Call Us for Special Offer! | Phone: (843)492-5283 | Hours Of Operation: Mon - Fri 9:00am - 5:00pm EST (excluding major holidays) | Subscribe

How to Tell if a Dog is a Stray


You love dogs and you will do what you can to help out any dog who needs it. If in case you find a stray dog that needs to be rescued, you are more than willing to help out. However, how can you be sure if a dog is a stray and needs help?

Here are some tips to make sure you can be able to tell if a dog is a stray and needs to be rescued.

Think of this scenario. You see a dog in a public place and it seems to be alone. You think it is either lost or a stray. Your heart is melting and you want to help it out. But wait, are you sure it is a stray dog? Is it lost or abandoned, or could it be just playing on its own while its owners are some where nearby? In this kind of situation, it is best to try and make sure first that it is a stray before attempting to help the dog. People might think you are trying to steal the dog!

Before we begin, just a reminder that safety should be your priority. Safety for you, the dog and other people or animals around you. Initially, keep at a safe distance from the possible stray and let it know you are there. Make sure the dog can see you at all times. If you feel you need to go nearer approach slowly. If it is a stray, it will be very frightened and afraid. Any sudden movement could cause it to get agitated, so keep it slow and try to be reassuring.

How can you tell if a dog is a stray? There are several signs to look for. Here are things you can check to be able to tell if a dog is most likely a stray.


The first thing you can check is the dog’s smell. Does it smell like it gets regular baths or does it smell like it hasn’t taken a bath for quite a long time? If it has been lost or a stray for quite some time it will definitely smell bad. Sleeping and staying outdoors, eating from garbage cans, and not getting a bath equals very bad smelling dog. The longer the dog is a stray, the worse the odor will get.

Fur Condition

Another thing you can check is the dog’s fur. What is the condition of its coat? Does it look like it has been brushed recently? A coat that looks dirty and disheveled is a sign that it could be a stray. A coat that has lots of tangles and matting is a sign that it could have been a stray for quite a while.


We do not necessarily mean for you to weigh the dog. You can usually tell if the dog has been properly fed or not just by looking at it.  A malnourished dog is also a sign the it is most likely a stray.

If you find a malnourished dog, you probably want to give it something to eat immediately. If you do that, keep at a safe distance while the dog is eating. Also, do not give the dog too much to eat. Its body will not be able to handle the sudden influx of food and will probably cause it to vomit and possibly even get ill.


A stray dog is very often shy and standoffish. They will try to keep their distance from you especially if you try to approach them. They will not come near you even if you try to coax them to. This is probably because most stray dogs are often abused by people who try to keep them off their property or are just afraid that the dog may harm them and their families.

Constant abuse causes the stray to be afraid of people. If you want to approach a stray dog, call out in a reassuring voice make them feel that you are there to help. Giving small bits of food is a good ice breaker. Most of all, be patient. If you show it you are there to help and that you are willing to wait. Most dogs will eventually pick up on your signal and you will eventually earn their trust.

Final tip

If you do find a stray dog, contact your local animal control agency, animal rescue/shelter or the police for help. It may be a good idea to keep their contact information with you at all times.

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.