What to Do if You Find a Stray Dog

As a child, I always hoped I'd find a dog. My thought was that he would be mine; I never stopped to consider the original owner's or the dog's feelings. If you find a stray dog, your first thought should be to find his owner as quickly as possible.

Use Caution

First, approach all stray dogs cautiously. It's best to coax the dog to you. A fearful or cornered dog may bite if you approach him. If you can't collect the dog yourself, call your local dog warden (they may be connected with your police department or a local animal shelter).

Look for Identification

If you can approach the dog easily, check to see if he has any ID tags. Finding the owner may be as easy as calling the phone number on the tag. If he only has a rabies vaccine tag, call your veterinarian to see if she can use it to trace the owner. Describe the dog and ask her to contact you if they get any calls. If the dog doesn't have ID tags, have him scanned for a microchip either at the vet or a local animal shelter.

Survey Your Neighborhood

Have you ever seen this dog during your own walks around the neighborhood? You might remember seeing the dog in someone's yard. Ask your neighbors if they know of anyone who's lost a dog. Children are especially good resources because they tend to spend the most time outside.

Contact a Shelter

You can, of course, just take the dog to your local shelter. But if you have the time and the resources, there are some other steps you can take first. You can opt to keep the dog in your home until the owner is found, but you should still call a local shelter. Give them a description of the dog and your phone number so they can call you if they hear from someone who's looking for a dog of the same description.


You can spread the word about a lost dog in the newspaper, on social media, or with posters. When you describe him in these posts, leave a detail out that only the owner would know to prevent someone else from claiming the dog. For example, you can mention that the dog is wearing a collar, but don't mention its color. Vaguely describe the dog's color so that you can ask about something specific, like the color of his ears.

Newspaper Ad

Generally, there is no charge for lost-and-found newspaper ads. Read through the other lost-and-found ads to see if the owner has posted an ad about her lost dog.

Social Media

Let people know that you've found a dog with these popular platforms so others can share your post. Again, when describing the dog on social media, omit a distinguishing factor so you can identify the true owner.


You can also hang posters in your neighborhood with a description and your contact information. If you want to put a photo on the poster rather than writing a physical description of the dog, use a black-and-white photo. If you're using a written description, remember to be vague. Don't mention the specific breed; use "small terrier" instead of "West Highland White Terrier."

If no one claims the dog after two or three weeks, you can either take him to the shelter or welcome him into your family.

Susan M. Ewing has been a dog expert since 1977. She owned and operated a boarding kennel, participates in shows and dog performing events, and is affiliated with the Dog Writers Association of America, and has written professionally since 1964.