As pet lovers, we are often naturally drawn to helping stray or lost pets find their way back home. But how can you help and stay safe at the same time? In this blog, we will talk about just that.
One of the first things to remember is stray dogs are usually lost and scared. Even dogs with the most calm and stable temperaments in their normal environments can become overwhelmed with fear and sometimes even become aggressive in this high stress situation, which makes it especially important in these scenarios to always think about safety first.
If a dog appears to be aggressive in any way, NEVER attempt to secure it on your own. You can always call your local municipality or police department, and they will direct you to resources and someone who is trained and can help. Wide eyes, lips curled, growling, hackles raised, tense body language, stiff tail, ears forward: all are signs that the dog is uncomfortable with your presence, and it is not safe to attempt rescue.
If the dog seems friendly and you want to attempt to secure it, the first thing you need to do is check your surroundings and make sure it is safe to do so. A dog running in traffic on a freeway, for instance, is a situation best left to professionals, as you can get seriously injured, cause an enormous traffic jam, or scare the dog even more. But if the environment is safe and you want to help, let’s discuss some of the best ways to try.
It will be easiest if you have some yummy treats/food and a leash. I always keep a spare leash and treats in my car for this exact purpose!
The next thing you will want to do is crouch down right where you are. Don’t make a lot of eye contact with the dog—this can be threatening, and we want to reassure them so they will accept our help. Crouch down or even sit on the ground, and keep your shoulder to the dog vs facing them directly. Talk to the dog gently in a sweet voice and try to toss some treats its way. If the dog is too scared, they may not want to eat, but if some yummies pique their interest, you can toss treats closer and closer to you to encourage the dog to approach.
It is safest to stay in one spot and let the dog approach you. This may take a little while—the dog is likey terrified away from its family and unsure who to trust. You need to be patient and go slowly to build a rapport.
Once the dog is close to you, you want to get a leash on it to secure it. My personal favorite tried and true method is with a wide loop on a slip lead that you can drape over their head and tighten. If you don’t have a slip lead, you can use a standard clip-on leash and turn it into a slip by looping the metal clip end through the handle and pulling the metal clip to tighten.
If you’re able to secure the dog this way, great job! But now you have another problem—how do you find the dog’s owners??
Check for tags: most dog owners keep a collar and tags with contact info on the dogs. However, in a commotion and when running loose, these sometimes break off.
Scan for microchip: any vets’ office should be able to scan a found dog for a microchip with no appointment and at no charge. If the dog is chipped, you will have the owner’s name, address, phone number, and all contact details right there! (If your pets aren’t chipped, it is the #1 best way to ensure they are able to find their way if they ever go missing—the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area does low cost chips at their clinics!)
If there are no tags and no chip, it will be harder but still not impossible to find the dog’s family. You’ll want to take a picture of the dog. Send it along with details of where the dog was found and when to your local police department so they can make a report and connect you with anyone who contacts them looking.
Another amazing resource we have here in PA is the Facebook page, “Find Toby in PA.” It is run by a network of volunteers who post lost, found, and sighted pets all across the state and help owners get their pets back! You can post a picture of the dog along with basic info and share it to Find Toby, as well as local groups in your community.
Just remember: safety first. Always! These steps are a good starting point, but are certainly not an exhaustive list of things to do or not do to stay safe rescuing a dog. And even the most experienced dog rescuers who do this professionally sometimes face injury or situations they didn’t predict. If you are ever unsure, don’t attempt to do it yourself—call for help. It will be better in the long run for both you and the dog!