Whether it’s your dog that slipped their leash or a stray running through traffic, catching a loose dog is never as easy as it sounds. Your first instinct is to give chase, but that rush of energy is rarely the right move. Dogs that are afraid, skittish, or simply overly excited will do everything they can to elude your grasp—even when that means putting themselves in danger. If you want to bring your flighty pup back home safely, you’ll have to resist the urge to run after them and try these safer strategies.
#1 – Stop, Drop, and Freeze
One of the best strategies for catching a loose dog is doing the exact opposite of what they think you’ll do. If your dog thinks they’re playing a fun game of “catch me if you can,” they’re expecting you to chase them down. It’s your job to remember the game is rigged, and their superior speed and agility means you’ll most likely lose. Take control of the game by throwing a curve ball. You’ll feel silly, but stop where you are and sit or lay down on the ground. Don’t call the dog’s name or pat your leg to get them to come over. They’ll either be intrigued by your strange behavior or worried there’s something wrong with you, and they’ll quit the game to investigate.
#2 – Use Calming Signals
If the dog you’re trying to catch is especially skittish—like a stray with few experiences with humans—your go-to moves will look like a threat. Walking directly toward the dog, holding out your hand, patting your leg, and making eye contact will only make them feel more afraid. Instead of overwhelming them with your eagerness, speak their language and use canine calming signals. Only look at them with peripheral vision and make all your movements lateral instead of direct. Yawning and licking your lips are translated to calming signals in doggy language, and kneeling to make your body look less imposing will also encourage them to come to you.
#3 – Appeal to Their Appetite
Few dogs can resist the temptation of a good treat. If it’s your pet you’re trying to catch, simply holding a treat in your hand could get their attention. But if the pup doesn’t trust you, start by tossing treats a few feet away. Let them approach the food on their own terms. Once they eat the first one, you can start tossing the good stuff a little closer to you. When they’re eating treats in your general vicinity without hesitation, sit on the ground and extend an especially high-value food item in your hand. Be patient and don’t make sudden movements or noises.
Doing the wrong thing when trying to catch a loose dog could send them running into traffic or threaten them enough that they lash out with fearful aggression. Panic is contagious, and if you yell, run, or act overly stressed, you’ll pass those feelings on to the dog. If you can stay calm and encourage the dog to do the same, you’ll have a better shot at a happy ending.