Home > Animal Rescue, Cupcake, Dog Behavior, Lost Dogs, Missing Pets, Pet Videos > The best advice for capturing a lost dog

The best advice for capturing a lost dog


Lost not stray v2Many dog lovers have a dog preference, a certain breed, a certain look, a certain size dog – there is always something about a particular dog that we find ourselves attracted to when we seek our a dog.

For me, it was always the shy dogs. It didn’t matter what breed or size or look they had. The dogs who were fearful and scared, and cowering at the back of a kennel; these were the dogs I always gravitated towards. I still do. 

When I was a volunteer at Minnesota Valley Humane Society, you would often find me sitting sideways in front of a kennel in the impound room, using calming signals to help draw a dog out of his/her kennel. The dogs in this room were often more scared than most because these were the ones who had just been surrendered or who were just found roaming the streets and had been brought in to be held until their owner was found. They were overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of the shelter, and as you can imagine, terrified, scared and afraid of everyone. The last thing they wanted to do was come to you and go for a walk outside.

When I saw one of these scared dogs, I would sit in front of their kennel door and use calming signals to draw them out – lip-licking, bowed head, averted gaze, a sideways profile, these were all behaviors I employed when working with a shy or scared dog. They are the very same signals I used with Cupcake when she was running around that abandoned truck loading dock after being lost for 12 days.

Knowing and using calming signals can be so helpful when working with a fearful dog. They can also be helpful in trying to capture a lost dog. When you use them, you are speaking in a language that most dogs understand. What could be more reassuring than seeing someone speak to you in your own language? 

A friend recently shared this video with me. It’s about using calming signals to capture a lost dog or to calm a panicked dog (and what lost dog isn’t panicked?). It’s not very long but it is definitely worth watching. Maybe you don’t have a lost dog, but some day you may have one. Or you may come across one. Knowing what to do when you do is so important. Please watch and then pass it on. The more people that know the more chances we have to reunite lost dogs with their owners.

Remember, most dogs on the run are LOST, not stray.

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  1. May 20, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Great advice, dogs get scared just like people do.

  2. May 20, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    I love that she mentions Turid Rugas! One of the fist dog books I ever bought was Calming Signals. Such helpful advice. Thank you, Mel!

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      The funny thing is Kim, I never knew Turid Rugas before this video. I should though shouldn’t I? I learned from the trainers at MN Valley Humane Society.

  3. May 20, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    What a great video – I have never pretended to eat the food, great advice (and a great book!). Thanks Mel!

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:19 PM

      Yes. The eating food one was a new one for me too Julie. I will definitely try that one if I ever have the chance to help another lost dog.

  4. May 20, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Mel, you always blog the stuff that matters. I actually spotted a lost dog in my front yard yesterday. My own two were barking at something, so I looked out the window and there was a dog walking across. Very long fur that needed grooming, but otherwise looked very clean. S/he looked very thirsty, so I got a bowl of water to take out there. Unfortunately, as soon I stepped out the door, s/he looked at me and ran off :(. S/he disappeared between some neighbors’ homes and I just had to pray that she belonged close and would go back home. Unfortunately, that’s not often the reality. When dogs get out, they often just keep going. I really wish that I had taken food out there instead of water. When I encounter lost dogs that I can’t help, I’ll think about them for weeks afterward, wondering what became of them. Food. Next time, food.
    Thank you for always writing about the important things. I was recently nominated for a Super Sweet Blogging Award, and part of it is nominating others. You were one of my nominees. It’s kind of silly, so if you don’t participate, that’s okay. Still wanted to nominate you. http://wordswithwieners.com/super-sweet-award/

    • May 20, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      I read something recently that I had never thought of before in regards to lost dogs. People know they have this ability to find home, but the way they do it is by following their own scent track back to where home is…some kind of genetic sense that dogs in the wild use when they have to go out hunting. Well unfortunately in today’s busy, crowded world the scent tracks that the dog leaves behind to lead him back home gets blocked by other things in the environment, like traffic. So never assume a dog will return home because he’s genetically predisposed to do that. He can’t if he can’t find his own scent track.

      • May 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        Yes, I know that they rarely make it back home on their own. Like I said – unfortunately, they often just keep going further and further until they are truly and completely lost and confused. When I can’t get to one, like the one that ran through my yard yesterday, all I can do is pray.

      • Mel
        May 20, 2013 at 9:22 PM

        You are correct Pam. They often wander further than planned and can’t find their way back.

      • Mel
        May 20, 2013 at 9:22 PM

        This is often great stories for Disney to share, but unfortunately, not many animals do actually make it home. We suspect that Sunny, a Sheltie that was missing for 96 days and a MN winter, was trying to make it home, but he had only made it 23 miles. Home was Ohio. I am not sure he would have ever made it. 😦

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:18 PM

      Thank you for your kind words Pam. I have to tell you that you actually did do the right thing. Water is often harder to find than food for most animals. I hope this little one comes back your way. Calming signals and sitting down right away don’t always work, but they give you a much better chance at winning the dog’s trust.

