How to Catch a Dog That Won't Come to You: 4 Simple Steps

Key takeaways

Catching a dog that won't come to you is a difficult process. It's important to understand animal behavior in order to be successful.

We explore 4 simple steps that will help you catch your dog as well as the essential dos and don'ts for catching a scared dog.

To help prevent this situation in the future and look after your pup’s wellbeing, we document the most common reasons why your own dog may hide from you.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. How to catch a lost dog
  3. How to catch a stray dog
  4. Dos and don'ts of catching a scared dog
  5. Why does your own dog hide from you?
  6. FAQs
  7. Final thoughts

How to catch a lost dog

Trying to catch a lost dog after you've found them can be extremely frustrating. It takes patience and knowledge of dog behavior. Start by following the steps below.

1. Secure the area

The first step in trying to catch a dog that won't come to you is to secure the area. This will make it less likely that your dog will escape and run away again.
Try positioning people in the area in a way that prevents your dog from escaping. However, make sure they are far away enough that your dog doesn't feel threatened.
You can also use netting or fencing if you are worried about your dog's safety. For example, if there's a route to a busy road close by, make sure it is blocked off.
A lost puppy stood on their own in the middle of the woods

2. Is the dog in survival mode?

Sometimes when our dogs go missing, they can snap into survival mode. This is when your pup feels scared or their fight or flight instinct kicks in. You may notice:

Increased defensiveness



More reactive

If this is the case, they may not recognize you as their owner. Don't worry, this doesn't mean they have forgotten you! It just means that their brains are focused only on food and shelter temporarily.
It's important to establish whether your dog is in survival mode or not. If they are, you need to behave very submissively and non-threatening. Try:

Lowering your gaze and not making direct eye contact

Bowing your head to look non-threatening

Use a quiet and soft tone of voice

To encourage them to come to you, you can use food and treats. Because of their focus on finding a source of food, this should be effective. Just gently toss treats in their direction maintaining a decent distance between you and the pup. Don't attempt to feed them by hand.
A golden labrador sat next to a bowl of food after being attracted by the smell

3. Recruit help

The more people able to help you, the better. This could be a long process so having backup can take the stress and pressure off you for a little while.
Make sure those who are helping know the dog and the dog knows and trusts them. If the dog can't determine whether someone is dangerous or not, they may decide to run. Also, the more scents that the dog recognizes, the more likely they are to trust and remember you.
Neighbors coming together and holding hands about to help someone catch their lost dog

4. Be patient

Waiting for your dog to trust and recognize you is half the battle. This can take a long time. To speed up the process, try the following:

Keep talking gently to them in reassuring tones

Sit down or even lie down a safe distance from them to show you are not dominant

Keep offering treats and snacks

Place water near them

Bring toys, blankets, and clothes that smell like you and your family

A lost dog wandering on a hill on their own following another animal

How to catch a stray dog

A scared stray dog can be distrustful and even sometimes aggressive. Don't attempt to catch a stray dog on your own.
Instead, call animal control for advice, and see if they can send anyone to you to help. They can also often provide humane traps which can be safer than trying to handle scared dogs.
You should also contact the local dog warden. They will be able to tell you about stray dogs in the area and will report the dog if it isn't logged yet.

Dos and don'ts of catching a scared dog

Knowing the dos and don'ts of catching a fearful dog is essential for many dog owners. A wrong move can reverse any progress made and make it more difficult to catch the dog in the future.


Take supplies: Supplies for you and the dog are important. You're going to be there for a while, so you don't want to have to leave when you're making progress to grab a snack! Make sure you pack food, water, and warm clothes.

Talk to them: Sometimes people advise you not to call a dog's name if they are lost because it could scare them. However, if you use familiar words in a soft tone then it can actually comfort them. Try repeating words like 'treats' 'dinner' 'good girl/boy' or any other words you use often around them, as well as their name.

Try positive reinforcement: Every time the dog comes closer to you or relaxes, positively reinforce the behavior by rewarding them with treats and telling them they are a good boy or girl.

Pay attention to your dog's body language: Knowing when to move closer to the dog, or simply knowing what your next move will be should be based on the animal's body language. For example, if their hackles are up then they may be distressed, and licking their lips may indicate anxiety.

Start a PetRadar search: We can spread the message to thousands of your neighbors using sponsored posts on social media. So, if your dog does choose to run further away, you can find them easily through reported sightings on your personal dashboard.

The PetRadar team sat together surrounded by computers and dogs


Get frustrated: If a dog is in survival mode and they pick up on your frustrations in your tone or body language, they won't trust you. Instead, they may choose to run away. So, stay as calm as possible.

