Karen B. London
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A Dog in the Road
How best to help

While driving recently, I was preparing to turn onto the main highway near my neighborhood when I saw a dog in the middle of it. She seemed scared and confused, and looked about to bolt, but seemed unsure where to go. I was terrified for her—cars were coming at 50 miles an hour and the roads were still snowy and even icy in patches from the almost 5 feet of snow plus some rain that recently landed on Flagstaff.

I unrolled my window, called “Come!” and clapped my hands, smooched, and called out “pup pup pup” in the high-pitched happy voice so often spoken of in dog training books. Miraculously, she moved enough in my direction to avoid being hit by the cars and trucks, but it was close. Several of the drivers honked and swerved to avoid her. I then tossed her some treats to lure her towards me, and took hold of her collar and led her into my car.
Then I was able to read her tags (thankfully up to date!) and call for her family to come pick her up. They were frantic with worry as she had never gotten out before and they had no idea where to look for her. Like many dogs in the area, she probably left her own yard by standing on top of a snowdrift and simply walking over the fence. (This is probably the reason we have had so many more loose dogs in our neighborhood than ever.) She had wandered over a mile from home and crossed the highway at least once before I saw her.
If you see a loose dog at risk of being hit by a car, there are many things you can try. My favorite techniques are 1) Call “Come!” or use the sounds that attract dogs—clapping, smooching, or saying “Pup pup pup” in a light, happy voice. Many dogs are not trained to come when called, but it is always worth a try. The other sounds often bring in dogs without training. 2) Open a car door. Many dogs are happy to get in any car, though this is of course risky since you are inviting a strange dog into an enclosed space with you. I’ve done this with dogs I know, or particularly small or sweet looking dogs. 3) Hold a leash up and say, “Want to go for a walk?” Many dogs will come right over because those words and a leash have always meant fun. 4) Toss treats and lure the dog to you with food. (I realize not everyone has treats or a leash in the car at all times, but I usually do.) 5) If it’s safe, get out of your car and run away from the dog. Many will follow and at least they are out of the road at that point. 6) If you can’t get near the dog, try saying “Go home!” or “It’s dinnertime!” That may get the dog headed back to the safety of home, though it’s impossible to know whether they have to take a dangerous route to get there.
There’s no guarantee that any of these techniques will work or that they won’t put you at risk either of injury from traffic or a possibly frightened dog, and they are just a few of the possibilities for helping save a dog from traffic. Have you had luck saving a dog from being hit by a car with any particular technique?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by @dogsNwine | February 5 2010 |

engage dog with clap or calling out to it then run away from road using high pitched happy voice, they will follow.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 6 2010 |

I think the big thing is to remain calm. Frantically chasing an already scared dog just makes everything worse. If you're gonna try to help, keep your head.

Submitted by Linda C | February 7 2010 |

Thanks for the great informative story, complete with a happy ending.

If we want to become a country that doesn't kill surplus pets, the easiest, first step is to get a phone number of each of our pets. Millions of pets go missing every year and many burden animal control, pounds and rescues. Imagine if each lost-but-owned pet had a phone number on its collar that would make a happy reunion happen within hours? Microchips are great, but don't help the average person finding that lost pet.

Nowadays, with cell phones, even owners at work or on vacation can be notified and can therefore help with the lost pet.

Individuals and organizations can advocate for this. Inexpensive tags and elastic/breakaway collars can be made for pennies and shared with the public.

This, along with spay/neuter/adopt could essentially solve the pet overpopulation crisis within a year. Remember, none of the pets who will be killed in our pounds came from a distant planet on a spaceship. Each came from a pair of non-fixed pets. Unlike Autism and Alzheimer's, we know the cause and we have the cure for this national problem.

For Valentine's Day, and everyday, show your love. Tag your pets. And fix 'em too.

Submitted by Carolyn | February 8 2010 |

My sister-in-law was able to catch a dog that was loose on a busy road by calling to it in a happy voice. She always carries a leash and treats and it wasn't too hard to entice the dog. Luckily, the dog's owner wasn't far ... and she mistakenly at first thought my SIL was trying to steal him.

My SIL also found what appeared to be a lost dog, took him home and called the phone number on his tags. His owner was surprised as she hadn't thought he was missing ... and actually he wasn't. My SIL had picked him up about a block from his new home; they just hadn't bothered to update his tags which showed him to be far from the address shown. Good reminder to keep tags up to date!

