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Stray Dog: What to Do If You Find a Stray Dog

Found a stray dog in your neighborhood? Read more to learn how to help safely.

by Adopt a Pet, | December 13, 2012

Stray Dog: What to Do If You Find a Stray Dog

Berk Ucak / iStock

My friend Kate called me the other evening in a panic, screaming, “there is a small white Terrier mix running around my neighborhood!” Being an animal lover herself, when she saw this little fellow running around, Kate immediately parked and got out of her car to try and catch him. Probably scared from the chase, confused from the streets, and perhaps a tad shy, the pup ran away and hid. Kate was beside herself for not being able to catch him and she suffered a long, tearful, sleepless night even after I tried to calm her down on our phone call. The next day, she saw him again. She wasn’t sure what to do or how to catch this pooch, but she knew that chasing him again would only result in him running away.

A friend told me about a local animal rescuer with much experience capturing and helping stray dogs. We reached out to him and asked for guidance. Below is a list of tips for what to do if you see a wandering dog in your area. I hope this encourages you to try and help lost or abandoned pets as a life on the streets is not an ideal life for them. There are many dangers that stray animals face such as oncoming cars, predatory animals like coyotes, or living sick, starving or injured without any proper care. Please help to get them off the streets and into safety!

Tip 1: Call Animal Control. Please call your local animal shelter and let them know the exact location of the dog so that they can come pick him up as soon as possible. By calling the authorities, you can follow up and visit the dog at the shelter once he or she is caught without having to try and catch the dog yourself.

Tip 2: Bring friends. If Animal Control can’t catch the dog or you decide you want to try, it’s best to do this with other people. Please only move forward with attempting to capture a lost dog if you understand and accept the risk that you and your friends could get bitten. Strays are often scared or timid and might bite out of fear or perceived threat to defend themselves. Having people with you is often the best way to successfully trap a stray but make sure everyone understands the concerns. Also, having at least one other person is recommended for protecting yourself as there is safety in numbers for both animals and people! Try getting in touch with local animal rescuers or trappers who may have more experience and invaluable wisdom to share.

Tip 3: Contained space. If you are trying to help catch a dog off the street and understand the risks, an effective strategy may be to lure the dog to an area or yard with a fence/gate so that you can shut off escape routes. By corralling the pup to a contained area, you can better ensure that there aren’t any escape opportunities. Verify that the yard has high enough walls and that there are no holes anywhere! By combining minds and forces and working together as a team with those helping you, you can better prevent the dog from darting away. If you cannot find a contained area nearby, try luring or leading him into an alley or space with only one entrance and exit and have another person there with you to block it with an opened up box or baby gate. Another option is to set up a feeding station in your own yard if you can, even if it is not contained, and then you can use a humane dog trap once a stray has become used to eating in your yard. This could be a way to build trust and gradually meet the dog.

Tip 4: Use food. The most important thing is to have high-value food on hand such as pieces of hot dog, wet canned food, or some kind of meat or meat treats. Usually the smellier and mushier, the better. Using food is commonly the only way way to lure a stray to safety. Make sure to give the food in tiny crumbs. Ideally you can use the pieces to lead the dog into the chosen yard or contained space. Remember to keep the pieces small! If you give a whole hot dog at once the pooch will likely get satisfied and run off. The key is that the lack of satiation and increase in temptation will very gradually allow you to coax the pup closer. Please make sure the dog seems friendly. It is not recommended that you try to lure or get close to an unfriendly animal. You can always call your local animal shelter to come catch the dog by providing location and any detailed information about the animal (i.e. what the dog looks like, what time(s) you usually seem him, etc.)

Tip 5: Be calm and prepared. If you catch the dog in a contained area or yard, try sitting down on the ground so you are at level and not towering over. Do not rush over and leash him or get close to him right away. Sprinkle treats around yourself and leave some pieces in your hand with your palm open. Turn your head so that you’re not looking the dog in the eyes, but from the side of your eyes. Staring right at a dog can be interpreted as a sign of aggression in the canine world, especially if you’re a stranger! So look away to convey a sign of peace. Have the leash out and limp in front of you and let the dog approach, eat, and hopefully also visit the treats in your hand. Give him time to get used to your smell and to the situation, and very gradually and slowly try to get a leash around him. Avoid sudden, jerky movements but you will want to be swift. Just remember to stay calm while you move. If the pup bears teeth, growls, lunges or tries to bite, please contact your local Animal Control and stop trying to catch him yourself!

If you are successful at catching a stray dog yourself, please be cautious and careful since this isn’t a pet you know well! You’ll want to immediately check for a collar and tag if you’re able to safely touch him, but if the dog isn’t wearing one, please take him to a nearby veterinarian or animal shelter so that they can check for a microchip. Hopefully you’ll be able to locate the owner and rejoice in the reunion of a family! If this pup is not microchipped or identified in any way and you are able to temporarily care for the stray dog until she/he can find a permanent home, try creating a profile on Rehome! It's a safe and reliable way to find a forever home for the stray you found! Once you create a profile, the cat will be posted on for millions of potential adopters to see!

As for Kate, she did end up catching that Terrier mix with the help of a few friends. His name is now Mikey, and he is loving life as part of her very own family! Lucky for him Kate not only spotted him but also did not give up until he was safe. Thank you for being the kind of person who doesn’t turn away when you see a lost animal roaming the streets. We appreciate your willingness to work with your local animal shelters, and how much you care about helping homeless pets!

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