Is it safe to pet a stray dog? A Step-by-Step Guide

What you can do to help stray animals

Don’t feed stray animals, even though you may be tempted to do so. Feeding strays helps to make them dependent on humans, which may not be appreciated by the local people once you’ve returned home. It’s more helpful to donate to a local animal rescue organisation. They can help with the sterilisation of stray animals, set up feeding stations and generally support animals more effectively in the long run. If you see an animal in need of medical attention, where possible you should contact a local animal welfare organisation (such as FOUR PAWS) or a veterinarian. Many local animal welfare groups depend on volunteers and are always looking for extra help. While you’re on holiday, perhaps you could help out by volunteering to walk a dog, clean a kennel or just generally lend a hand.

How to Get a Stray Dog to Trust You

Sometimes, however, a particular situation might make you come to a different decision. Many animal control agencies have experienced drastic budget cuts in recent years and are no longer available 24/7.If you feel that personal action is necessary and that you can proceed safely, how can you get a wary stray dog off the streets yourself?

According to Lauren Nucera, a pet advocate and rescuer for Chester County Dog Tails in Pennsylvania, there are many steps you can take to gain the trust of a lost dog.

“Getting a dog to trust you can be a waiting game; it takes time and patience,” says Nucera. “Take a spot low to the ground or somewhere close by to where the dog is roaming. A loop leash makes it easier to get the dog if he or she has no collar. Don’t face the dog head on, as it might see that as a challenge, but rather sit to the side so that you aren’t eye to eye with it.”

A loop leash is a type of leash can be slipped over the dog’s head like a lasso without having to put your hands too near the dog’s mouth.

“It’s always a good idea to have plenty of dog treats handy,” says Nucera. “Allow the dog to just sniff you and gather your scent. With an open hand, allow the dog to takes treats from you. Eventually you should be able to loop him. Then, in a calm and gentle way, guide the dog to where you want him to go.”

But the best intentions of dog lovers and rescuers can sometimes be misguided, warns Griffin.

“Building trust is dynamic, fluid, and can change rapidly. Chasing stray animals is dangerous for all parties involved,” says Griffin. “Traffic, potential wildlife, uneven ground, etc., can all end with an unintended injury for both humans and dogs. Trust comes with relationships and is always fragile, as well as not knowing this particular animal’s behavioral background. It is a risk that may be best left to professionals.”

FOUR PAWS has prepared the following guidelines on how to stay safe around stray dogs:

The most important point to remember is that you should never run away from a stray dog (or any dog). Running away can trigger a dog’s hunting instinct, which tells them to chase you. It’s better to walk away slowly to avoid triggering that instinct. If you’re on a bicycle or motorbike, slow to a halt and wait for the dog to leave.

Dogs are pack animals and tend to stay in groups, where they can protect each other. If you are out walking and spot a group of dogs, it’s advisable not to go near. Dogs are territorial animals, and if they feel threatened, they could confront you. Be especially careful at night: in the dark you may not be able to see all the dogs around you.

If you do happen to wander into a pack, stay calm and move away slowly. Don’t make any sudden movements, shout or run. Keep your arms close to your body.

Avoid sending dominance signals to dogs.

Dogs are very good at reading our body language. There are some types of human behaviour that dogs find threatening. These include staring at them, yelling, waving arms about and walking directly towards them. These are behaviours that will identify you as a threat. Instead of trying to communicate your dominance, it’s better to send calming signals.

If you meet a dog that you are unsure about, don’t try to be dominant or show anger. Instead, send calming signals such as yawning, avoiding eye contact and standing sideways to the dog. You might try crouching down and letting them sniff you (if you feel comfortable doing this).

If you feel threatened by dogs in the street or around a temple, you could try calling to a local for assistance. Many of the dogs will be regulars in the area and are likely to respond better to someone they know (such as a monk or caregiver).

While we strongly recommend keeping calm and behaving in a non-confrontational way, if you feel very threatened, you could crouch down and pretend to pick up a rock. But don’t actually throw anything at the dog! Sometimes, pretending to pick something up can make a dog run away (a sad reflection of the regular abuse that many stray dogs suffer at human hands).

If the worst-case scenario occurs and you are attacked by dogs, try to fend them off with a backpack or stick. If you end up on the ground, protect your head and vital organs. Lie down and curl up in a ball, using your arms to cover your head. Then try to keep still, even though this may be difficult. The dogs are more likely to lose interest in you quickly if you stay calm. Once the dogs have moved away, slowly get up and leave. Get yourself to a safe place and visit a hospital as soon as possible.

One Thing You Shouldn’t Do If You Meet a Stray Dog

Pet homelessness has been a sad epidemic in the United States for many years. A close look at the statistics paints a bleak picture of the state of our four legged friends that are forced to fend for themselves.

According to the ASPCA, approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters in the United States every year. That’s about 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats. Of these, a staggering 1.5 million—670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats—are euthanized.

While approximately 3.2 million animals are adopted each year from shelters, only about 710,000 of those who come in as strays are eventually returned to their original owners.

With those types of numbers, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll eventually come across a stray animal yourself. What’s the best way to proceed when that happens?