what to do when you find a lost dog

Discovering a lost or abandoned dog can be disheartening, especially when they don’t have any visible identification that will lead them back to their home. 

I read about this issue often in the social media platforms in which I participate. While I feel bad for the dog and the person who discovered them asking for help, I can only imagine the difficulty that the dog’s parents must be going through. 

Because losing a dog is like losing a family member. In this post, I will layout precisely what to do when you find a lost dog. This easy to follow four-step action plan will hopefully reunite you with your beloved dog in no time! 

First Course of Action: Try to Locate The Dog’s Parents

The first thing to do when you find a lost dog is to locate the dog’s parents. If the dog has identification, that’s a slam dunk. Just contact his or her parents and make arrangements for them to reunite with their dog.  

However, if the dog doesn’t have any identification, that’s when it gets a little tricky. And time is of the essence. 

Step 1: Contact Your Local Animal Shelters:

You can start by contacting the local animal shelters in your area. Because many dog parents tend to contact their local animal shelters first once they discover that their dog is missing. 

It’s best to contact shelters within a 15-20 mile radius from where you initially found the dog. Because you can never tell just how far a lost dog may have wandered from home. It’s best to cover as much ground as possible. 

Next, just leave your contact information with the shelters that you contact. Hopefully, if the owner is also contacting local animal shelters, the chances are that you both will intersect at some point. That’s the goal. But instead of playing the “sit and wait” game, you’ll want to be proactive and continue with another method. 

Step 2: Register The Lost Dog with Paw Maw: 

We live in the digital age where information can travel far and at lightning speed with the click of a button, so you’ll want to get online. Your first stop should be to visit Paw Maw’s website.

Paw Maw is a lost pet rescue service. This service is an essential component of what to do when you find a lost dog. They help lost animals reunite with their parents. And they do it at a much faster rate than your more traditional methods. 

They also help more than just dog parents. They understand that people have all sorts of pets that they consider family. They do not discriminate. They will help you find your lost dog, cat, or even your bird. 

They offer this service for FREE, which includes :

  • free lost or found dog listing
  • A free alert, and 
  • A free lost or found flyer to print and post in your local area. 

Paw Maw Offers a Simple Process: 

Paw Maw’s process is simple. You register a “found dog” onto their website, then promote it via their alert system that feeds into their database of members. The members will be put on notice on their social platforms, etc., to alert their community that a dog in their area is missing.  

These members consist of residents, volunteers, and pet professionals in any given zip code. And Paw Maw will provide them with an alert once you register your “found dog.” The best part of this service is that they follow up with the good news. There is a daily feed of pop-ups that lets you know when a lost pet has been found and reunited with their family. 

It will even include how quickly they were able to locate the missing pet. Paw Maw reunites families with their pets daily. Here is a quick video on how they work.

Step 3: Spread the Word on Social Media:

While Paw Maw will post your “found dog” alert to their Facebook page and groups, you can take the initiative and post to your social networks as well. But you’ll want to do this with a strategy. 

Place a Targeted Facebook Ad: 

While this is not an orthodox action for what to do when you find a lost dog, it can be useful. You can place a missing dog ad by creating a Facebook Page for the dog and then purchase an ad to target the residents of your city and the nearby towns. 

You can start with a small budget just to see if you receive any feedback or information. It’s worth a try in addition to the assistance you’ll receive with Paw Maw. 

Last Resort Options

Whatever You Do Please Do Not Release The Dog Back Onto Street: 

Now, if the dog was not a stray and has an owner, the previously mentioned steps should help you to find your lost dog’s family in a matter of days. However, if your efforts are not yielding any results, chances are, your found dog probably was already stray or homeless for a long time. 

Homeless Animal Crisis:

In that case, you do have another option which we’ll get to in a second. But whatever you do, you want to avoid releasing the dog back onto the street. Doing so would only contribute to the overwhelming homeless animal crisis.

This lost dog would become vulnerable to a host of unfortunate circumstances, from disease, starvation, to being attacked by another animal. And if the dog is not fixed, they would be susceptible to reproducing with another homeless animal. 

And as we all know, dogs don’t just have one baby; they have an entire litter. Two homeless dogs can quadruple into eight homeless dogs, a situation that we’d want to avoid entirely. 

So if you can give this dog a home, then that’s fantastic news! However, I would first encourage you to read my post on what to consider before you adopt a dog. It’s best to understand the obligations of, and your fitness for dog parenting before you decide to adopt a dog. 

However, if you’re unable to provide this pup with a forever home, there is one last option.

Step 4: When All Else Fails -Take The Dog to A “No-Kill” Shelter: 

A No-Kill animal shelter is a shelter that promotes a “no-euthanasia” model. These types of shelters will never kill the animals in their care. 

They keep them until they can place them a home. While this sounds great, the downside is that if their facilities are full, they will have to put you on a waiting list until a spot opens up. That can take days, to weeks, to months. 

And if you’re hiding a lost dog in your home that doesn’t allow pets, you just don’t’ have that kind of time.

How To Find a No-Kill Shelter Near You

The “No-Kill Network” is an organization that vets animal shelters across the country to create a comprehensive list of “verified” no-kill animal shelters. 

Further, their mission is:

To promote existing no-kill organizations to help them help the animals they serve…To promote the no-kill organization model…to ensure that the organizations we list are, in fact, no-kill advocates. This is an ongoing process, due to the constantly changing goals of organizations, and we continue to rely on public support to ensure that all of the organizations in our directory are legitimate.”- The No Kill Network’s Mission Statement

This network provides a directory of No-kill shelters in every state across the country. 

