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The hope of this blog is to motivate others to support animal rescue by publicizing animal rescue information and stories. Laura works with SOS Algarve Animals, a charity helping abandoned animals of the Algarve, Portugal. More Info

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November 2012
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All About Rescue

How to Catch a Stray Dog

November 16, 2012

Some dogs found on the street are happy to jump straight in your car.  One little whistle is all it takes.  They are looking for help, safety, and compassion.  Other dogs are far more scared.

Why try to catch them… why bother…why do this?  Sometimes because they are a truly nice dog who you want to help live a far better life.  Sometimes because they are unwell, tremendously thin, have skin conditions, and absolutely need veterinary care.  And sometimes it may be because they are an unsterilized female and so not catching means that the one dog will soon lead to a hundred or more….

So….how do you catch the less friendly dogs.  Prepare and Befriend, and if necessary Sedate.


Step 1:  Prepare and Befriend

1.  Preparations. 

  • First get a long lead that you can loop the end through the wrist strap to make a noose.  And have lots of wet food.
  • Car:  Have a lead attached to something in the boot (with an easy to adjust collar).   If you have an untranquilized stray dog in the boot of your car… the last thing you want is to arrive at the vet or a shelter…and have it escape when you open the boot.  And have a big blanket in the boot to keep the boot clean. 
  • Box? Putting a dog (especially a small dog or puppy) in a dog box is also great, but make sure the box (and especially the opening) is large enough – trying to push a dog or cat through a small opening will only make things harder.  
  • Know where you are taking the dog and what the plan is before you try to catch the dog.  If the dog is injured this may be an emergency vet, call them.

2. Location.  

Catching a stray dog is all about knowing where the dog will be so as you can start a routine of feeding, befriending and eventually catching.  Hopefully the location is one that is far away from a busy road.  This normally starts by seeing the dog on the side of the road and feeding it there.  But it is very important that you then start to slowly move the food farther and farther away from the road side.  If the road is busy or dangerous, unless the dog immediately comes running up to you, do not do it… DO NOT STOP… it is far too dangerous for you, for the dog, and for the other drivers on the road.

3. Food.

  •  Start with wet food.  It is often two or three packets that is given at the same time per dog.  If this is too expensive, stick with giving more wet food the first few days, then just a little wet food and dried food.  The food is important because the dog needs to get used to your presence and to letting you approach.
  •  While the dog is eating try and approach as close as you can but without scaring him or her off.   Each day try and get a little closer.  With some dogs you may be able to get very close, other dogs it may be only 10 or 20 metres.  But just keep trying and make sure you stay while the dog eats so they start to relax, even just a little bit, in your prescence.
  • As a note, if you can touch, stroke or pet the dog work around the neck area to get them used to this type of movement.
  • This is especially important because if you are going to need to use tranquilizers, you must be at the stage where the dog will stay around for a bit after receiving the tranquilizers.

 4. Aggression. 

  • As a note, I have never ever been bitten.  90% or more of the stray dogs, this is not something they would even think of, all they want is to run away. 
  • At the same time, there have been a very few dogs that in the beginning, when I have fed them wet food and then stayed nearby, even approached a bit, they growl and snarl.  These are the dogs that, unless at risk of becoming pregnant, I leave them alone.  If I am going to continue to try and catch them I treat the situation very differently, with lots of tranquilizers, protection in the car (either a grate or a dog box).  If I bring a dog in and it shows aggressive behaviour, I will either spay and release, and if this is not possible I will explain the situation to a vet and ask that she be euthanized.  

5. Ready to Catch. 

  • When you are ready to try and catch, depending on the dog, if you can easily pick the dog up and carry super.  But it is more likely you will need to get the dog on the lead.  Use the lead as a noose that goes around the neck (you slip the hook end through the handle). As an important note, have your car nearby, prepared, and the boot OPEN.  And if you are carrying the dog, keep your face away from its face.
  • Slowly try to slip the lead around their neck, keep it loose, and then tighten.  When it does get tight they may rear back, you may even loose them..  But I have seen a dog be petrified for the first few seconds, but then they realize they are caught and simply roll over.  You never know.    
  • If you do manage to lead the dog ….it is unlikely it will walk on the lead.  You will need to carry him or her to the car.  
  • If there is no way of getting the lead around the neck or you cannot get close enough….  The answer is tranquilizers.   These work best when it is just about slowing the dog down that little bit to be able to get close enough.


