also be quite stressful to cats to suddenly find an unknown dog in their home.
  • It's extremely important that you strictly supervise all interactions the lost dog has with any children in your home. Not all dogs are good with children and even if this one is, he is likely to be feeling fear and stress, so he may react uncharacteristically.
  • You won't know for sure whether the dog is housetrained at first, so you may wish to keep him in an easily cleaned, uncarpeted space just in case. You also won't know whether the lost dog will accept being confined to a small room well. Some dogs have separation anxiety that causes them to scratch at doors or carpeting when they are separated from humans. Even if the dog doesn't normally have separation anxiety, being lost and in a new home may trigger such behaviors.
  • If at all possible, it's best to have the lost dog checked out by a veterinarian before you take him into your home. The doctor can check for obvious illnesses and parasites for you.

Check the Laws

If you decide you'd like to keep the lost dog, be sure to find out if there are laws in your area that govern how and when you can claim him. You may need to wait a certain amount of time, do particular tasks to attempt to find the owner, and/or have certain vaccinations and licenses updated.

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