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 coyotes 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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The epidemic of dumping dogs in the wild hoping they will survive and fend for themselves is sadly a reality: uncompassionate people dump domesticated dogs in the wilderness to fend for themselves after they can’t sell them on craigslist, the street, the internet, to friends or pet stores. These people are referred to as puppy mills (AKC), and exploit dogs to make money disregarding the health, wellbeing, and care of the animals.

Needless to say, 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.

Luckily, I happen to be a dog trainer in Los Angeles, so I always have various dog leashes, food, treats, and other odd dog safety paraphernalia in my car. If you don’t have those dog equipment items in your car, I will show you how you can Mcguiver some and rescue a dog from the street.

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 Behavior

Many dogs become aggressive when they are in pain or discomfort. Or it may be an aggressive dog, a barking dog, or a biting puppy, for a host of other reasons. 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 or 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 in case I were to get bitten while rescuing or to keep myself from zoonotic diseases.

Luckily, I always have people and dog first aid kits for fires, floods, and other natural disasters.  Pet preparation and having these items in your trunk are vital in any emergency. I was also supplied with our lunches! I threw on my dog training pouch, and then it was peanut butter jelly time with bananas and our water bladders to feed and hydrate the stray dogs and lure them to us.

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.

How To Rescue a Stray Dog (Case Study)

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 as that is considered confrontational behavior in a dog language.

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 on the larger side at 6’3” and around 185 pounds with a beard so I can be intimidating to dogs. 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).  Science shows that yes, dogs love baby talk. 

Use faster-paced words, rhythm, and cadence will help draw a dog to you instead of away from you. Luckily the dogs 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 threw 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 but encouraging them with soft baby talk).

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 retractable 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.

How To Put A Leash On A Stray Dog

You can also use this advice on how to capture any dog. Assume the dog is not friendly, fearful, or aggressive to keep you and the dog safe.

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. While I don’t recommend a loop leash, for capturing or rescuing a stray or feral dog, this type of leash is perfect to keep you and the dog safe.

Or if the dog won’t come close enough to you, 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 fearful. 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. Dog’s generally tolerate head petting from their loved ones but don’t enjoy it or tolerate it from unfamiliar people.

Even though I felt they were friendly enough to pet and put a normal 6-foot leash and flat buckle collar on (I would use a martingale collar for unknown fearful dogs), 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 a rescued dog’s 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. Most likely you don’t have a recommended dog muzzle lying around the car.

How To Make And Use A Dog 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 a little bit to sweat or breathe.

I then gently picked them up while keeping their face and mine as far away from each other as possible and placed them in my car. I wanted to make sure that if my picking a dog up hurt the dog they wouldn’t bite my face.

Once the dogs were secured in my car I immediately took the muzzles off so they could eat, breathe and drink more water turned and turned the air-conditioning up all the way.

Luckily I had another person to monitor the dogs while I drove. But if you are not so lucky and don’t have an extra dog harness or dog crate lying around, be creative and find a way to make a dog comfortable and feel safe in the car. That might mean driving very slowly, putting on your emergency car blinkers, putting on canine classical music, being silent or speaking calmly and softly.

If I were by myself I would do my best to tie down a dog to a seatbelt or any tie-down in your car to keep a dog in place while I drive. The last thing you want is to get bitten while you drive or to get into an accident because of the dog’s behavior in the back seat.

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 from 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, desensitization, and counterconditioning (D/CC) and 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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This page contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. This means that if you click on one of the product links, Fun Paw Care will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps support Fun Paw Care and allows us to continue to write for you and to support homeless dogs and cats. Thank you for your support! For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.