Why You Should NOT Call A Stray / Loose Dog
We know. It sound’s crazy-stupid to say “Don’t Call Your Dog!” after your dog has escaped and is running loose (or when you encounter a stray dog). You’re probably thinking, “But he always comes to me when I call him” or “So HOW will I get the dog to come to me if I see him but I can’t call him?” The answer is BY CALMING HIM and ATTRACTING HIM to come to you, and we will explain how to do that. But first, we need to explain that CALLING A DOG CAN CAUSE IT TO RUN FROM YOU. Your instinct, when the dog runs, is then to chase after the dog and this is the WORST thing that you can do! Thus, when you hear or see the words “DO NOT CHASE YOUR DOG if it is lost” this includes DO NOT CALL your dog (since calling a dog can create chasing).
Here’s what we know. Some dogs that are scared off by fireworks, thunder, or other traumatic events will be so terrified that they will not even come to their owners. While some dogs will ultimately calm down and then approach people, other dogs will continue to run from everyone. Many dogs with fearful temperaments, like dogs that were not properly socialized, “puppy mill” dogs, and dogs that have been through a traumatic experience (i.e. escaped due to a car crash) are in the “fight or flight” mode and will be highly reactive to sounds and movement.
There’s a reason why one of the worst things that you can do is call out to a stray dog or panicked dog. The reason is that it’s likely that other people (who encountered the loose dog) have already tried to capture him and calling him has become a “trigger” that causes him to automatically bolt in fear when anyone, including his owner, calls him. In many cases, people have tried to call the dog as they looked directly at the dog and walked towards it, an action that is dominate and frightening to a dog that is in the fight or flight mode.
Here’s video showing an example of how AFRAID a dog named Murphy was of his own guardian. Murphy’s Mom returned home from months of military training and when she called Murphy, she DID the right thing by kneeling down. However, notice how panicked Murphy was while Mom was calling Murphy, looking at him, and wearing a scary baseball cap. When she took her hat off, Murphy did come closer but he still didn’t recognize she was his Mom until he had calmed down enough and could detect her scent.
And here’s video of a child who used Calming Signals to calm and capture a skittish dog that adults had called (and chased off) for 2 months. The child previously had fostered this dog which was skittish, on the run, and uncatchable. Notice how the dog would not move when the child was standing, but once the child sat down and then laid on her belly (and “army crawled”), the dog calmed down and moved toward her, wagging his tail in recognition.
SING to Your Dog!
We’ve been asked, “If I’m walking through the neighborhood searching for my dog and I can’t call his name, can I whistle?” The answer is NO, because the chances are good that if other people encountered your dog and THEY whistled to him (which many people do because, everyone knows that dogs come when you whistle, right?) then whistling also WILL BE A TRIGGER to cause your dog to run. So will slapping your leg and patting your hands. These (calling out to the dog, clapping your hands, whistling) are all gestures and sounds that OTHER PEOPLE have likely used and if they were used when your dog was in the fight or flight mode, when your dog hears these noises he will once again feel a jolt of adrenaline and bolt in fear.
What we recommend is that instead, the only sound that you make is that YOU SING TO YOUR DOG. Pick any tune you like, and make up the words as you go, but singing to your dog will accomplish two things: (1) it will get your voice heard by your dog and (2) IT WILL SOUND DIFFERENT TO YOUR DOG THAN THE OTHER SOUNDS STANGERS WHO’VE TRIED TO GRAB YOUR DOG HAVE USED (calling out, hand clapping, whistling). Singing will also help YOU to calm down and hopefully your voice will reflect PEACE rather than FEAR that comes when you’re worried and calling your dog. You would be better off being silent as you search, especially if you know that your dog has a fearful temperament or took off because of a fearful incident. But if you insist on making noise when you are searching, then SING while you search!
If You See Your Dog, CALM HIM (But Don’t Call Your Dog!)
If during your search you encounter your dog, do NOT call out to him and don’t use a coaxing voice. If he is looking at you, IMMEDIATELY SIT DOWN! If you see him and he does not see you, starting singing and SIT DOWN. Then look away, which is a submissive gesture. Standing up is a dominate gesture but sitting down is critical to attracting a panicked dog to come to you. You should fake like you’re eating food on the ground–we suggest that you actually have a baggie of smelly treats like pieces of hotdog or liver treats with you. Potato chip bags are PERFECT to carry your treats in because they make loud, crinkly noises that DOGS ASSOCAITE WITH FOOD. You can watch your dog out of the corner of your eye without looking directly at him. Do anything other than staring straight at your dog while walking towards him! One of our volunteers captured a tiny terrier that ran from her when she called him but he came wiggling up to her once she laid flat on her back and patted her chest. Another of our volunteers captured a panicked dog by getting out of the car with a Frisbee and started tossed it back and forth with the dog owner as they both just ignored the dog. WHEN YOU FIXATE ALL OF YOUR ATTENTION ON THE DOG AND THE DOG IS IN A FIGHT OR FLIGHT MODE, HE WILL BECOME EVEN MORE TERRIFIED THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO CATCH HIM. Your body language should convey that YOU ARE EATING FOOD, DROPPING FOOD ON THE GROUND, and YOU ARE IGNORING OR HAVEN’T NOTICED THE DOG. This is the KEY to catching a loose dog—calming them down and attracting them to come to you.
You should also know that when dogs are in a full fight or flight mode and their adrenaline is flowing, the olfactory section of their brain closes down. That’s why sometimes when you try to feed a hotdog to a panicked dog it won’t eat it. So sometimes the food will work, sometimes it won’t. It depends on the dog and what level of panic he is in. Also, some dogs will immediately recognize their owner by their scent but other dogs won’t.
Many dog owners don’t believe that their own dog would not come to them and find out the hard way, even after they’ve been given this information. To be on the safe side, if you DO see your dog, instead of calling him, SIT DOWN on the ground, do not look directly at your dog, but start making lip-smacking “nummy, nummy, nummy” sounds as you drop treats on the ground, and slowly entice your dog to come to you. We STRONGLY suggest that you watch this video before you start searching for your lost dog!
Be sure to check out our LOST DOG BEHAVIOR page to learn more about why the dogs leave, factors that influence their distance traveled and behaviors that create problems with recovery. We also have a page on how to make large NEON POSTERS that are highly visible and whether or not to offer a REWARD…
Disclaimer: Initially posted on Missing Pet Partnership’s website (which was developed by MPP Founder Kat Albrecht), the following lost pet recovery advice is part of MAR Network’s 8-week and 10-week Missing Animal Response (MAR) Course and is posted on this site both to help train volunteer and professional lost pet recovery resources and to benefit pet owners needing advice. Feel free to link to this page so that this info may be shared in order to educate pet owners in your community.