How To Capture A Stray Dog?

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It was a beautiful sunny day when my girlfriend and I were on our way to the Everglades to take in nature and the beauty that abounds Miami. Dog training was not on the agenda, however, as we were about to pull into the Everglades parking lot, we saw what looked like two hyenae’s running wild on the side of the road.  As we got closer and rolled down the windows, we realized they were dogs running, limping, and starving, just trying to seek shelter from the sun and survive.

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This epidemic is sadly a reality: uncompassionate people (who belong in jail) dump domesticated dogs in the wilderness to fend for themselves after they can’t sell them on craigslist, the street, to friends or pet stores. These people are referred to as puppy mills (the AKC), are too selfish to spay and neuter their dogs and try to use them to make money disregarding the health, wellbeing, and care of the animals. We never made it to the Everglades that day and ended up coming back home with the pups. We arranged to have them vetted through some very kind donors, and I took them in thereafter boarded, trained, and found them forever homes.

I happen to be a dog trainer in Los Angeles, so I always have various leashes, food, treats and other odd dog paraphernalia in my car.  But this is how we safely captured stray, homeless dogs and hopefully, these suggestions may provide you with some ideas on what to do when you encounter a stray or homeless dog.

Analyze  A Dog’s Temperament

Because you don’t know the ontogeny or the overall health of the dog, I would always recommend being as safe as possible upon interacting/approaching. Unfortunately, I did not have proper accouterment on hand but had this situation been planned I would have put on gloves, boots, pants, a long sleeve shirt and/or a jacket.

Luckily, it was peanut butter jelly time, and we were supplied with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas (our lunch) and water to sustain and lure them.

If you are not as fortunate as we were to have safe food readily available make sure you at least know what foods you can and can’t feed a dog before you offer something to them. You wouldn’t want to make the situation worse by offering a dog something that would end up making them sicker.

The first thing we did was to pull over in the car, got out and crouched down on one knee while facing sideways (90 degrees). You don’t want to face a dog directly or stand and stare at them when you call them over. These dogs stopped in their tracks about 50 yards from us when they saw us get out of the car and I didn’t want them to run away.

I am 6’3” and around 185 pounds with a beard so I can be intimidating to dogs, so be aware of your presence and your body language. Standing, looming over, direct eye contact, squared-off shoulders, reaching gestures, and deep voices, are more confrontational and challenging towards dogs and are not rewarding and inviting. Brush up on your dog body language skills before assessing the pup.

So I did my best impersonation of my girlfriend with my highest, most soothing, comforting, encouraging, baby voice while squatting down and to the side (90 degrees from where they were facing). Using faster-paced words, rhythm, and cadence. Luckily they were starving and downwind from us and likely picked up on the smell of the treats in my dog training car, the food we had just opened and the food trail we put down in front of us. Although they were very tepid and wary at first, their hunger and our friendly, soft, coaxing voices drew them in closer and closer.  We walked away from them to give them space and to encourage them to come closer. Please note, we did not walk towards them although I understand you may not have this luxury and some situations may call for you to approach a stray dog or even corner a dog if it means saving their lives. Just try and use the least intrusive minimally aversive tactics (LIMA) as a rule of thumb in emergencies. We placed the food down and walked away coaxing them as we walked. We did this several times for about 10 -25 feet until they started eating the peanut butter and jelly trail and came closer and closer to us.

When they eventually mustered up the courage, they ate out of my outstretched hand (while I was still crouched and turned sideways, not looking directly at them).

Analyzing their body language and condition as I fed them, I tried to make them more and more comfortable being around us. It helps to have a partner or someone to help as well. My girlfriend modified our plastic poop bag (that I always have on me or in my car) that we made into a makeshift water bowl which they sopped up in about 10 seconds.


Meanwhile, I prepared two dog leashes in my hand. They are very small slip knot dog leashes that shelters use to give to foster parents or when volunteers walk dogs. I had some juicy treats in my hand along with the leash, and I rubbed the two together. Now the leashes smelt like treats, and I could gently comfort the boys with it.

When putting a leash on a stray dog, if they are not interested in the food or treats you have to offer and aren’t able to be lured through the center of large diameter loop you have made you are going to have to try and gently either pet them while the leash is in your hand and gradually, softly and subtly slip it on. Or you will have to make your best lasso attempt in slow motion while trying not to alarm the dog in the best way possible. Make the biggest diameter head opening that you can and offer them food in the center of the diameter/leash while you lure them forward so that they put their heads through the leash with no problem. You may use string, rope or any substitute as a temporary tool. Lucky for us, they were very friendly just weary, sick, starving, stressed and nervous. Remember, do not pet or pat a dog on the top of their head as dogs don’t like this any more than humans do.

Even though I felt they were friendly enough to pet and put a normal leash and collar on, I held off as any injury or pain may make a friendly dog very irritable and cause them to snap. It is very important to take every caution possible and to assume their health and behavior is the worst and hope for the best.

After the leash was on the boys, it was time to make a muzzle. How to muzzle a dog without a muzzle is a very easy process. I used a spare leash (but you can use a towel,  sock, T-shirt or any cloth) to make a modified muzzle. I simply looped the leash around the dog’s muzzle and gently knotted it under the dog’s jaw before bringing it around to the back of the head and tying it off. Do this before you pick up a dog or move them around making sure not to tie it so tight that the dog cannot open their mouth and sweat or breathe. I then gently picked them up and placed them in my car. I took the muzzle off as soon as we entered the air-conditioned care so they could eat, breathe and drink more water.

Even a friendly dog can and will bite when they are stressed, afraid or in pain.  All of these conditions are likely to be present when you encounter a stray dog so take precautions. Remember if the muzzle closes the dog’s mouth completely or partially to make sure to take the muzzle off ASAP as it restricts the already stressed dog’s ability to breathe and sweat and can be very dangerous and cause a dog to overheat and die. In an ideal setting, you would never use a muzzle that restricts the dog’s mouth opening fully.

After the boys were in my car, we proceeded to the veterinarian’s office where they began the road to recovery. It took several months of rehabilitation, training, behavior modification, rest and relaxation but they are now both in loving forever homes and are incredible family dogs that I still see regularly.

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