So once you click on a particular state, you’ll receive an exhaustive list of no-kill shelters in several cities within that state. That’s incredible because in the unfortunate circumstance that one of the shelters that you contact is full, you can just let them take your information down for their waiting list. At the same time, you can just call the next one to see if they have any space available for your lost dog.

It’s a numbers game. But since this directory provides a list of sometimes hundreds of these shelters in a single state, the odds are clearly in your favor

It will just take a little bit of effort and patience on your part. But if you’re unable to rescue the lost or stray dog yourself, the next best thing you can do is try to increase their chances of finding a forever home. Being able to find a dog a home is an essential part of what to do when you find a lost dog. 

Loss Prevention Tips for Dog Parents:

Reverse-Engineer The Previous Steps:

If you’re the parent of a lost dog, simply reverse engineer the previously mentioned steps so that you can increase the chances of finding your lost dog: 

  • Contact your local animal shelters
  • Register with Paw Maws
  • Publish your lost dog on your social media accounts. 
  • Create a Facebook page for your lost dog and place an ad targeting your specific area and neighboring towns.  

This way, the current guardian of your lost dog and you will eventually make contact and reunite you and your family with your dog.

Don’t Leave Your Dog Unattended: 

An essential tip to prevent your dog from getting lost is not to leave them unattended. You don’t have to be a helicopter parent and micromanage your dog’s every move. I mean, if you’re out walking or driving with your dog and need to make a few stops, avoid leaving them alone in your car or tethered to a pole for an extended period.

You don’t want to risk someone taking your dog or something triggering your dog, even if you never had an issue before. So as a precaution, just plan when you’re out running errands with your dog. It’s best to bring someone with you that can attend to your dog while you’re making your rounds. Especially if you need a lot of time to complete your errands. 

Visit Dog-Friendly Establishments: 

An alternative is to limit your visits to dog-friendly establishments only. You’d be amazed at how many businesses are dog-friendly. Just ask the attendant when you walk in if it’s okay to bring your dog inside. You’ll be surprised when they give you a warm welcome and your dog a tasty biscuit from behind their counter. 

Visiting dog-friendly establishments will allow you to do more activities with your dog. It’s a great bonding experience.  I take our Mina shopping and running errands with me all the time. She even comes into the fitting rooms with me. And she loves it!

Get The Avid Chip For Your Dog

Another method for protecting your dog is to get the Avid chip. The Avid Chip is a micro-chip pet identification system. If your dog gets lost and turns up at a shelter, they can scan him for the chip and gain access to your information. 

It’s a fantastic technology that helps keep pets safe. But since it’s a microchip, it’s best to discuss this option with your veterinarian first.

You can learn more about the Avid System here as they offer various pet identification products and services, including a 24/7 pet recovery service. And that’s the next important step. If you get the microchip, you must register your dog with their Petrac Database. 

Otherwise, you’ll just have a dog with a chip that contains information that no one can access. So review the site carefully to make sure that you’ve covered all the bases required for using their system. 

Get The “Tile” Device for Your Dog:

Unlike the chip that requires an implant and scanning process, the “Tile App” is a blue-tooth tracking system that helps you find lost items-including lost pets. 

This device comes in hand for people with large homes and properties.  Their dogs may not be lost but instead are just challenging to locate. If you find that you’re often having this sort of trouble just looking for your dog, cat, turtle, etc. around your home, the “Tile” tracker is a great option for you.

It will send an alerting sound that will output to their collars. Just follow the sound, and you’ll find your dog. And if they are too far for you to hear the alert, you can view their location from the “Tile App.”

This system is also great for household items like your lost phone, keys, TV remote, etc. The Tile device is another cool tool for finding lost items that may be beneficial to keeping your pets safe. 

Get a Pet GPS Tracker for Your Dog 

GPS tracker systems are another great option because they help you pinpoint your dog’s location before they get too far away. There are many options to choose from. They range in style, price, and features. 

Cool Features: 

Some features include an activity monitor to measure how active your dog is during the day. Other features let you know when your dog has left their designated safe zone. Some can track your dog’s location even if they have strayed 3000 miles away! 

Here is a site that did an extensive review listing the top five GPS trackers for dogs. Again, another excellent investment to look into to help keep your dog safe. 

For Extra Security -Get Both: 

My personal opinion is if you want to be extra careful, then a combination of a chip plus a GPS may do the trick. Because if your dog does get lost, and loses or damages his GPS collar in the process, you will have the chip as a backup plan if he turns up at an animal shelter. 

Doubling up on security may sound like a bit much. Still, it can certainly be useful for dog parents that use doggy doors or allow their dog to roam freely in their large yards where it’s not always easy to keep an eye on them. The extra added security measure will just give you a little peace of mind.


In conclusion, I hope that you found these tips for what to do when you find a lost dog useful. Whether you’re someone who finds a lost dog, or if you’re a dog parent, this post can help serve as your action plan. 

Animal shelters are already overwhelmed grappling with the homeless animal crisis. The last thing they need is to take in a dog that does have a home -but only lost his way back. – The Dog Care Guide

Implementing some of the tips will help you keep your dog safe from getting lost, or prevent it from happening altogether. And that’s the ultimate goal! 

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