That would be an awful day, wouldn’t it? The day you discover that your beloved family pet is missing. You would drop everything and rush around, frantically searching for your pup. You’d be interviewing the neighbors, putting up posters, and scouring the area near where you last saw your dog.

But what if you were on the other end of this scenario? What should you do if you find a lost dog? Especially one that has a loving family frantically searching for him?


Finding the owner generally isn’t too difficult, but here’s what you need to know.

How to Catch a Lost Dog

When you notice a dog that seems to be lost, don’t just run over and grab the dog right away. A lost dog may be anxious, scared, or even injured and that’s a good way to get yourself bitten. Even non-aggressive dogs will defend themselves if a stranger seems to be “attacking” them.

Before approaching the dog, take a moment to observe the area. Not every dog that is running loose is lost. Though the dog is free, the owners may be nearby. If that doesn’t seem to be the case, you can try approaching the dog.

An image of my 15 month old Working English Springer Spaniel on one of his daily walks, this is in the woodland near Esholt.

Lure the Dog to You

If you have food, you can try offering the dog a treat. It’s generally better to encourage an unknown dog to come to you rather than you going to him. Keep your gaze averted and put yourself in a non-threatening posture, such as sitting or kneeling. This will signal to the dog that you mean no harm.

Approach the Dog Slowly

What if you don’t have food or some other means to lure him to you? You can try approaching him slowly. Turn your body sideways as you approach, which is less threatening to him than head-on.

Keep your gaze averted and squat down when you get close — but not too close. Then hold out your hand so he can approach and sniff you if he wants to.

If he seems relaxed and comes to you, then you can reach for his collar to attach a leash or put a rope over his head.

If the dog seems aggressive or upset, don’t try to catch him! Signs to watch for include:

  • Bared teeth or growling
  • Stiff body language
  • Hair standing on end

Also, remember that dogs wag their tails when emotionally aroused — whether negatively or positively. Thus a wagging tail isn’t always a green light.

If the dog doesn’t seem friendly, call the authorities. Animal control or the police department will have the equipment and training necessary to catch the lost dog without injuries.

Get a picture of the dog if you can. This gives the authorities something more concrete than just your verbal description if the dog wanders off before they get there.

How to Keep Them Safe

Sometimes, you will find lost dogs in an area that is dangerous to them. For example, they may be near a busy street where lots of traffic is moving past.

Stray dogs that have spent time on the streets are pretty savvy about not getting hit, but family pets are less so. They aren’t used to navigating roads by themselves and something can easily spook them right in front of a car.

That something could be you, so be careful about how you approach the dog if he is near a road. Again, try to lure him to you with food rather than you approaching him.

If you are able to get ahold of him, use a leash or length of rope to make sure he stays with you. Another option is to encourage him to jump into your car using food or a toy.

If you find the dog out in the middle of nowhere, such as while you’re hiking, things might be a little more complicated. You may not have a rope or leash on hand and your car may be far away.

Hamburg puppy

If you have food or water, offer these to the dog to show your friendly intentions. Many scared family pets will go with any human willingly because they trust that you’re trying to help them.

If you can’t get the dog to come with you, get as many details about the location as possible. Take pictures, note your location on a map on your phone, or mark the trail with something so you can bring the authorities back to the exact location later.

How to Find the Owner

If the dog comes with you willingly, the first thing to do is to check the dog’s collar. Oftentimes, dogs will be wearing tags with their owners’ name and phone number, which makes your task easy.

If there’s no ID and the dog is happy to come with you, start by searching the surrounding area. You may get lucky and find the owners nearby, searching for their pup. If you found the dog in a neighborhood, knock on a few doors to see if anyone knows the dog.

Also, check the surrounding area where you found the pup. You may find lost dog posters or other clues as to who the owner is.

If you’re not able to find the owner in the area, take the pup home with you as you continue your search.

Another option is to take the pup to an animal shelter or vet’s office to have them scanned for a microchip.


In the meantime, if you are able to keep the dog with you, make sure it has food, water, and shelter. Dogs can get scared and lost. Dogs may not be used to being around people, so try not to handle them too much and give them space if they need it.

If you’re having trouble finding the owner, you can take the dog to your local animal shelter. They have more resources to help with finding the owner or they can find a new home for the dog if the owner never turns up.

In the latter case, you might consider keeping the dog yourself, but make sure you are prepared for the responsibility. Dogs need exercise, food, water, and shelter. They also need vaccinations and regular vet check-ups and may need extra special love and attention as they mourn the loss of their family.

Forest station

Steps To Prevent Losing a Dog

Losing a dog is a traumatic experience for doting pet owners. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help avoid this happening to you. Or, even if your dog still somehow manages to wander off, you’ll be able to find him easily.

ID Tags and Collar

First, make sure your own dog is always wearing a collar with ID tags. Put the dog’s name, your name, and your phone number on the tags.

A GPS Dog Collar

As the creators of the Fi Smart Collar, we wanted to break down and share a bit about how dog GPS trackers work and other brands that may be out there. Not every type of dog tracker may be the right fit for your dog, lifestyle or price budget. It is important to know what is out there and how they work to track your dog if they get lost.

You can also learn more about the different types of GPS dog tracking devices here.


Of course, it’s always possible for collars or ID tags to get lost. A more secure method is to have your dog microchipped. If someone finds your dog, all they have to do is take them to a vet or pet store to have the microchip read and they’ll be calling you before you know it.

Keep an Eye (and Leash) on Your Dog

Keep an eye on your dog when you're out and about. In most public places he should be wearing a leash anyway. That’s a rule you should follow for your dogs’ safety as much as everyone else’s. Plus, it’s hard for him to get lost if he’s attached to you!

Keep Your Dog Contained

At home, your dog should have a safe space to be. This usually means a fenced yard or somewhere indoors where they won’t be able to wander off.

DNA Snapshot

If your dog is a valuable purebred, it’s possible that you’ll have to prove your ownership of the dog before it will be given back to you. Have your vet help you record your dog’s DNA with the AKC. This evidence can be presented in court, if necessary, to get your dog back.

Keeping Pups Safe and Sound

Losing a dog is a traumatic experience — for both the pup and the loving family. Both parties will forever be grateful for Good Samaritans like you that help reunite them.

However, to avoid injury, you have to be careful how you approach a lost dog. They may be scared, anxious, or suspicious of strangers and may react strongly if you try to catch them.

Once they are caught, whether by you or the authorities, there are plenty of resources to help find the dog’s owner. What a satisfying feeling to know how happy that will make both the dog and his family welcome Fido back!

And if you have dogs of your own, take steps now to make it easy for a Good Samaritan to find you if your dog ever wanders off!

For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at

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