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What should I do if I've found a dog?

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Know what to do if you've found a lost dog

© dezy - Shutterstock

Found a dog but don't know what to do to help? Dogs get separated from their owners for all sorts of reasons. Find out what you can do to help reunite them.

By Zoë Monk

Updated on the

Thousands of dogs go missing each year in the UK. For the owners, it's often an incredibly worrying time as they search desperately for their lost canine companion. Fortunately, many of these pups are reunited with their owner's thanks to the help of a member of the public.

But would you know what to do if you found a lost dog? Read on to find out.

Why do dogs get lost?

Dogs can get lost for many reasons. Despite most owners doing everything to keep their dog happy, healthy and safe, sometimes a dog can get confused, distracted or fearful and run off. Alternatively, it can just be that the dog has got bored and managed to find a way of escaping. While dog theft is responsible for some dogs going missing, there are several other reasons why a dog may run away and get lost, for example:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear 
  • Unfamiliar surroundings
  • Bored
  • Mating instinct
  • Hunting instinct

What do I do with a dog I've found?

A lost dog will likely be feeling frightened, confused and overwhelmed by its surroundings. If the dog is a stray, it will likely be wary of humans and even scared.

Approach with caution

If you come across a dog on its own, be sure to approach it with caution. Be careful not to frighten it and that your body language puts it at ease. Using a soft, gentle voice, talk to it soothingly, so it realises you are not a threat. After all, you don't want it to run off, especially if it is near traffic. If the dog behaves aggressively don't approach it and get assistance.

Check if it is a stray

Not every dog found wandering around is a stray. Check if it has a collar with the owner's contact information and call them immediately to let them know that their dog is safe. If the dog isn't wearing a collar, have a quick look around to see if it's fallen off.

Contact the local council

While you might be tempted to keep the dog, it is against the law. Failure to report a found dog could lead to you being accused of theft. The dog may not be a stray and belong to someone. Therefore, you must contact your local authority immediately to report a found dog. They will arrange for a dog warden to come and collect the dog from you.

What does the law say if I've found a dog?

You cannot keep a stray dog by law. If you want to adopt the dog, you should pass on your interest and contact details to the dog warden. Remember, there could be a loving owner desperately searching for their beloved missing pup, and if the dog has a microchip, then reuniting them should be fairly quick and easy.

Why is it not advisable to look after the dog in my own home?

It is a legal requirement to report a found dog to your local council. If you don't, you could find yourself being accused of theft. By taking the dog into your own home, you could also delay it being reunited with its rightful owner as the description you give of the dog may not match the information provided by the owner.

Furthermore, the dog is likely to have a microchip that can only be scanned by a vet, dog warden or local authority kennel. You also don't know the background of the dog, its health, medical history, and behaviour. You could end up putting the safety of your other pets or younger members of the household at risk.

There's always a risk that by looking after the dog in your home, you could become emotionally attached to it making handing the dog back to its owner a traumatic experience.

What if I've found a dog with a microchip?

Even if the dog doesn't have a collar and tag with information about who it belongs to, there's a good chance it will be microchipped. Since 6 April 2016, all dogs must have been microchipped. Once the dog warden has collected the dog from you, they will use a scanner to see if it has a microchip. They will then contact the dog's owner and let them know that their dog has been picked up.

What do I do if I find a stray dog?

If you have found a dog, there are some simple steps to remember:

  • Check to see if the dog has a collar and identification tag with the owner's details.
  • Contact the owner immediately and arrange for the dog to be collected.
  • If there's no contact information on the dog, then call your local council to report a found dog.
  • Hand the dog over to the dog warden when they come to collect it.

Can you keep a dog you've found?

Even if you want to adopt the dog and believe that it's a stray and doesn't have an owner, you must still report a found dog to your local dog warden. The dog warden can give your details to the kennels that are looking after the dog, and if they don't find the dog's owner and feel that you are suitable to adopt, you can go through the normal adoption process to take ownership of the dog.

How long until a found dog is yours?

If no owners come forward to claim a dog after seven days, the local authority will then ask local animal charities to rehome the dog. If you have declared an interest in adopting the dog you found, then the animal charity taking on the dog's care will consider your suitability to adopt it.

Discovering that their beloved canine companion has gone missing is most dog owners' worst fear. But by knowing what to do if you find a dog on its own, a lost dog can be back safe and sound with its owner in next to no time.

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