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Dog lovers are usually confronted with the urge to help dogs in need. This could be an Indian street dog in distress or a neighbor’s pet that has fled its home for some adventure and you wish to return it to safety, to its master.
While you set on this noble task it’s important to keep yourself safe by adhering to some simple ground rules to avoid getting bitten or pawed. A dog can be fearful of any such interaction with a stranger and fear leads to aggression. It will initially be oblivious of your good intentions that may range from feeding, petting or even adopting it, therefore mix caution with charity. Also you do not want the dog to flee the scene spoiling your plans.
Step 1 – Before you make your first move it is important you read the dog’s body language: A calm dog is approachable and a stressed dog is not.
Signs of a friendly dog: A tail wagging upon a relaxed body posture. However a tail hanging loosely downwards signals the same quality. Ears could be erect or fall downwards; however they shouldn’t be pointing forward. Wide open eyes on a high head. It may also greet you with one or two short barks at medium pitch or you may find its mouth ajar with the tongue exposed. Such a dog can be immediately approached.
Signs of a stressed dog: An aggressive dominant canine will have a raised tail that is stiff. Its hackles (erect hair on the animal’s back) will be raised too. You’ll find its teeth and gums to be visible. Ears are bent forward. Forehead may be covered with vertical wrinkles. You may hear it breathing rapidly.
A Fearful aggressive dog will have ears placed backwards; its tail would be tucked between its legs along with a lowered bodily stance. Similarly a stressed dog too exhibits a lowered body and a tail that is positioned downwards with dilated pupils and ears held back. These signs are red flags for you to keep away.
Step 2 – How to get the stray dog to trust you? Lure it with food. It could be dog bones, dog biscuits or kibbles. Basically it should be a safe option and not table scraps. You definitely want the dog to feel you care for it so tasty food and dog treats will do the trick. When you place the food on the ground move away from it. This will encourage the stray to walk towards the food and eat it. You’ll have to maintain distance for one or two days lest the whole exercise might fail as it may never come out to eat or simply run off. On the second day you can attempt to move closer to the dog while it eats the food offered by you. Move more close and see if it comfortably continues to eat. Try feeding it from your hand. If you succeed at this stage, your next step is to pet it.
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In case of an aggressive or stressed dog you may have to continue the food-giving exercise for longer till it begins to recognize and feel comfortable with you. Always maintain distance once you lay dog food on the ground. You can also give it a name and call out to it using that while offering food each time. It will make him familiar with the name and elicit a positive response.
If you feel the dog is in an emergency, throw a piece of good smelling food/lunch meat towards it, then throw another chunk closer to you and more close in the following attempt to bring the dog come near you. This way you’ll be able to get hold of it quickly and transport it to safety.
Step 3 – Show Your touch and affection: Once you cross the above stage, pet the stray. Your affection will make it feel it’s in a secure zone. Massaging its forehead and behind the ears can help you win some brownie-points. Being able to touch it freely is a moment of victory, as now you can leash it and take it to a safe place, animal shelter or your home in case you wish to adopt it.
Please Note, in case of any skin eruptions/allergies on the dog’s skin; avoid touching the stray especially infected spots. These can cause rashes/skin infections on you. It’s best to immediately involve a vet here or some professional help that can transfer it to a vet’s clinic, and start the treatment, before it can tread on a better and protected life.
Patience is your ally in the whole process of befriending a stray. Hasty attempts would fail to garner desired results; they may make the dog more fearful or invite a nasty bite or the pup could just run off. A noble cause coupled with patience will lead to a successful rescue operation and a good life for the street dog.