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | February 9 2010 |

Boy, you were well prepared! So glad this was a happy ending.

Over the years, I have tried to save stray dogs, but they don't seem to want my help! LOL In college, I picked up a stray Beagle, put him in my car and he promptly jumped out the window and ran away. Another time, I made my husband stop the car to rescue a dog laying down near the highway. Turned out to be a sick coyote! Not good.

My absolute favorite is when I saw a wobbly senior German Shepherd mix on the corner and tried to coax him into my car. Then I realized that the owner was standing on the porch and waiting for him to pee. Oops!

On a sad note, once on our way to work, my husband and I found a black Pit/Lab mix with a collar and Flexi-lead attached. We brought her to the shelter. I went there the next day to check in on her. She was so sweet! Five days went by and she was not claimed. I named her Kaldi after my favorite coffee shop. Then a hurricane was coming and the shelter had to evacuate all of the animals. She was euthanized an hour before I could get there to take her. The vet who marked her off as "unadoptable" - simply because she was big and black - cried with me. That was six years ago and I still have Kaldi's photos. :(

Submitted by Anonymous | February 9 2010 |

When my sister saw a Chihuahua in the middle of a street, with cars whizzing by, she went into the street, picked up the dog, and walked back to the side of the road, dripping blood profusely. The dog was so frightened he bit her on the hand. We called a shelter to pick up the dog, then spent the next few hours in the emergency room in Bakersfield. We still had a two hour drive home afterward.

Submitted by Mary Villegas | February 10 2010 |

I am a big dog lover (I have 12) and it breaks my heart to see a lost and neglected dog and being unable to rescue it. Two weeks ago, I was on my way to church when I saw this poor dog walking down the middle of the road, dragging a chain behind her. She was in very poor shape. She was covered in Mange and looked like she could use a meal. I tried to catch her but she would not come near me. I put my foot on the chain but it broke off from her collar and she took off. I even used food to make her to come to me (I always carry dog treats and bread for the birds in my car)but it didn't work. All I could do was stand there and watch her run away from me. I cursed those responsible and apologized to God for my failure and asked St. francis to look after her. I still look for her when I drive through that road. I have rescued several strays. One of my successes is Dottie. I found her also walking down the highway. Covered in Mange and with her ribs and hip bones sticking out. She came straight to me. I have had Dottie with me going on 5yrs and she is adorable and happy. I did not feel bad about taking her 'cause I figured that whoever owned her, did not deserve to have her.

Submitted by Doreen | February 10 2010 |

Wow you have 12 dogs???? I have only two, one is a rescue (fostering Charlie). It sickens me when I read about neglected dogs also. My boys both have St. Francis medals and they are blessed once a year during the blessing of the animals at our church. I cannot even imagine how a human being if you can call them that, can treat a dog like some do...Mange? I hope somebody there will be more good people that outweigh the scum that treat these poor animals like this. Thanks for a great article.

Submitted by Lexi Huber | February 15 2010 |

I was driving home one night when I noticed 2 dogs following my slow moving truck through the residential neighborhood. I could tell when I passed them that they recognized the sight of a truck and they were following me out of something familiar. When I got home I opened the truck door and sure enough these two lovebugs jumped right in ready to go for a ride. I went inside and grabbed two leashes so that I could take them inside to safety. Thanfully their tags too were up to date and I got ahold of the owner at work. 2 hours later they dogs were back home with thier loving family.

Many dogs you see on the road have gotten out by accident. You may be the only one who cares enough to help them find thier way home. Dont pass them by assuming someone else will stop to help them. Be that someone else and make sure they are ok, otherwise that someone else may never come.

Submitted by Lostandfound | February 17 2010 |

Over the years, I have found and reunited quite a few lost dogs with their owners (no heroic stories to share, just your “run of the mill” rescues ). I always did wonder what kind of people let their pets to get lost, for "this would never happen to me". Well, sure enough - it did.

One Saturday morning last summer I left my black Standard Poodle at the groomer’s. Somehow she got out and took off - freshly bathed and hair half cut, without her collar and tags. The grooming shop we used to go to is in a busy neighborhood of Los Angeles, with wide roads and non-stop traffic, several miles from our house, and there was no hope that she would be able to find her way home. Needless to say, I was worried sick about my fur-baby being lost on the streets of a huge city, and my only hope was that some Good Samaritan would get her before she gets hit by a car and before it gets dark.

