Understanding & Catching Fearful Dogs

This document is aimed at assisting people who are trying to catch a high stress, fearful dog.   It can not cover every possible scenario but details the most proven methods for getting a fearful dog back home.

Dogs generally run for one of two reasons; you need to first understand why the dog has run away:

  1. A Dog will run due to a high state of stress when they get spooked and their anxiety peaks. This is the “Flight or Fight” response.
  2. A Dog with a high energy level may also run, and just have poor recall. A dog with poor recall may not be under stress but instead just wants to run.

Everyday sights and sounds that are normal to us may be foreign to a dog.  It’s important to understand that in this situation the dog’s stress level will become high.  Gaining the trust of some rescue dogs may take months or sometime even years.  Dogs under stress don’t reason – they react.

Finding the Dog:  Understand when a dog gets out of your physical control the number one priority for them is to get away from you, the good news is in most cases they won’t go far.

Dogs almost always triangulate within a 3km radius from the point they got away.   Dogs will seldom leave an area as long as there’s no immediate threat to them.    Start searching using a map (ex. Google Earth), look at the map and mark out a 3 km radius from the point the dog got away.   Study the entire search area, understand the dog will be drawn to open area’s where they can see everything around them.

  • A dog’s stress level will be lowest when nothing can approach them without them seeing it first, the average dog has 235 degrees of peripheral vision.
  • Golf courses, parks, school yards and hydro fields are all open area’s.
  • Medium to large dogs can run up to 55km/h, so being in an open field is a tactical advantage against slower things like humans.
  • Keep in mind a dog will see and smell you long before you see them, they’re preditors and their better equipped for the outside world than us. Dogs will seldom enter forested areas but will run along tree lines. When they do this they’re almost impossible to see from a distance. If they do enter a forested area, it’s usually only to transit threw to another area.
  • If a dog is forced into a residential area they often hide in back yards, under decks and under low hanging trees or shrubs.
  • Understand a fearful dog always wants a way out and always wants to be moving. Hiding in out buildings during good weather is rare unless they’re drawn there by hunger or thirst and there is a source of food or water.
  • Weather is an important factor; a dog’s activity will change based on conditions. On extremely cold days they may search out places of warmth or area’s they can curl up.

Day vs Night:  Dogs are most active during daylight hours, searching for a dog at night can be difficult. Remember a dog’s night vision is five times greater than that of a human. You probably won’t see them at night before they see you and by that time they’re gone.

Highly stressed dogs are seldom caught the same day, prepare yourself for the long haul. Understand the dog will not starve to death in three or for days, they’ve been known to run for months, they don’t need us to survive.

Understand dogs don’t think like humans. They have three objectives. 1.) avoid other preditors 2.) Food 3.) Water

Human behavior that dogs don’t like:

Understand dogs see our actions differently and you don’t want to make things worse than they already are:

  • Staring or direct eye contact
  • Being loud or yelling,
  • Patting your leg, calling to coax the dog
  • Approaching the dog

All of these can be seen as aggressive behavior by a skittish dog.

The Most Important Thing:   Get the word out, you know the search radius now plaster the area in lost dog posters. You need to understand you won’t catch the dog on your own, someone will see the dog before you.   Sightings called in by the public will help you close in on the dog’s location and help you determine the area the dog is in. If you do get a live sighting keep the person on the phone and collect as much information as possible.

Lost Dog Posters:

  • Do Not post a “REWARD”, it’ll attract people looking for a quick buck and will likely result in the dog being chased out of the search area but always Include “DO NOT CALL OR CHASE”.
  • Keep the poster simple and to the point.
  • Use Helping Lost Pets.Com it’s free. Use their poster format or large Bristol board with a dedicated phone number to receive calls along with a picture of the dog.
  • Assemble a team, use social media and contact local rescues for help and volunteers.
  • Contact the local humane society and notify them, the key to success is to inform as many people as humanly possible.

Finally Seeing the Dog:

Once the dog is located the most difficult part begins. Catching it.  More than likely the dog will run again if approached.

  • Do not approach the dog but get as low to the ground as possible, keep calm and keep quiet.
  • Remember, NO DIRECT EYE CONTACT – everything will happen on the dog’s terms.
  • Make sure you have some type of smelly high value food with you. ex. Roasted chicken, hot dogs etc.
  • Depending on the dog’s reaction you may need to just drop the food and walk away if it looks like the dog is going to run.
  • Your main goal is to get the dog to come to you and in most cases that means leaving food on the ground and backing away.
  • If the dog does run don’t panic, just walk away, if you chase the dog it’ll make future attempts more difficult.
  • In some cases, the dog will need to be live trapped, that is when you need the help of a professional rescue.

Live Trapping:

  • If it’s required to live trap the dog the person doing the trapping will need to set the trap in an area where the dog has been seen in the open.
  • Traps are normally baited with chicken or tripe and generally monitored from a distance with binoculars.
  • All other food baiting needs to be stopped, you won’t catch a dog that’s not hungry.
  • Traps need to be monitored at all times when set. When a trap is baited everything with four legs will want the bait. It’s also against the law to leave a baited trap unattended in most jurisdictions since racoons and possums will rip themselves apart trying to get out.
  • Traps must be sized properly, if a trap doesn’t trigger or it spooks the dog you’ll never get the dog in a trap again.
  • If trapping is required, it’s best done by an experienced rescue or humane society.

Remember to stay positive and never give up.