6 Signs of a lost dog and what to do

Coming across a dog without an owner can be an upsetting experience, especially for the dog itself, who is likely to be feeling some agitation. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to help calm the situation and get the pup the help it needs.

  1. Counter anxiety

Anxiety in dogs is very similar to anxiety in humans. When our brains anticipate a possible threat in the near future, real or imaginary, it starts to trigger a variety of physical responses such as an elevated heart rate and the release of adrenaline, which put us on high alert.

Of course, if a dog is lost, their anxiety is a perfectly rational reaction. In fact, all anxieties are closely related to the fear response, with both emotions sharing behaviors. Common symptoms of canine anxiety or fear include hiding and avoidance (looking for corners or protected spaces), barking, shaking, pacing, and avoiding eye contact.

For most dogs, their behavior when lost will be a little different from the separation anxiety your pup might experience when apart from their favorite person. Separation anxiety, which is often reported to be the second most common behavioral problem in dogs, is more likely to manifest in destructive or regressive tendencies.

However, traumatic experiences such as being lost for an extended period of time do make it more likely that dogs will develop an anxiety disorder when they return home, making careful and consistent training a must.

What can I do?

If you come across an anxious dog without an owner, do not approach it. This can trigger panic and the chance that they’ll bolt. Instead, get the dog’s attention with a high call, a toy, or even a delicious smell. If the dog seems particularly upset, it can help to get lower to the ground—even laying down if necessary.

If it’s your own dog’s anxiety you’re trying to ease, perhaps after a trauma such as being lost, CBD oil will ease the inflammation that underlies an anxiety disorder. Clinical evidence has confirmed it is a highly safe alternative therapy, and while the association between CBD and anxiety reduction in dogs is yet to be formally published, results from studies on rats suggest that the non-psychoactive cannabis compound increases serotonin available in the brain.

Other worthwhile tactics for helping establish a calm baseline for your dog include behavior modification, crate training, and desensitization. These training practices employ counterconditioning, which is about determining exactly what causes your pup’s symptoms, then slowly building out positive connotations for each trigger. Here, CBD may also help increase their susceptibility to new training.

  1. Prevent wandering

The classic sign of a dog that’s lost its owner or whereabouts is wandering. Expect to see a dog keeping its distance from any activity (people on the sidewalk, loud noises) and perhaps walking at a faster than normal pace. Wandering dogs will be constantly looking about themselves, instead of focusing on a scent or destination as they often do when out on their favorite trail.

Don’t forget the classic signs of canine uncertainty or distress: lowered tail and ears, and fleeting or zero eye contact. Any disruption to their coat, such as mud or blood, may also suggest that they’ve been searching for a way back home.

What can I do?

Here, it helps if you’re a pup parent yourself. Having a leash and a couple of other provisions ready in the car will give you the tools to effectively catch and calm a lost dog. Ideally, you’ll have a cinch-able leash that can slip straight over their head and doesn’t need to clip onto a collar—not because you’re John Wayne about to lasso the hound—but because a lost dog is liable to bolt when it feels restrained in any way. This probably means you won’t have enough time to clip onto the collar if they have one.

Other helpful items include a water bottle and doggy bowl to combat dehydration. You can even carry specially formulated Honest Paws calming aids such as treats and chews, which will give a dog something to divert their attention, as well as support relaxation through ingredients like ginger chamomile, and L-Theanine. 

Lastly, if you come across a wandering dog while driving, be sure to stop well before you reach the pup. That way, you’re less likely to trigger bolting, and have a better chance of attracting the dog’s interest in a calm and gradual manner.

  1. ID

One benefit of living in a digital world is that there are a number of ways to identify a lost dog. Beyond the classic ‘missing poster,’ owners are now able to create effective social media campaigns that reach far across neighborhoods. The traditional ID collar tag is still a must-have (complete with address and phone number), but now, digital tags are also available, which can be scanned to reveal a far greater amount of information.

When pet-microchipping first began, it was hampered by the issue of multiple designs and suppliers, which meant that not all microchips could be read by all vet scanners. Thankfully, most veterinary practices now have universal tech that should be able to read all chips. Of course, like all other ID methods, microchips are only helpful if the information stored on them is up to date.

What can I do?

If you find a lost dog, it’s important to attempt identification through all three of these routes. First, check the pup’s collar for an ID tag. Next, look on local streets and social media for owner postings. You can also start your own ‘found’ social campaign to help connect more quickly. And finally, take the dog to a local vet or shelter for scanning. If a match is found, they may also be happy to look after the dog while waiting for the owner to arrive.

As for your own dog, never forget the importance of an up-to-date external ID, which can save a lot of hassle. Also consider licensing your pet, which formally and legally ties you to your animal. This is especially useful for showing your relationship to your dog if they’re ever picked up by a shelter.


  • Lost dogs will often (though not always) be in a state of agitation. Be prepared for them to act out in unusual ways.
  • Dog owners and those committed to helping out lost pups might consider carrying a few extra supplies to help should you discover a wandering dog. A simple rope leash is ideal.
  • Remember that there’s more than one way to ID a lost dog and that local vets may be best placed to find out who your new doggo friend really belongs to.

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