Dog on the Loose
How to Catch Runaway Clients
By Kama Brown
Catching a loose dog is a skill. It’s something that should be taught during staff orientation and practiced regularly for new employees. Just as a bite stick and a can of sound or spray are kept for emergencies, employees should have access to high value treats in a vest pocket.
There are four ways a dog becomes loose; the owner allows the dog to get loose coming out of the car, the dog backs out of the collar, the dog won’t come in from the daycare yard, or the dog has gotten out of the kennel.
In all situations, the first time the dog checks in with anyone is the most important moment. Each moment there after will be less and less likely to keep the dog’s attention. All dogs are going to check in unless they have already focused on something and are chasing it. If a dog is chasing something, always follow the direction the dog is going. Whatever they are chasing is bound to stop as some point, whether it is a car, a person, or a critter. Once the chase is over, they are going to look around and that will be your moment. Keeping in mind that the moment they are looking around is the moment they are looking for the next thing to hunt.
Gaining their focus by utilizing their hunting instinct is the best option to catching a loose dog. A dog’s brain is designed to tune into movement. Movement directly in front of them is important but movement in their peripheral vision is always given priority. This means running side to side will get the dog’s attention more than just running forwards or backwards. Never stand still or move towards a dog that is standing still and looking around. Once the dog is watching the moving person, the person should make high-pitched noises, turn slightly away from the dog, and bend down towards the ground. Once the dog is moving forward, the person should begin moving towards the direction of a safe place, such as through the nearest building door or fenced area. If the nearest building happens to be private property, so be it.
I caught a dog once by propping open a McDonald’s door and enticing the dog with a tray full of trash. When a dog is loose in an unfenced, urban area, everyone is willing to allow for exceptions to the rules in order to gather the dog safely. I’ve found the same to be true in suburban areas when it comes to opening the nearest car door or backyard fence.
If a dog is not chasing something, then they are either hunting for something through scent, or they are baiting a person to chase them. Dogs who are hunting for something will trot to a spot, sniff, trot to another spot, sniff and repeat. The dog’s back is towards the human and they are usually following their nose—head towards the ground.
Dogs who are baiting a human to play a chase game will trot around and stop periodically to stand facing towards the human, eyes directly following the human’s movements. Many times bouncy movements and barking will accompany this behavior.
If the dog is loose in the parking lot and they are close to cars, opening any car door and saying “let’s go” is the first thing to try. Secondly, call the dog while walking towards the building door. Using high pitched, quick, short sounds will entice movement from dogs and the direction you are walking will matter. Always walk the direction you want the dog to go. Do not chase the dog unless the dog is clearly chasing something else already.
Part of the protocol for catching a loose dog should include some way to communicate to the other employees that you need them to come and help. If the dog has gotten away while on the way inside the building, ask the help to safely stand or sit down on the perimeter of the parking lot.
Novelty is interesting to dogs and a change in the environment will generally trigger a sniff. If the dog begins sniffing a standing person, they should begin slowly walking towards the closest confined space, dropping treats if they have them. After a few steps, the person should turn slightly away from the dog and bend down, pretending to look at something on the ground, and dropping treats in a pile if they have one, or dropping whatever they have on their body if they don’t have treats. Novelty creates curiosity and suspicion which will get a dog to do things they didn’t intend to do, such as stop and stay still long enough for the employee to grab the dog’s body.
To prevent bites, it’s always better to invite or entice the dog to become interested in something new so that a person may move slowly enough to reach out and grab hold of the dog. If the dog is wearing a collar, that is an easy place to grab, though a leg or tail will work in an emergency. Once the dog is held in position, putting a leash or slip lead on will be easy. If the dog can see the leash or slip lead while you are trying to entice them, it will usually cue the dog to stay a few feet back.
In all loose dog situations, bringing out another dog on lead can help. Bringing out another dog captures into their social behavior. Walking, trotting, playing tug, giving treats, and talking to the new dog will bring the loose dog closer. Once the loose dog is interested in the new dog, make sure to keep the new dog moving towards a secure space. It’s always easier to bring a dog into a confined space than it is to catch them directly.
If the dog is running loose but confined in the yard or building, the urgency is less and only one person is needed to entice the dog. Anyone else available should double check that all doors and gates are secured. Often, dogs that don’t want to come inside when group play is done will begin baiting the human in the yard to play the chase me game. Sitting or lying down on the ground will usually do the trick. If the dog ignores this, walking over towards an exit and pretending to open the gate will bring the dog closer in. If the dog still won’t budge, bring out a flirt toy.
A flirt toy is a horse lunge whip with a synthetic furry animal on the end of it. Flirt the toy around so that it looks like an animal scurrying along the ground until the dog gets close enough to bite and grab the toy. Once the dog is willing to follow the toy, lead them into a smaller space or inside.
All of this to say, by far the easiest way to catch a loose dog is to keep them from becoming loose. A building should be secure enough that once an owner has successfully handed their dog over to an employee, the dog is never able to get out. Doors and gates should be doubled and windows should be kept locked. Outdoor areas should be secured with fencing that continues underground and tops of fencing should be secured by having roller bars in place. The fence line should be walked each morning and evening to spot any beginning holes or fence damage early.
All kennels and daycares have unbelievable escape stories despite the best of efforts, but with the correct procedures, all kennels and daycares will have incredible catch stories as well.