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How to Catch a Lost or Stray Dog

The following is an excerpt from Petfinder’s monthly Ask the Experts Q&A on Facebook. Like our Facebook page to learn about upcoming Q&As.

Q: How would suggest safely trying to catch a dog who’s running in the street? —Sharon P.

More Tips for Finding a Lost Dog


A: The Missing Pet Partnership specializes in capturing skittish, hard-to-catch dogs (and cats). The problem with panicked dogs is that most rescuers call the dog to try and get the dog to come to them … big mistake! Never call a stray dog. Don’t look at it, don’t pat your leg, and don’t walk towards the dog. If the dog has a skittish temperament, typically he is in “fight or flight” mode and will be running in fear. The moment that the first would-be rescuer pats your leg, moves towards the dog, and is saying “Come here, come here,” the dog often will associate that body language with the fear and adrenaline.

So, what happens is the dog is running because people are looking at him, going towards him, calling him, and he is getting more and more afraid. When you add into the mix the owner (or a rescuer) who is panicked (and conveys that in their voice) it just freaks the dog out even more (like if it is running towards traffic). What you want to do instead is use calming signals and try to do something to calm and attract the dog. Lip licking, yawning, feigning like you’re eating food off the ground are such signals.

Some other things you can try:

  • Have a crinkly bag like a potato chip bag with treats inside it (keep it in your car, it just needs to make noise when you crinkle it)
  • When you see a stray dog, get out of your car and watch the dog out of the corner of your eye
  • Start crinkling the bag and start saying very loudly “NUMMY, NUMMY, NUMMY!” as you feign like you are dropping the food onto the ground
  • Kneel down and start acting like you’re picking up pieces that you dropped on the ground
  • In many cases, the dog will have stopped and will be watching you because you are no longer using that “Come here!” voice. You are using the universal language (nummy, nummy) of food, and you are kneeling down and not a threat. Also, you are not going to the dog, but many times, the dog will come to you!

I hope this helps! More info is on MPP’s Panicked Pet page.

Kat Albrecht
Missing Pet Partnership
Seattle, WA

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