      Thank you for nominating me. I am so honored you would do so. I always try to do the blogging awards, but often forget in my pursuit of sharing the latest news that may be helpful to a pet owner in need. Thank you so much! You are awesome!

  5. May 20, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Great advice. Always useful to know. Have a marvellous Monday.
    best wishes Molly

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:25 PM

      Thanks Molly. I hope you had a lovely day too.

  6. jan
    May 20, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    It’s so rewarding to watch a shy dog gain confidence.

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      So agree!

  7. May 20, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Excellent video and advice. It took us three days to finally catch Tino when we rescued him. Wish we had seen this before that because I know we did a lot of thing the wrong way. We love Turid Rugas and sue much of her advice with Maggie and Jack.

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      I think the thing that matters is that you did finally catch Tino. I would rather that outcome than another. So glad you found it informative. 🙂

  8. May 20, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Great information! Your comment, “Remember, most dogs on the run are LOST, not stray.” struck another cord with me, on a different note. When you find a dog who is easy to capture, or who follows you home, etc. don’t assume he is a stray. I read about and hear people who have found a dog and a lot of them say the dog was a stray, and then they proceed to start planning to either keep the dog, find the dog a home, or even take the dog to the pound. People need to think “lost” rather than “stray”. The dog could have a family that is looking for him, even long term. Please check lost dog registries and place found dog notices at vet offices, pounds, shelters, rescues, in the paper, in businesses and on telephone poles at intersections in your area/town before assuming that the dog is up for grabs.

    • Mel
      May 20, 2013 at 9:26 PM

      Agree Martie. We often assume a dog is just wandering but is close to home. There is a Newfie lost ion Eagan right now who has been missing for 4 weeks. She was actually inside a tennis court and could have been easily caught, but someone thought she was just a neighborhood dog and let her out. Now we begin again. 😦

  9. May 20, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    This is such valueable info for dog lover everywhere. I think at some point all of us have come across a dog who is lost and scared, but struggled to help them be “found”. We’re definitely sharing this in our weekly woof.

    • Mel
      May 21, 2013 at 7:18 AM

      Thanks Jodi! I am glad you can share the information. If it helps just one person get their dog back then I will feel like I have made a difference.

  10. May 20, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    Great info. Thanks for sharing with us.

  11. Marie
    May 21, 2013 at 6:31 AM

    Great video and thanks for introducing calming signals. When I get new foster dogs my first week is watching for their signals and each may use a different signal. Sometimes I’m a bit slow picking them up and the foster must think I’m not too bright – ha.. Crouching down turning body to the side for me has worked best plus I do lower my head just a bit. When they do get closer I will do an exhale to let them know I am relaxed. As you said I never look at them straight on I do side glances. For lost dog friendly dogs I may use another dog to attract them – I turn away from the dog and let my dog communicate with the other dog.
    Thanks for sharing this and it does take patience.

  12. May 21, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    Pawsome advise. Golden Thanks for sharing. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  13. May 22, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    This is a great video! I often see flyers for a lost dog with instructions “not to chase.” Its good to know how to possibly help a lost and scared dog!

  14. May 23, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    Great advice! I had no idea that our innocent body language plays can aggravate a dogs fear. “Lost not stray”

    • Mel
      May 24, 2013 at 7:13 AM

      I don’t think you are alone Nicholas. Many people don’t know. Often chasing a dog that gets loose is the worst thing to do. Laying down and playing dead or sitting down with treats is the best option. Or, opening a car door and asking if they want to go for a ride. But when a dog is lost and out on it’s own for any significant amount of time, body language and approach is all the more important.

  15. Sherry
    October 21, 2013 at 12:25 AM

    Eldad Hagar has some very helpful utube videos showing how he uses the calming technique. He is with Hope For Paws.

    • Mel
      October 21, 2013 at 5:58 AM

      I’m sorry. I love what Eldad does in rescuing the animals most in need, but most of the time I cringe through his videos. What he does is often not calming to dogs. I would never recommend it to someone hoping to catch their lost dog.

  16. September 9, 2014 at 11:14 AM

    Bet this works. Simply watching the video, I sat here making mouth sounds as though I was eating, and my napping mini Aussie got up and came into the room!!

  17. October 14, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    This works. We used it to catch our lost dog. Shiloh escaped the vet’s office after surgery and was missing for over 2 days. We canvassed the area, post fliers, etc. Someone spotted her and did what the fliers ask, DO NOT CHASE HER just keep an eye on her! I caught her using this method. THANKS!

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