Tips on How to Safely Catch a Scared Stray Dog

Things to keep handy:

  • Slip lead (collars can fall off and if you are unable to grab their collar this is very handy)
  • Treats/other smelly food

Big DON’Ts:

  • Do NOT just grab the dog. Sudden movements could scare them and even a normally friendly dog could bite.
  • Do NOT run after a dog. Giving chase is only going to cause them to bolt. If it’s a playful dog you could instead try running AWAY from them. Sometimes they will give chase. You can also try sitting or laying down or even just turning so your side is facing them. You want to do everything you can to convey you are not a threat. Even if it’s your dog and they know you, in a stressful situation they might not see you as their owner, but simply a scary person trying to grab them.
  • Do NOT sneak up on them. If you scare them they could bite or bolt. Make a small noise like clearing your throat to make them aware that you are there.
  • Do NOT make direct eye contact. It is intimidating to dogs.
  • Do NOT feed stray dogs. Food can be a great motivator and it makes it difficult for the owner to use food to lure them into a live trap or even back towards home if they have a full tummy.

Big DOs:

  • DO call animal control or the sheriff’s department, especially if you feel uncomfortable pursuing a stray dog you have spotted. If it’s your dog it is great to make them aware you have a missing dog in case they happen to find them.
  • DO keep your surroundings in mind. Be mindful of roads or potential hazards nearby and be careful not to scare them into the road. This is another reason chasing the dog is dangerous. You never know where they will run.
  • DO move slowly and speak softly to scared dogs. Whistling and calling to them could scare them away. Check out this fantastic video on how to use calming signals.
  • DO let them come to you. If you push them, there is a good chance they will bolt. Try turning sideways and tossing them a couple treats.
  • DO safely trap them in an area like a yard if possible. Be careful not to corner them as if they are scared this could cause them to lash out.
  • DO play with a ball or frisbee, but ignore the dog. They may approach in hopes of some playtime.
  • DO leave out food, their bed, a t shirt or something of yours that will smell like you. This can help lure them back.
  • DO post to social media. Your local humane society (CCHS for Baraga, Houghton, and Keweenaw County) and other lost and found pages (like Lost & Found Paws of the U.P.) are ways to get the word out about a lost pet. Include in your post:
    • Recent photo or description if you do not have one
    • Location lost
    • Your contact information

Other tips and things to consider:

  • As much as you may want to gather everyone you know and go searching for them, if they are scared this might just cause them to run farther and farther away. Some dogs are more likely to return to a quiet, calm place rather than come to a ton of people yelling for them. Live traps can be a great option for scared dogs. Stinky food and a t shirt or something that smells like you are great things to leave in the trap. Be sure to check it OFTEN especially in very hot or cold conditions. If you aren’t able to check it often do not leave the trap set.
  • If you don’t have food on you you can crinkle a bag and pretend you have treats. You can also pretend to be eating something and drop some on the ground then pretend to be looking for it. They might come to you thinking you have some food for them.  
  • Try opening your car door. Sometimes the dog will just jump right in!
  • If you know the dog likes other dogs, you could try using another dog friendly dog to try to lure them in. Use extreme caution if you do not know the dog. Some dogs are aggressive towards other dogs and you do not want your dog getting hurt.

Important thing to keep in mind with any strays you find:

Even if a dog is very scared or looks like they are in rough shape, please do not automatically assume they do not have a loving family desperately looking for them. The friendliest of dogs can get panicked when they are in unfamiliar surroundings, so don’t take being fearful as a sign they were abused. If they are thin or very dirty, consider the fact that they may just have been running loose for a while.

Sources and more great resources: