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How to Catch a Stray Dog

Have you ever encountered this scenario? You’re out and about, perhaps walking your own dog, or simply exploring and enjoying your neighborhood. Then out of the corner of your eye you catch it: a dog running loose. A wandering dog—whether stray, lost, or recently escaped—faces many dangers: vehicle traffic, the potential for injuries and illnesses, or even predatory animals. Life on the streets is no life for dogs or cats, but catching a stray dog can be very tricky.

Here are some tips so, the next time you encounter a wandering pup in your area, you can learn how to catch a stray dog. With some luck and a little preparation, you might even turn a dog’s entire life around.

Safety First

Do not attempt to catch a stray dog without first understanding and accepting the risks involved. Stray and lost dogs are usually scared and very often skittish—a dog in this heightened state may perceive you as a threat and lunge or even bite in order to protect themselves. If you spot a dog in an area where they appear to be in no immediate danger and can keep an eye on them from a distance, it’s usually a better option to call in a professional—a rescue group you trust, or animal control—to help you safely catch them.

Be Prepared

Your level of preparation is going to depend on where you are when you come across a stray, what kind of time you have, and the state of affairs with your own dogs at home. For example, because Topher is dog reactive there is very little I can do if I see a stray while I’m walking our dog by myself. We also can’t bring strays home and hold them there while we look for next steps.

That’s why there’s only one rule when it comes being prepared: do what’s within your power, and know that you likely won’t be able to help every time. Here are two options we use to make sure we can help any strays in our area.

Assemble a car kit: Keep a spare leash, treats, and a toy in your car, so you have things to entice a dog should you encounter them. A stray dog may not have a collar (or be still long enough for you to clip them to a lead) so I’d recommend something like a slip lead.

Know where you’ll take the dog: Once you catch the dog, where is it going to go? This is especially important to map out in advance if you cannot keep a dog in your own home. Whether it’s animal control, a rescue you trust, or a reliable team of neighbor fosters, knowing what you can do for a dog to shelter it before you ever come across one means you’ll be better equipped to deal with the situation if it ever arises.

Do Not: Call, Chase, or Grab

A lost dog is frightened and on guard, so it’s best not to intimidate them any further with your own actions. You should refrain from shouting or calling for the dog to come, chasing after the dog, or physically grabbing or picking up the dog. It’s much better to allow the dog enough time to warm up to you and make their own decisions to trust, especially if you’re going to be keeping the dog and searching for it’s owners in the immediate future.

Make Yourself Non-Threatening

If the dog looks like it wants to approach you, make your own body language as non-threatening as possible. Crouch down so you’re not towering over them, don’t make direct eye contact, and avoid making any sudden movements or noises.

If the dog does not want to approach but isn’t running, you can use the same methods of making yourself look non-threatening, then try using food or treats to gain their trust. Throw treats towards the dog so they’re a good distance away from you and the dog can eat comfortably, then try moving the distance of the treats closer to you over time.

Move Away From Traffic

Even if you are unable to catch a stray dog, it’s always helpful to corral them away from any large streets by putting yourself between them and the busy street behind you. You may need help from other neighbors or friends to do this effectively, but it’s worth it for the future safety of the dog.

Get Into A Contained Area

If you know the area you’re in, another great step above getting a dog away from traffic is to get the dog into a contained area. This gives you more time to call in professional help or gain the dog’s trust without them running into areas where you cannot follow. Getting into a contained area will also give the dog time to rest and—hopefully—calm down from their heightened state. Set up a food and water bowl in the area and back off for a little while if you can.

Stay Calm

Getting excited or anxious won’t do you or the stray dog any favors; it’s likely the dog might even feed off that energy and become more frightened or aggressive. Take things as slowly as you can, watching for cues from the dog—there are many subtle signs for anxiety and fear that are important to look for when you’re trying to approach.

If you are able to successfully catch a stray dog, your job isn’t over yet! The dog you’ve found most likely has an owner out there somewhere. We’ve got a great checklist for what to do once you’ve found and caught a dog, to ensure—if an owner is out there—you’ve got the best chance of reuniting them.


Have you ever encountered a stray animal? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is a writer, artist, and Hufflepuff currently living in Atlanta, Ga. When not making things, she enjoys costuming, tabletop games, and digging in the dirt.

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