Whether you’ve come across a long-time stray or a neighborhood pooch that’s escaped the yard, earning the trust of a stray dog can be tricky. The goal is to catch the dog without harming them or scaring them off completely, but we have to make sure we keep ourselves safe, as well. A scared dog can become aggressive when they are trying to defend themselves. Remember, they don’t know you’re there to help. Regardless of how you found the dog, you’ll want to keep these tips in mind when building trust.
#1 – Understand Body Language
Perhaps the most important part of building the trust of a stray or loose dog is understanding canine body language. Misreading a dog’s signals can send them running into the dangerous street or lead to a potential bite. Knowing when the dog is stressed, when the dog is beginning to feel more comfortable, and when you can approach is important for a safe rescue. With a frightened dog, timing is going to be crucial. If you try to approach too soon, you might never be able to catch them.
#2 – Use Food
Food is your friend. Use food that smells delicious. In this instance, use may want to use table scraps that will entice a hungry dog to come out of hiding. That said, you’ll obviously want to avoid foods that are toxic or dangerous, such as chocolate or cooked chicken bones (check out some of the healthiest human foods for dogs). You’ll first want to place the food on the ground and walk away from it. If you are too close, the pup won’t go near the food because they’re afraid of you. Offer just a little bit of food at a time. Start by watching the dog eat while you stand away at a distance (you might have to leave completely and return the next day), and move closer and closer until the dog will eat the food out of your hand. Once you can feed the dog this way, you can start trying to pet the dog. Eventually, you’ll be able to touch the dog easily and get them leashed and off to a new start.
#3 – Be Patient
Patience is key. A stray dog is likely not going to feel confident interacting with people. Even your neighbor’s loose dog might be afraid to greet strangers. Patience will prevent both you and the dog from getting injured. Don’t rush anything. The process of building trust takes a long time. Catching a stray dog can take many hours and sometimes even days. Rushing the process is going to cause more fear for the dog, potentially scare them into a more dangerous area, and put you at risk for being bitten. We all want to see stray dogs rescued and in good hands, but doing too much too soon can cause much more harm than good. Be patient, earn trust gradually, and soon enough you’ll be walking home together.
Cover photo: Nabin Limbu via Flickr