Stray Dog Body Language and Three Tips For Approaching Them

As pet parents, we’ve probably all come across a lost or stray dog at some point. Chances
are you’ve even spotted a dog, owned and loved, but, way out in-front of their owner;
mistakenly thinking you had to swoop in and save the day.
But sometimes, it’s not as easy to approach a stray dog, sometimes they appear to be strong
and powerful dogs or shy and timid. So for that reason, we have put together some pointers
when watching stray dogs and some top tips for approaching them.

The Approach To A Stray Dog

The ideal dog to approach, has a soft body with fluid movement. They will be soft in the
eyes and mouth; their tail may be up, or it may be down depending on their breed. They
will be showing interest in that around them and even you. They will be unlikely to make
any sharp movements and likely happy to come to you.
Anything other than this, generally means they’re not entirely happy!
Consider from the stray dog’s point of view – they may have had terrible experiences of
humans so far, so will be wary and potential fearful.

Stray Dog Body Language

A fearful dog will, if they’ve not already run away from you, crouch down and they will
cower. This is their attempt at avoiding conflict. Their ears may lie flat and their tail will be
down. They may look away from you. They will walk tentatively, most likely away from you.
They may even shake and tremble.
A fearful dog, if they feel they need to protect themselves may become aggressive. Their
eyes will be wide and focused. Their tail may be up and their hackles too. The hair standing
on end is a stress response and it makes the animal appear bigger than it is, in an attempt to
ward off the threat.
They may curl their lip, snarl or growl. All these behaviors are warnings. Often, if they are
not heeded, a lunge or bite will follow.
A stressed dog, however, will yawn, lick their lips and pace. They may also whine or bark.

Be Patient and Relaxed

The stray needs to understand that you pose no threat to him. So if this means you just
hanging around the area, intermittently throwing food on the floor in their general
direction, that’s exactly what you need to do. Now is the time for you to decide whether
you feel confident in catching the dog, or whether you contact the dog warden and just wait
with the dog for help to arrive.

Either way, patience is key.
If you are confident you can safely catch this stray, we have some top tips.
As we mentioned, throw food into his general direction, but not directly at him. If you have
a noisy, crinkly bag, rustle that too.
Watch for signs that he is getting more comfortable in your presence, so a reduction in
stress or fearful behaviors and an increase in more soft or fluid movements.

Create A Safe Environment

He must feel safe to come to you – sit quietly on the floor with a relaxed posture. Make no
sudden movements and avoid eye contact with him. Don’t call him or chase after him.
As you are throwing food out for him, continue to watch his behavior. If his movements or
body become tenser or show increased signs of aggression, remove yourself from the
situation and seek additional help.
You have only succeeded when you are close enough to attach a leash – if you have to
stretch or quickly grab him, you’ve just undone all the hard work, with him being even lesst rusting of these unpredictable humans!
Continue to feed him after you’ve attached the leash and again take your time.
Seek help from the dog warden or a local shelter, if you need to transport him, watch his
behavior, if he suddenly feels boxed in or threatened, he may again become fearful and
potentially aggressive. Stay calm, he just wants to know you pose no threat.


As pet-parents, as much as we’d love to help as many dogs as possible, when approaching a
stray dog, you must be realistic with your capabilities to read the situation. Sometimes the
best help you can provide is to just stay in the general area to watch the stray until further
help arrives. Reading his body language is crucial in avoiding a potentially dangerous
situation. Understanding both stress and aggressive behaviors may just save your life, and his.

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