You are driving along when, out of the corner of your eye, you see a dog. There is no owner with him and no house nearby. He seems lost. Here’s what to do next:
Evaluate the Situation
When you spot a lost dog, the first step is to evaluate the situation. Can you help the pup without putting yourself in danger from traffic? Can you help without putting the dog in additional danger from traffic? If not, the best way for you to help may be to call Animal Control or call your region’s non-emergency assistance number so that law enforcement or an animal specialist can come help the dog.
Assess the Dog’s Body Language
If you are in a situation where you can pull over safely, your next task is to evaluate the dog’s behavior by looking out for signs in his body language before you approach him.
- Are his hackles raised?
- Are his ears pinned back?
- Is he licking his lips?
Even dogs that are perfectly friendly with strangers in their home setting may feel unstable and need professional assistance if they are stressed by their situation. In that case, again, call Animal Control or law enforcement.
Only if the dog’s body language is relaxed and inviting, should you to try to call him to you.
Get Your Lost Dog Kit
Rescuers who often pick up lost dogs keep basic supplies in their car:
- A slip leash (since many lost dogs may or may not have a collar),
- Heavy gloves
- A blanket
- A crate
- Flavorful treats (cat treats or canned cat food can be a powerful lure!)
If you have any of these items in your car, get them out before you approach the dog. No leash? Slip off your belt BEFORE you leave the car, because the sound and motion of doing so could frighten the dog.
Call the Lost Pooch Over To You
Next, it is time to call the dog. In a happy, upbeat voice, talk to the dog and see if you can get him to come to you. It is also helpful to lower your body and open your arms wide, inviting him to you. Again, be sure to remain watchful to avoid the possibility of a bite. As the dog approaches, move slowly so you don’t startle him. If possible, leash the dog or lure him into your car.
Photograph the Dog
Not every mutt will come to you; in that case, calmly take a photo of him to share on social media sites. Watch Craigslist for lost dog announcements; it can be very helpful to owners to know when and where their dog was sighted, even if you were not able to pick him up.
Once You Have the Pooch with You
If you have managed to get the lost dog into the safety of your car, it is time for another decision, based on the situation and the dog’s behavior. Do you want to drive with the pooch to the nearest shelter or sit and wait for help? If the dog has a collar and an ID tag, you may be able to call the owners and have them meet you right there. The tag may even include the number of the veterinarian for a quick call. If the dog seems agitated, you may want to call Animal Control to come pick him up from you at the spot while the two of you sit and wait safely.
If you feel comfortable driving with the dog, but have found no identification, your next stop can be at a veterinary office or shelter to scan for a microchip that may reveal more information about the owner. At this point, you will have to make arrangements for the dog while you wait for the owner. The answer will depend on your own situation, the health of the animal, and the presence of other pets in your home.
Always remember that the solutions for what to do when finding a lost dog vary depending on the traffic situation and the dog’s demeanor. The good news, though, is that any step you take – whether it is calling Animal Control or helping the dog yourself – can help reunite a lost dog with his family or help a stray get on the road to finding a forever home.
About 10 million pets in the U.S. are lost (or stolen) every year, according to the American Humane Association. With one in three pets going missing at least once during their lifetime (or once a week in the case of some adventurous mutts), there are always a lot of lost dogs that need assistance to find their way home or to find a safe place of shelter.