So you’ve spotted a stray dog running in your neighborhood, and you don’t know what to do. Do you call animal control and hope the dog is still around when they finally arrive? Do you turn your head the other way and hope you don’t see the poor dog dead on the side of the road on your drive home later? Or, do you do as I do and try to catch the dog yourself, then try to figure out what to do with the wandering canine once it’s in your possession? If you’re OK with the middle option, you can stop reading now because there’s nothing of interest for you here. But if you are the kind of person – like me – who loses sleep at night, wondering if that dog you saw running down Curry Ford Road ever found its way home, here are a few time-tested techniques I’ve used to get dogs who otherwise have little/no interest in me to come my way.
Most dogs who are running loose aren’t really looking to be caught by a stranger. They’re either afraid and don’t want to come near, or they’re thrilled to be out and about and have no interest in you at all. Just because you call out to them and act friendly doesn’t mean they’ll cooperate. Chances are, plenty of nice people have already tried to call them, chase them, grab them or yelled at them in panicky voices. So calling out to a loose dog may actually drive him away. Plus, dogs are experts at reading human emotions – if the dog senses any nervousness or concern in your voice, chances are he’s not going to come your way. So if you have any other way to get the dog’s attention, besides your voice, use it. Things that sometimes work: Crinkle a plastic bag (a lot of dogs associate that sound with food or treats or walks), open the back door of your car, jingle your keys (which sometimes sound like the noise of another dog’s tags). If you can’t seem to get the dog to pay attention to you and you think the only way to get him to notice you is to talk to him, don’t tell him to “come” – who knows what kind of negative associations that word has for him. Instead, ask him a question: “Do you want to go for a ride? Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want to go to the park? Want a cookie?”
Got the dog’s attention? Good. Now do exactly the opposite of what most people think they should do next. Do not face the dog and look at it. Do not move toward the dog. Even for the friendliest dogs, direct, in-your-face approaches can be unnerving or threatening. Turn your body a three-quarter turn away from the dog and watch him out of the side of your eye. If he shows signs of coming your way, move away from him a few steps and see if he follows you. Pretend to examine something on the ground. If you are sure the dog is not aggressive, keep your body turned mostly away from the dog and kneel down – you’ll seem much less threatening than when you’re standing up.
If, for some reason, you decide you do need to approach the dog, don’t stare right at him. Try approaching in a curved line – move in his general direction but don’t try to meet up with him head on.
Lure the dog. If you have it, use food – I try to keep a bag of cheap, strong-smelling dog treats in my car, just in case. Those fake bacon strips for dogs they sell at most supermarkets are perfect for this kind of thing. Lightly toss some in the dog’s direction and start to back away. Hopefully the dog takes the bait, follows you and looks for more food.
Be calm, patient and talk very softly. Keep feeding the dog as long as he’s interested in your food and keep luring him in the direction you’re trying to guide him. Don’t chase him, have him follow you. Hopefully, before you started on this fool’s errand, you thought to bring along a rope or a leash or a belt or some way of keeping the dog with you once you’ve caught him. Loop it into a very loose noose. (I always keep a slip lead, like they use at vet hospitals, in my car because you never know when you might need to catch a dog.) Don’t reach over the dog’s head with it or you’ll probably make him bolt.
Make the loop on your lead super wide and keep feeding. Position yourself at the dog’s side if you can and try to get him to take a treat from your hand with the loop of the noose draped over it. As he is eating the food, let the loop slip off your hand and over his head, onto his neck. While he’s preoccupied with the delicious treats, gently pull the loop taut and feel proud of yourself for rescuing a lost animal.
That was the easy part. The hard part: What the hell are you going to do with this dog now that you have it?