Calming signals are behaviors exhibited around an at large or stray dog, with the objective of calming the dog, gaining its trust, and subsequently containing it with a leash or a crate. If it's possible to avoid trapping a dog by using calming signals, this will always be preferable.
Background: the work of dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas has taught us about the behaviors that dogs exhibit to calm other panicked and stressed dogs, as well as humans. She coined the phrase "calming signals", and since we humans mimic those behaviors when dealing with stressed, panicked and at large dogs, we use the same term to describe our behaviors.
Of course, exercise judgement when dealing with an unknown stray dog as opposed to a known lost dog. And remember - patience!
Here are some behaviors to remember to use, or avoid, when face to face with an at large dog, whether it is the lost dog that you have been looking for, or one you happen to encounter. What suggestions can you add to these lists?
Behaviors to avoid
- Facing the dog directly
- Speaking directly to the dog
- Making eye contact
- Advancing directly toward the dog, even slowly
- Making sudden or quick movements
- Speaking loudly or making any kind of loud noise
- Continuing to stand tall over the dog
- Displaying any stress or panicked feelings of your own, or impatience
Behaviors to establish that you are non-threatening to the dog
- Sit or otherwise put your body low towards the ground, closer to the dog's level (remembering to avoid the above behaviors)
- Lie down on the ground and whine softly
- Yawn; lick your lips; cough; sniff (loudly enough to be heard)
- Turn your head and/or your body away from the dog (slowly)
- Do normal things that demonstrate self interest as opposed to an interest in the dog, such as applying lip balm
Behaviors to lure the dog towards you (after establishing that you are not a threat)
- Do call attention to yourself if the dog doesn't see you
- Crinkle a bag, that might sound like a snack bag, with smelly bait in it - like cooked & dried cut up hot dog
- Eat something while making "yummy yummy" noises, dropping bits of the food around onto the floor; a crumbly muffin is a good example
- Toss treats to the dog, slowly; if possible, over the shoulder and while facing away
- When you have more than one person to participate in the luring behavior
- Play frisbee or catch with each other (props required)
- Speak conversationally to each other, showing a lack of interest in the dog
- When you have another dog to participate in the luring
- Lavish attention on the other dog
- Play fetch with the other dog
- If you are at a distance, not in close physical proximity
- Call out the name of a familiar or companion dog
What else can you add to these lists that have worked for you? There must be plenty more!