How to Approach a Stray Dog

Two Parts:Getting the Dog's Attention and ApproachingLetting the Dog Examine You

Stray animals can be dangerous, and you must always remember that they are probably frightened by you. If you unintentionally threaten them, they could become violent. If you want to approach a stray animal, follow these steps. Ideally, the animal will learn to trust you, and hopefully become tame enough for you to bring home.

Part 1
Getting the Dog's Attention and Approaching

  1. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 1
    Beware of aggressive dogs. An aggressive dog may show specific body language indicating its aggressiveness. This might include eyes that look larger than normal, lips moved to show teeth, ears positioned up and forward, a stiff tail possibly with a slow wag, hair standing along the back, and more.[1] Pay attention for any signs of aggression and do not approach a dog that you think may be aggressive.
  2. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 2
    Avoid prolonged eye contact. Look to one side of the dog rather than staring it down. Dogs consider this to be a sign of domination. They interpret it as a kind of challenge, and it can cause the dog to think you want to fight.[2] Just as you should avoid eye contact with the dog in general—as above—prolonged eye contact might also anger or scare the dog.
  3. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 3
    Beware of dogs exhibiting symptoms of rabies. Rabies can affect all mammals—dogs included. A rabid dog might be restless, apprehensive, and aggressive. Dogs with rabies may bite or snap at anything with which it comes into contact, including people, other animals, or even inanimate objects. Rabies is spread by bites from infected animals, and an infected dog may lick or chew the bite where they were infected. The dog may also have a fever and be sensitive to light, sound, and touch—all the more reason to steer clear of an infected animal and call a professional to remove it.[3]
    • Because a rabid dog may have a paralyzed jaw and/or mouth, they may foam at the mouth—a familiar sign of rabies.
    • Rabid dogs may also appear disoriented and experience seizures.
  4. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 4
    Get the animal's attention. Often, making a soft clicking noise with your tongue, or talking to a stray quietly will be effective in getting a stray dog's attention.[4] It is imperative that you do not startle or scare a stray dog, as they can become defensive and potentially attack you.[5] Move slowly, remain calm, and use a soothing voice—doing so should keep you from scaring the dog, and thus help keep you safe too.
  5. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 5
    Approach the animal very slowly. If you have gotten the dog's attention, approach very slowly, ideally from a crouching position so as to appear smaller than you are. This technique can help to make you appear less intimidating to the animal.[6] Again, the less you scare the animal the more successful you'll be in approaching safely and effectively.
    • Do not get down on your hands and knees, as this will make it harder for you to get away if the animal decides to attack. Only come within 10–15 feet (3.0–4.6 m) of the animal.
  6. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 6
    Allow the dog to approach you. Once you have gotten close, allow the dog to come to you. You might be able to get the dog to come to you by calling to it in a soothing voice[7] and putting out your hand if it shows interest, such as by wagging its tail.[8] Gently pat the ground in front of you—you can also offer the dog strong-smelling food such as tuna or canned dog food to lure it into coming closer.[9]
    • Hold out your hand palm down.[10] This is less threatening to most animals, and also lessens the chances of your fingers being bitten.
    • Observe the dog's body language if it does not approach. You may slowly—very slowly—start to take a few small steps toward the animal if it seems friendly but shy. Use utmost caution here, as the dog may be frightened by you moving toward it too closely. He or she may simply run away, but they might also interpret the movement a different way and attack, so be careful.
  7. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 7
    Stay calm and slowly back away if the dog snarls or bares its teeth. Do not run. The dog could interpret such an action as an invitation to chase, or, worse yet, a challenge or act of aggression.[11] If you use caution as you back away you should be able to move away without an incident.
    • Do not make eye contact.
    • Move slowly.

Part 2
Letting the Dog Examine You

  1. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 8
    Let the dog smell your hand. This allows them to identify your scent, and acts in much the same way as the sensation of touch does for humans. In a sense, the dog smelling your hand is something like a handshake—it is getting introduced to you. Remain motionless while the dog smells your hand.[12]
  2. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 9
    Move your hand to another part of the dog. Allow the animal to finish its examination of your hand, then slowly move your hand to its shoulder. Do not pet its head, as it may scare them or cause them to bite.[13] Remember that many animals have areas that they do not like having touched, so go slowly and allow the animal to tell you whether what you are doing is okay with its reactions, etc.
  3. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 10
    Check the tags. Wait until the animal is comfortable and secure or try to contain the dog with a leash or in a fenced-in yard, then check for an identification tag.[14] Speak softly and move slowly to avoid frightening or startling the dog. If the animal has no ID tag, call your local rescue center, vet, or somewhere the animal will be able to stay. You may even consider bringing the dog to your home if it is agreeable enough to come with you peacefully or if it is friendly.
  4. Image titled Approach a Stray Dog Step 11
    Check for microchip implant. Many dogs now routinely have microchip implants installed that contain identification numbers used to find owners. Find a veterinarian or rescue center that has a microchip implant scanner, and they will be able to tell you if the animal has a microchip implant. If they do, the owner should be able to be contacted.[15] If they do not, you can hang found dog signs, place an ad online or in a newspaper, or consider adopting the animal for yourself.


  • Never corner an animal. It will make it feel trapped and feel as if it has no option but to attack you.
  • Even after the animal has determined that you mean no harm, this does not mean that sudden movement will not scare the animal. Remember to move slowly.
  • If you cannot gain the trust of the animal, but fear for its life or safety, the best thing to do is call your local animal shelter. They may also advise you on how best to handle gaining the trust of the animal.
  • Try using basic commands to see if the dog understands—sit, stay, etc. If he reacts accordingly, he has been with humans before.
  • If there is foam by its mouth, you should stay away as it might have rabies. Call animal control immediately.
  • Never approach an aggressive dog. Aggressive signs may include hair standing on end, lips curled in a snarl, growling, a lowered head, a stiff tail or possibly a slow wag.
  • Take extreme caution when feeding stray dogs.
  • A strange, frightened, and possibly sick or injured animal can behave unpredictably. A sudden move on your part, even opening your car door, can spook the him/her and cause him/her to bolt—possibly right onto the highway. If the animal looks or acts threatening, or if you feel uneasy about the situation, stay in your car.
  • Be patient, as the dog will have to learn at his/her own pace at understanding you are only there to help or to love him/or her and that you mean no harm! The dog doesn't understand what you want at first, you have to take baby steps into showing him exactly what you want and why you are there.


  • Make sure the dog doesn't have any illness and has been vaccinated properly—check for vaccination tags.
  • Make sure that the dog does not bite you or you could get sick.
  • Be very careful when approaching a strange animal. If it is stray, it may have not had any kind human contact for a while, and may not hesitate to attack you if it thinks you are dangerous.
  • Do not let any children near the dog.
  • Be careful how you try to gain the animal's trust. You may be put in harm's way.

Article Info

Categories: Animal Rescue