Step 2: Sedation

1. The Tranquilizer(S):

  • First warning.  Be careful where you do this.  You do not want a half sedated dog stumbling across lanes of traffic. 
  • Speak with your vet, seek their advice, and request the tranquilizers.    The vet will need to know the weight of the dog.  Most medium sized dogs of Portugal weigh about 15-20 kilos.  A Labrador about 25 kilos, a German Shepherd weighs about 30 kilos.  Street cats weigh about 5 kilos depending on size.  Vets usually prescribe vetmedin, a blue pill, which is given one pill (10 mg) for 10 kilos.
  • Vetmedin is one of the most prescribed tranquilizers in Portugal.  In my experience it takes half an hour to one hour to begin working.  And it will be strongest about 2 to 3 hours after being given.
  • Sedalin.  (which I like to use along with vetmedin).  The components are very similar if not identical to vetmedin, but it is a gel and it works much faster.  It tastes awful, so usually I put this in a hot dog.  Feed a little hot dog first without the sedalin, then the next bit with some sedalin, next bit without…next bit with.  Another really good food choice is roast chicken (which smells very strong and yummy).

2. Dosage.  Our suggestion for tranquilizers – use more than the advised dosage.  If a dog weighs 8 kilos give enough for 15 kilos.  Weighs 27 kilos give about 40 kilos.  The thing is that the adrenalin is going through their system and this interferes with the way the tranquilizers work, they will be far less effective.

    • If the dog I am catching is 17 kilos.  I will use sedalin for 30 kilos and vetmedin for 20 kilos.   If I only have vetmedin I will use dosage for 30 kilos.
    • Please note there are risks with using tranquilizers, but my own experience is every dog I have had to sedate has been fine.
    • If the dog I am catching is 17 kilos.  I will use sedalin for 30 kilos and vetmedin for 20 kilos.   If I only have vetmedin I will use dosage for 30 kilos. 
    • Please note there are risks with using tranquilizers, but my own experience is every dog I have had to sedate has been fine.  

3. How to Give.  When you give the tranquilizers give it immediately on your arrival in a small quantity of food.  This is where your prior feeding routine will prove very important.  Stay around.   Keep everything as normal as possible.  Except try to keep the dogs interest for as long as possible giving small quantities of food. You have to give the tranquilizer in food.  But foods slows the tranquilizer down. It depends on the tranquilizer being used as well as the metabolism and adrenalin level of the dog. 

4. When to Approach. If the dog starts to go down then wait, at least 10 minutes, before very slowly and quietly approaching.  Sometimes waiting longer will be necessary.  If the dog gets up do not chase it, even with the tranquilizers.  If the dog is up and walking it can run, and if it runs it will be faster than you.  Let it relax and hopefully fall asleep before approaching

  • Depending on the dog, perhaps it will be out for the count, then you have to pick him or her up and carry to the car.  If the dog is semi-alert, it may be that now you leash the dog and he or she will walk with you.  If necessary, you can use a rope as a muzzle and blankets can also be a huge help when carrying a bigger dog.

 5. Lastly.  Take the dog immediately to a vet.  Do not forget to attach the dog to al lead in your car for its safety and your own.  If you cannot get the dog immediately to the vet, then he or she should stay in a dog cage (maximum overnight) until you do get it to the vet.  The last thing you want is to have a dog awake and trying to escape again.  If the dog is with you….do not feed it more.  While feeding is necessary when catching with tranquilizers, it can cause choking in a heavily sedated dog.

 6. Dog Traps.  These work as a cage with a spring door and food is placed in the back (much like a mouse trap).  They are far more successful when catching cats than dogs…I have found dogs are very hesitant to actually enter the opening.  But if tranqulizers do not work then borrowing a dog trap (ask local vets, shelters and/ or animal rescue groups) would be the next best option.


And good luck, do not be disheartened.  Many times catching a stray dog will not be successful the first time.  I have had to often try time and time again.  If you used tranquilizers and it did not work the first time, you will be more successful if you can wait a few days before you try again.

by Laura McGeoch. Find out more about Laura McGeoch here.