At one point or another, you likely have seen a dog running loose on a busy road or in a situation you knew it did not belong in. Unfortunately, it’s a situation that’s all too common. One out of every three pets will become lost at some point.

And while dogs do often become lost, they don’t always know how to get home. In the past, you may have wanted to help but may not have known the best way to do so.

Finding a stray dog can lead to a lot of questions, like “Who do I contact? Is this a stray, or does it have an owner? Can I keep it?” Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions as well as seven tips to remember the next time you see a pet in need.

Contain Them in a Safe Area

If you see a stray dog, do your best to contain them in a safe area. Always approach the stray slowly and cautiously while speaking in a calm, gentle voice.

If the pet seems afraid or backs away as you approach, sit on the ground, use a calm tone of voice, and offer food to convince the dog to come to you and gain trust. They will likely be frightened, so this may take some time.

Avoid cornering the dog or causing them to act out of fear. Doing so can lead to them potentially harming themselves or you.

If possible, gain control of the stray dog by using a leash or another object that can act as one for the moment. If you can get the dog under control, do not let the dog continue to roam. Doing so can put the dog in further danger, like getting hit by a car or ending up further from home.

Once you have the dog secured, take them to a safe location. This could be in a fenced-in backyard, mudroom, or garage.

However, it is very important the stray is kept away from your pets as they may have fleas, ticks, or other parasites. Plus, you are not fully aware of their behavior around other animals, so make sure your pets are also kept secured in a separate location for the time being.

Call the Authorities

If you are unable to capture and/or contain the dog due to its behavior, call the authorities, animal control, or a local rescue that specializes in the breed of dog you have found. By calling your local authorities or animal control, they will be able to get someone out to the last location you saw the dog. They have more experience in capturing animals safely and should be able to spend the needed time to do so.

Check for Identification

Once secured, check to see if the animal is wearing an ID tag. If so, you may be able to immediately contact the owner and promptly return the pet.

If the pet is wearing identification, but you are unable to immediately make contact with the owner, you may choose to hold onto the pet for a few hours and wait for them to call you back.

For this situation, it is still advisable to immediately file a “found” report with your local animal shelter and animal control in case the owner calls or goes there to search for the pet.

Scan for a Microchip

Checking for a microchip is the most important and helpful thing you could do when attempting to reunite the lost dog. If the pet is not wearing an ID tag, the best course of action is to either take it to your local animal shelter or veterinarian to check for a microchip. If the animal is chipped, the staff will be able to immediately look up the owner’s contact information.

When scanning for a chip, it is very important to ask to scan the whole body. Chips tend to move as the dog ages and may not be where they are typically placed.

Most rescue organizations chip their animals before they are adopted. Even if the address has not been updated to the new adopted family, the rescue will be able to provide the needed information to reunite the pet.

When to Take The Dog To A Shelter

For dogs with no ID tag or microchip, its best chance of being reunited with its owner is generally at an animal shelter. Many people avoid calling their local animal control due to the reputation they hold, but this is one of the first places those who have lost a dog will check.

If you have found a dog and have it in your custody, it is your responsibility to report it being lost. Contrary to popular belief, most humane societies will not take in stray animals, but you may be able to contact a local rescue that focuses on the breed you found. They will likely be able to take the dog from you right then, or they will be able to take the dog once the hold period expires to look for an adoptive home.

An alternative to dropping the dog off would be to post a picture of the found animal in the shelter’s computer database (if the shelter has software with that capability). This would allow you to hold the lost pet, while still allowing the owner to find it at the shelter via a photo.

I would recommend taking more than one photo as the dog may not look the same in just one. To be safe, take a few capturing any unique features the dog may have that will help the owner identify it.

Get the Word Out

Whether you hold the lost animal yourself or place it in the custody of your local shelter/animal control, there are still a couple of things you can do to help!

One of the most useful tools people use lately is the Nextdoor app. If you find a dog in your neighborhood, post the pictures to your Nextdoor neighborhood. Unless scared, dogs tend to stick in familiar areas, so they may not be too far away from home.

If the dog was found outside of your neighborhood, posting photos and information about the location to Facebook has been successful in several situations. People reshare posts, expanding the reach of who sees the information.

Although it may seem a little old school, posting fliers around the area where the pet was found is still a tried-and-true method to reunite lost pets. Believe it or not, these do still work. Especially if the owner is older and doesn’t use apps or social media.

Can I Keep the Dog?

Sometimes, the family who finds the dog falls in love and asks at what point they may keep the dog. The answer is: it depends.

When you find a stray dog, you are legally required to report it to your community’s law enforcement association or animal control officer. Most cities have a “stray hold period” of a few days. If the stray is reported, and the hold period expires without the owner being found, you may then adopt the dog into your family!

Legally, if the owners come forward within a set period of time (some cities give as long as 6 months), they still have the right to take their dog back – regardless of your efforts to locate them. If you adopted the stray following the right protocols, then you do not legally have to return the dog to its original owners should they find you. That decision has to be made at your discretion.

Simple steps can be taken to provide a swift return for the stray dog you saved. Unfortunately, less than 20% of dogs who are lost will be returned to their home. Make sure your own dogs are safe, ensure that they have a collar and ID tag with current phone numbers, and they’re microchipped. Microchipping is an affordable and simple procedure that provides lifelong identification. Just make sure to register the microchip and keep the contact information updated.

If you’ve found yourself with a new stray as a pet who needs behavioral training, contact me. I can help you get accustomed to each other in no time through hands-on, one-on-one training sessions.