A woman holds a small stray dog.

How to Catch Stray Dogs So You Can Take Them to a Shelter

There are approximately 70 million stray animals in the United States making it common to see a stray around your home or workplace. A common question becomes how to catch stray dogs.

Benefits of the Shelter over Strays Being Left Outside

Stray dogs have the risk of abuse, injury, poor nutrition, infectious disease, trauma, and parasites. Intact dogs have the potential to add to the pet overpopulation. The benefits of getting a dog to a shelter are that he is safe, medical problems get treated, consistently higher-quality nutrition, and a chance of getting a loving forever home.

15 Tips on How to Catch Stray Dogs

There are important tips on how to catch a stray dog. Your goal may be to take this dog to the shelter or pound. The most important thing you can do is be safe and not be injured or bitten. There are reports of well-intentioned rescuers getting bitten, attacked or hit by car traffic. Be safe.

  1. Observe the dog. From a distance, observe the dog. Does the dog seem appropriate? Scared? Happy? Erratic? Sick? Aggressive? If you notice ANY of the above signs of aggression, back away slowly and calmly, avoid eye contact and call for help. Part of this observation is to look for any signs of rabies that can be fatal if you are bitten. Call for help. Call the police if you believe this dog is a threat. Learn more about How to Approach a Stray Dog. If possible, take a photo of the dog that you can share on social media to obtain help or determine if the dog is lost.
  2. Call the rescue or shelter. Once you find or catch the dog, confirm where you will take them. Ensure they are open and available to take your dog. If they are closed, they may be able to hook you up with a temporary foster to match this dog.
  3. Assess your environment. Look for traffic or anything else that can make the area unsafe. This is a good time to consider ways you can trap the dog in an area such as a fenced-in yard.
  4. Consider your catch options. Your ability to catch a stray dog will depend on the size and personality of the dog, and your experience with dogs. Some dogs will readily come to you and others run away. It is easy to have treats, snacks, a leash, pet carrier or crate, and even a collar if possible.
  5. **Consider transport options. **You may want to consider how you will get the dog you catch to the shelter or rescue group if that is your goal. You may want help to transport such as with an animal control group or take them in your car. The ideal is to have a crate the dog will fit in the car to make transport safe.
  6. Carefully approach the dog. When approaching a stray dog, make soft clicking or kissing noises so the dog knows you are there. Then watch and carefully observe his behavior. If the dog seems to be fearful or aggressive in any way – call for help. The police or local dog warden will come or direct you to someone that can help. Avoid direct eye contact and move slowly. Crouch and use your side to face the dog so you appear less threatening.
  7. Gain the trust of the dog. Try to connect with the dog by speaking softly. Move slowly. Offer a treat or snack. This can be quick and easy in some dogs or very difficult and even impossible in other dogs. This can take days or weeks of feeding and treats in some cases. The best treats are high reward smelly snacks. Leftover meat or wet dog food are excellent choices. This can start with food in a bowl while you are a distance away. The goal is to work your way closer to the feeding site. The sequence may be a dog eating the food by himself to moving closer day by day to the point you are hand feeding the dog. Allow the dog to eat from your palm. Continue to talk to him calmly. You can softly and gently touch the dog’s neck while offering treats to allow him to get accustomed to your touch while getting a reward.
  8. Let the dog approach you. You can toss a treat to a dog and as they move to the treat, toss the treats closer to you until you can potentially get a leash over the dog’s head. Keep your body to the side and not directly facing the dog to appear less frightening. Take your time. Do not make any sudden or loud movements. Speak quietly in a soothing tone.
  9. Offer your hand. Allow the dog to move toward you and smell the back of our hand. Offer your hand with the palm down. Do not make a sudden movement or touch the dog. Allow him to take his time to smell you. This is a dog’s way of getting to know you.
  10. Touch. If you believe you can do so safely, you can touch the dog on the neck. Avoid the face or top of the head.
  11. Leash over the dog’s head. Once you get a leash around the dog, continue to offer treats and talk slowly. They can become very frightened and try to run or turn and bite out of fear. This can take minutes, hours, days or even weeks of working with a dog. Some small dogs can be captured in a crate with treats. Your local animal rescue group or pound can often lend you supplies such as crate, leash, or muzzles.
  12. Safety first. If you have any doubt about a dog’s intension or aggression potential, the safest thing to do is to call for help.
  13. Transport. Now that you have caught the stray dog, you can transport him to the pound or rescue group. Ensure the dog is secured in the car and not able to run around. Free-roaming dogs in cars can cause accidents by getting under the gas pedal or distracting you. Keep the car windows closed, turn down loud music, make the temperature comfortable, and continue to speak quietly and softly to the dog. These tips can help minimize his stress.
  14. **Communicate about the stray. **Once you have caught the stray, you can see if the rescue group wants help to determine if there is an owner. You can call local veterinary clinics, rescue groups, create and post a found poster online or in the neighborhood about the stray dog
  15. Get Help. If the above has not been successful, it may be time to call in reinforcements. The local shelter and rescue groups may have traps and other devices to help catch a feral stray.

Some dog lovers enjoy the experience. If you do, learn more about Stray Dog Rescue: How to Help Your Community. If you decide to take in a stray, there are a few things you should know. Learn more with Taking In a Stray Dog: What You Should Know.

What NOT to Do when Catching a Stray Dog

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