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.
A Dog in the Road
How best to helpBy Karen B. London PhD, February 2010, Updated June 2021
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?