There’s an Art to Catching a Dog on the Run

There was a time when a dog on the loose was common place.  No one batted an eye at dogs wandering and meandering about and it was always assumed that, eventually, the dog would simply go home.  Today, that has all changed.  With a more diligent dog culture and increased leash law compliance, a majority of companion dogs are safe inside houses or behind fences when owners cannot supervise them.  So when a dog is seen running around the neighborhood, it is automatically assumed he has escaped or was dumped and is lost.  Naturally, the first impulse of most people is to try to catch him before he puts himself into a life-threatening situation.
Dogs, like people, have different personalities and a well-adjusted, gregarious dog is easy to catch as they just amble up to you with tail wagging, but other dogs may be timid, reactive, insecure, or un-socialized and the experience of being out in the wide world can be extremely disorienting and terrifying.  Catching a panicked dog is an art and you need to know what will spook and what will soothe him, what precise move to make, and when to make it.  To bring a lost dog back home, safe and sound, here are some do’s and don’ts that apply to both of you:

  • Don’t grab!  Don’t try to make any sudden moves and don’t try to immobilize the loose dog by clutching him to you.  Don’t lunge at the dog as he is frightened and may bite.
  • Don’t chase the dog.  It is human nature to run after what we want but the problem here is the dog runs faster, sometimes directly into danger.  If the dog is wandering in traffic, don’t jump out of your car.  Instead, put on your flashers and follow the dog as best you can until you can safely pull over and call highway patrol.
  • Don’t talk, call, slap your leg encouragingly, or send an auditory signal that you’re happy to see him and want him to come closer.  If the dog is in that fight or flight mode, he’ll likely panic and bolt, even from his own owner.
  • Use calming signals such as yawning, using peripheral vision and blinking (not long, direct stares) and oblique approaches such as moving from the side, not head on.  Moving in a direct line toward him and staring mimics a predator.
  • Go low and slow and get down to the dog’s level.  Be extremely patient as it may take some time for the dog to feel comfortable enough to come check you out.  You can try dropping to the floor, then fake indifference or lying down flat with a food item on your stomach and watching the dog from your peripheral vision – no staring.
  • Get a “Magnet dog” that is friendly, playful, and gregarious who might entice the lost dog to approach.  A big dog can be boisterous and harder to handle as the lost dog nears so look for a dog-friendly toy or medium-sized breed as the magnet.

Once you have caught the dog, think “lost”, not “stray”.  Some dogs are dumped but not as many as you might think.  The condition of the dog is not often indicative of how it was treated.  A dog that is emaciated and in poor condition could have been on the loose for a month or more and not abused or abandoned.  If he is skittish or reactive, more often than not, it’s just the dog’s temperament and not the result of abuse.
Some people are reluctant to take a captured dog to a shelter for fear of it being euthanized.  Keep in mind that the shelter will be one of the first places an owner will check.  Also, shelters may have scanning equipment to read any microchip implanted in the dog, all of which is geared to help return a lost companion to his very worried owner.