So vexing – you try to help a loose dog and they run away. Why do dogs run away when you try to catch and help them? Don’t they know you want to help? Well, honestly, no, they don’t. You are not speaking the same language and they see you as a threat. How can that be? You are a dog person!? Dogs love you! But dogs have their own language and in order to get them to trust us when they are loose, we need to understand their language and signals.
As requested at this year’s Oak Cliff Animal Initiative, we are working on putting together a class that anyone can attend to learn about dog behavior and dog language in regard to loose dogs. In the meantime, here are some simple easy tips to catch a loose dog.
While I have a few innate qualities that dogs love like bad (non-threatening) posture and a gentle spirit, I have also learned from a great behaviorist and from the street dogs themselves about dog language and how to make a loose dog interested in you and want to trust you.
But before you try to catch an unknown dog, assess the situation with the unknown dog. Understand your skills, abilities, and comfort level and be careful! We have another blog post about what to do once you catch a stray dog. It always good to know what you want to do after you catch them. But first, the catching.
How to catch a loose dog (owned or otherwise)
First, do not chase the dog. If they start running, don’t run after them. Try one or several of these techniques as you try to gain the dog’s interest and trust:
- Stop, drop and lie down – You will feel silly, but dogs find the behavior weird and then the curiosity gets the best of them. They will often come back over to check on you and see what you are doing. This is very effective for owned dogs. You can even make weird (non threatening) sounds to make sure your owned dog comes and checks on you.
- Sit down with your back or side to the dog and wait – This is dog lady’s secret sauce. For street dogs especially, everyone is predator or prey. From a street or unsocial dog’s perspective, you are a scary predator. Only two choices there: fight or flight – which is why they run. By sitting down with your side or back to them, you appear less threatening and they are more likely to approach. This technique works great and is a way to show the dogs you are safe and not a threat.
The dogs will become curious, especially if you have good treats. Keep your movements small and slow and you can place treats around you to draw them near. Gradually moving into their space while you are sitting down with your back to them is very effective. Staying still when you can’t see them requires trust and a calm state on your part. It’s not for everyone. And remember direct eye contact is not desirable and can be considered as aggressive by the dog. Turn your head up and away which is a non threating position. Looking down can sometimes be misinterpreted. Be quiet and patient and they should come over.
This technique is the reason the 12th street shepherd marched straight up to me after he wouldn’t go to many others during the course of the day. It is also the reason he started immediately following me when I came back – we were “friends” in his book.
- Run in the opposite direction – Run away from the dog. Many dogs love a good chase so this works well on owned dogs that like a chase. The difference is that you are in charge of their game. Instead of you chasing them, let them chase you. Even if the dog is not up for a good chase, he may be curious about your odd behavior and follow along until you can get him somewhere easier and safer to catch him. You probably don’t want to do this with an unknown dog if it seems aggressive or mean. Be a tree around aggressive or confrontational dogs and hold very still so as to seem non-threatening.
- Don’t approach them in a straight, direct line. A straight walk towards the dog is threatening. Walk close to a fence line or a house line and approach at a distance, stop, and turn away and look disinterested. They will often keep smelling the bushes or doing whatever they do when they get out. Then inch closer and closer following a zig zag or organic line of bushes etc. Sit down and turn away as you get closer or when they become uncomfortable. Many dogs will let you in their space if you look like you are just hanging out and joining the pack, not walking straight for them with intent.
- Open a car door and ask the dog if she wants to go for a ride – Most owned dogs will jump right in the car. Street dogs, not so much. Street dogs often consider the car a predator if they have been tracked or chased by animal control. But if your car smells like dogs or dog treats – they just might jump on in. We almost caught one of the Valero dogs that way, but her boyfriend started barking his head off as if to tell her “stranger danger – don’t get in the car”. He definitely did not want her to get in the car. So close….
- Stop, drop, and get in the fetal position – want to see this technique at work? Check out this link that documents a women who patiently waited, in the fetal position, until the loose dog trusted her enough to let her catch him.
- Start a feeding schedule – it how we started trapping Tasha’s pack. It’s how we trapped the first of the three Kidd Springs pack dogs.
More to come soon as we announce the class date. In the meantime, call 311 and report loose dogs, practice your skills, and teach your personal dog good recall!