Thanks to Facebook, we were able to rally a small army of friends within couple of hours. We posted hundreds of fliers and searched every park and alley in the area well into the night. We also made a post on Craigslist.

Shortly before midnight we received a phone call from someone who said that he had seen our post on Craigslist while preparing a FOUND post, and that earlier that day he had picked up a black collarless dog that jumped in front of his car (he had been able to stop in time). He had carried the dog to a local Vet.
The story should be ending right here – our dog has AVID microchip. But for some unknown reason (AVID hasn’t bothered to respond to any of my inquiries!?!?) the microchip showed only TAIWAN when scanned and none of our contact info.
The Vet office was not equipped to accept strays and is closed on Sundays, so they suggested he take the dog to a shelter. He (I’ll call him G.A for Guardian Angel) didn’t like the idea, borrowed a leash and a collar from the Vet and went back out with our dog. He spent nearly 3 hours walking around and asking people if anyone recognizes the pooch. (Quite a few people had said that they'd be happy to take our beautiful purebred Standard Poodle from him, but G.A. refused, saying that this dog clearly has a home and someone must be desperately looking for her.) Our G.A. finally went back to the same Vet (he couldn’t bring a dog home) and one of the Vet Techs agreed to take care of our poodle.

Once the G.A. and we had established over a series of questions that neither party is a crook, he gave us the Vet’s info and we rushed over. The place was closed – but on the window there was a DOG FOUND sign with our dog’s photo and phone # to call. We got our baby – shaken but alive - back the next morning.

I am forever grateful to this Guardian Angel who went WAY out of his way to save a life and help our very much loved family member come home. And to the Vet Tech who brought our dog home with him, bandaged her raw paws and took care of her overnight. I am still absolutely humbled by the swift reaction of our friends and neighbors – they all dropped their Saturday plans to come and help us look for our dog. And we must have received at least 10 calls from perfect strangers who had seen our fliers and offered their help and advice. (I had no idea there are so many caring and altruistic people out there…)

After that scary - albeit miraculous and positive in so many ways – experience I made myself the following promises: 1) to never again judge people whose pets have gotten lost. It really can happen to anyone.
2) to pay it forward. I now keep an extra collar, leash, towel, water bottle, bowl and some treats in the trunk of my car, and I will not hesitate to go out of my way and do my best. (I have since had a lucky opportunity to go the extra mile and reunite a lost cat with her grieving owner, and I tell you – it really felt good inside.)

A sincere Thank You to each and all of you who help a lost pet.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 18 2010 |

I've picked up a few dogs in my life, the most recent on New Year's Eve - a little poodle standing in the icy slush at 10:30 at night. She's here at my house since she didn't have any ID. Before you get all sorry for the previous owners, know that I live in puppy mill country, she's not housetrained, she's afraid to go through doorways and she eats her own poop unless I get to it first (not uncommon, but typical for puppy mill dogs). We did post notices, but no one called. One method not mentioned in the original post is to get down on your knees and open your arms wide while calling the dog. And make sure not to chase it, get ahead of it, then try to lure it in! Good luck!!

Submitted by Anonymous | April 20 2010 |

This doesn't always work. I know from experience. I am a huge dog lover and when ever I see a dog in the street, near the roads, and in the road, I quickly pull over.
My last time doing this I had seen two small dogs running back in forth in the road. So as usual I pulled over. I got out of the car, crouche down low, and said "come puppy". The dogs reaction to this was bolting into the road, right when a lot of cars were coming. It was a terrible site to see, and ended unfortunatly. I was devasted and felt as if it were my fault. The dog is now in a happier place, but I still wonder if I could have prevent his life from ending.

Submitted by Karen London | April 23 2010 |

My heart goes out to you at having witnessed this terrible event. I commend you for trying this time and on other occasions to help dogs who are in danger. It was NOT your fault that this happened. This dog was in the road and clearly spooked easily, and you were trying hard to keep him safe. It's true that these techniques don't always work, but giving it a try often gives dogs a better chance than leaving them on their own. I've encouraged many dogs to get out of the road and it sounds like you have, too. This one incident was really unlucky, and I hope you don't continue to carry guilt for trying to help. Truly, I feel for you and wish you peace.

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