Stray dogs can be friendly pets that have been abandoned or they can be feral. Some dogs can have normal socialization skills or have behavioral problems such as aggression or various fears. Feral stray dogs may have had no social interactions with humans or have had only bad ones. There are ways to approach a stray dog and times you should avoid the stray dog.
Risks of Approaching a Stray Dog
There are risks of approaching a stray dog. The biggest risk of approaching a stray dog is the possibility of bites or an attack. This makes it critical to read signs of aggression and take special care.
How does a fearful dog behave when approached? He can run away, cower out of fear, hide, bite, or attack as a few options. It is also possible he could quietly come to you and be affectionate although this is less common.
Another risk of approaching a stray dog is one that runs away which can be into a more dangerous situation such as traffic.
Signs of a Dangerous Stray Dog
A sign of a dangerous stray dog is one that is overtly acting aggressively. Some dogs will only be aggressive if they are cornered and fearful during capture and others can be overtly in attack mode.
How do you identify a dog that has aggressive behavior? Signs of aggression can include snarling, growling, snapping, nipping, biting and lunging. This isn’t necessarily an abnormal behavior as aggression is a survival instinct. When dealing with stray dogs, you need to consider that you are dealing with a dog that can be fearful and unpredictable.
Signs of a potentially dangerous dog include:
- Avoiding eye contact by squinting, turning the head, or body away from the threat
- Crouching body posture, lowered body, or tail tucking
- Dogs that cower back
- Erect ears
- Excessive drooling
- Growling when approached
- Intense tracking of you
- Lifting of the lips to show teeth or bear teeth
- Lip licking or yawning
- Low bark
- Pinning or flattening of the ears tightly to the head
- Raise hackles (hair on their back standing up)
- Stiff tail
- Stiffening or freezing of body
- Stiffness in posture
The safest thing to do if you have any questions about the safety of being around a stray dog is to avoid the dog. Call for help from animal control or the pound to help you. The most important thing is that you be safe.
Tips on How To Approach a Stray Dog While Staying Safe
- Observe the dog from a distance. Does the dog seem appropriate? Erratic? Sick? Scared? 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 treat.
- Consider what you will do once you catch this dog. Some people spontaneously jump in to help then realize they just got in over their heads and don’t know what to do now. Consider if you do catch this dog where are you going to take it? Who can you call for help if you need it? What is open at the time you are doing this? Learn more about How to Catch Stray Dogs So You Can Take Them to a Shelter.
- As you consider what you do, call the local shelter, humane society, or veterinary clinic to see what support they can provide. At least you will know your options if you need them.
- When approaching a dog you don’t know, approach while making soft clicking or kissing noises so the dog knows you are there. Then watch. Look at the dog’s behavior. Does he seem fearful, aggressive, hungry? Avoid direct eye contact as this can appear to be an aggressive stance on your part.
- If you have a dog with you, consider if he is helping or hurting you. Having a dog with you can complicate things and make the dog more afraid. Strays are commonly skittish and scared and having another dog compete for attention or treats can be a distraction. Assess the situation. On the other hand, some stray dogs may better connect with another dog rather than a human.
- A good way to connect with a stray dog is to offer a treat. Gently toss a treat or any food toward the dog. Watch how the dog acts. Be careful. The best treats are meat-based.
- The next step really depends on your experience with dogs. If you have any doubt about a dog’s aggression potential, the safest thing to do is to call for help.
- If you believe the stray dog is not dangerous, you can continue to offer treats. Let the dog come and get close to you. Take your time. No sudden or loud movements. Speak quietly in a soothing tone.
- If you have a slip lead or leash and can safely put it over the dog’s head, do so.
- Now what? If the dog appears friendly, you can transport him to the local shelter, rescue group, humane society, or veterinary clinic. At this point, you may not know for sure if the dog is owned, lost, stray or abandoned. Wherever you take him they should check for a tag, collar, and microchip.
- If at any point you observe the dog and believe they are not safe, call for help!
Some dog lovers enjoy the experience. If you did – 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.