Approach the dog too quickly: Don't assume you can approach the dog as soon as you see signs of them relaxing. You want to build up trust before you move any closer. Try inching forward while sitting down, instead of walking towards them.

Chase them: If your dog does decide to run away, don't chase them. This will frighten them and jump-start their flight mode, making them run further and trust you less.

an owner chasing their German shepherd who is running away from them

Why does your own dog hide from you?

Our dogs can run away and hide from us for many reasons. As owners, we want to make our pets as happy as possible, so when they're hiding we can feel as if we failed.
But there are plenty of simple reasons why your dog may be exhibiting this behavior, and once you know about them you can make some changes to improve the quality of their life!

They are scared of you

Some dogs are just more naturally timid and sensitive than others. Certain pheromones, tones and volumes of voice, clothes, and jewelry can all spook a skittish dog.
If you think this may be the case, it's important to socialize your dog with lots of different people and other dogs. Control these interactions to make sure they are positive and not frightening, and hopefully, your dog will start to build up some trust.
You can also make some changes yourself. If you're aware that you can be loud or make lots of sudden movements around your pup, try and tone this down until they become more trusting.
Top Tip: Don't grab your dog, hug them, or get in their face. Respect their space and be gentle towards them. Only stroke them or touch them once their body language has shown they have relaxed.
A scared dog running away

Loud noises have frightened them

Loud noises and disruptions like fireworks and construction work can trigger your pup's fight or flight. This means they will seek a secure place to hide. And no matter how much they trust and love you, when they are spooked they will be too frightened to leave their hiding place.
To help your furry friend in the future, set up a cozy corner in their favorite room where they can hide. Try using a cardboard box and filling it with blankets and toys, or even a dog bed that's covered so they feel protected.
This will help prevent your pup from running away from home if they are frightened and instead seek shelter in their home. This will also help build more trust between you and your pup.

To help your furry friend in the future, set up a cozy corner in their favorite room where they can hide.

A scared dog hiding outside watching fireworks after loud bangs have scared them

They are sick

A dog's natural instinct tells them to be alone when they are sick. This is because they are in a weaker and more vulnerable state to predators.
Understandably, this is distressing to us owners! We like to think that our pets will want to be with us when they are struggling, but unfortunately, they can't ignore their instincts.
It's important to observe your pup from a distance if they don't want to come out of hiding. Do they look in pain? Are they eating and drinking? If you are worried they are seriously ill, then you should try and encourage them out so you can get them veterinary care as soon as possible.


What's the best way to catch a loose dog?

Patience and submissive body language are essential for catching a loose dog. Build up their trust by waiting with them, offering treats, and slowly inching forward when they become more comfortable.

What can you use to catch a dog?

You can use humane traps and treats to catch a dog. Tempting them by offering food can be effective, but if this doesn't work you can call animal control who can help by providing a humane animal trap.

How do you lure a dog?

Dogs have very powerful senses that include smelling and hearing a lot more than humans. For this reason, you can lure a dog to you by using familiar sounds (squeaky toys) and their favorite food.

How do you catch a stubborn dog?

To catch a stubborn dog you need to be very patient. Building trust is essential as they may be in survival mode which means their instincts will be to run away. Use submissive body language like getting close to the floor and bowing your head, be sure not to make eye contact. You can slowly move toward the pup this way.

How do you trap a large dog?

There are large humane traps that will fit large dogs in. These work by enticing the lost dog into the trap using treats. Once inside, the trap will close, meaning they won't be able to escape.

How do you set a trap to catch a dog?

Use familiar and attractive smells to help lure your dog into the trap. This can include toys, cooked meat, blankets, and their favorite food. You can use twigs, leaves, and foliage to make the trap look less suspicious and shiny.

Why won't my dog respond to his name?

If your dog is in survival mode, they won't respond to their name. This is because their instincts are solely focused on getting food, water, and shelter, and avoiding any contact with other people or animals.

Why do dogs run away and not come back?

Dogs can run away and not come back for many reasons including being sick, being scared, being anxious, not getting enough attention, or looking for a mate.

Final thoughts

We understand how distressing it can be when your lost dog won't come to you. They're part of the family after all. So far, we have reunited 8000+ with their owners, including plenty of lost dogs. By starting a PetRadar search, you can rest assured knowing everyone in your area is on the lookout for your pup if they run away.
Using sponsored posts on social media, we spread the message of your missing dog to over 4,000 neighbors. These posts will pop up on their Facebook and Instagram as advertisements that they can save for later or report a sighting from.
We'll set you up with your own dashboard where you can manage sightings and receive constant support and guidance. So, if you want an extra hand at this difficult time, you're in good hands with us!

Written by

Image of the author
Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

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