HUMANE HANDLING OF FEARFUL DOGS
HSUS Animal Care Expo
May 8-11, 2013
Mark R. Johnson DVM
Global Wildlife Resources, Inc.
Website Y Pole Page
GWR Products Page
Feral Dog Blog:
When facing a fearful or fear aggressive dog, it is often peoples’ nature or habit to react with
a brute physical force, with a “them-against-us” attitude, and we end up fighting and forcing
the dog to do our bidding. Of course the dog will likely struggle or fight back. However,
most dogs do not want a struggle or even a conflict. We can take away most of the struggling
by truly looking at the dog and looking at ourselves then use our best skills and attitudes
along with new tools and techniques. The results are more humane, successful, safe, and
1. Describe a variety of tools and techniques for catching dogs by hand in a safe, humane,
and efficient manner.
2. Learn compassionate physical restraint including: scruff, lateral restraint, leash muzzle
wrap, and hobbles without adding energy to any struggle.
3. Recognize how you, the handler, is raising or lowering the tension of the dog and the
4. Explore how to create a calm conscious manner to minimize the energy of conflict even
with very uncooperative dogs.
5. Become familiar with the Y pole-what it is, how it works, and how to properly use it.
6. Discuss some basic netting equipment and techniques.
7. Learn ways of catching dogs in large enclosures.
DO NOT ENTER I NTO ANY SI TUATI ON UNLESS YOU FEEL I T I S SAFE TO DO SO.
Identify situations with fearful dogs
What situations are we preparing for?
Why strive to handle fearful dogs in a compassionate way?
1. The dogs are easier to handle and will fight you less.
2. The dog handling will be easier, safer, and less stressful.
3. The dogs will give back your compassion so your job is more enjoyable.
4. It will improve the quality of the work environment.
5. Bringing compassion into the workplace strengthens the organization.
6. It builds positive community relationships.
7. For ACOS, compassionate handling teaches the dogs that are watching to feel safer.
UNDERSTANDING THE DOG
A. Communication Signals: What is the dog telling us?
Communication signals are complex. Look at the entire dog.
1. Warning or Threatening Signals
What are warning or threatening signals from a dog?
2. Understanding Aggression
What types of aggression are there?
3. Body Language:
4. Signs of Nervousness
What are the signals telling you the dog is nervous?
5. Signs of Friendship/Cooperation
B. The Nature of Dog
1. Dogs want to resolve conflict.
In a conflict – they only wish to escape or protect themselves
Use calming signals to reassure the animal and minimize your aggressive nature.
2. Dogs are a domesticated and deeply connected to us.
Most dogs will give us an “opening”. So we can work with their personality and
behavior. They also know our intentions or body language.
3. Dogs have a pack mentality, want to know their status, and have a reflex to comply.
The naturally submissive nature of dog, when it is present, is what allows us to work
effectively with the Y pole.
4. The dog can be physically restrained.
This can help us with physical exams and help us move the animal safely.
C. What is an Alpha Dog?
The alpha dog is a teacher, not a bad dog. Let him teach you how to relax and do not
take his actions personally.
THE ANIMAL HANDLER
A. Human Safety Is Highest Priority
Dog bites are not a badge of honor.
B. Be more than just physical.
C. Self Awareness
The best thing in handling fearful dogs is to look at ourselves first as we work.
What does the dog see when he is looking at you?
Continually observe yourself. Adjust your body language. Choose to stay calm & relaxed.
It will calm and relax the dog.
The crazier the situation gets, the calmer you should be.
D. Work with very small moves.
Dogs are very sensitive. Everything is fast and big to a fearful dog.
Work at the dog’s pace, not yours.
Do not directly face a fearful dog.
E. Dominance Is Not A Bad Thing.
There are good kinds of dominance. Call it guidance or leadership.
Use compassionate dominance to guide the dogs.
F. Time Is A Tool.
Even if you are in a rush, at least connect with the animal and be present.
Use time as deliberately as you use a tool.
CONNECTING WITH THE ANIMAL - Dog and Handler
A. Keep your attention on the animal at all times – stay connected
B. Feel what kind of personality the dog has – and work with it
Do not treat all dogs the same way.
C. Practice “Give and Take”
You do not (should not) have to force the animal to submit immediately.
Give the animal time to think and make choices.
Move a step at a time, pause, and see how the dog responds.
Each of your actions will either tense or relax the dog. Study how you move.
D. Use Calming Signals
Calming signal help catching and handling dogs.
These are signals used by dogs to calm other dogs (or people) or to try to resolve a
1. Slow down
2. Move in waves or steps. Stop, relax, pause.
Look to see if the dog responds, then move again.
3. Avoid face on contact
Angle your body
Angle your head – relax and occasionally look away without dropping your guard
4. Sniff or yawn to relax the situation
Convey disinterest even though you are focused to catch or handle the dog
E. Understand that your energy affects the animal
Our calmness will help calm the animal.
Our kindness will help the animal feel more safe.
F. Minimize The Energy of Conflict
Who is creating the fight? The dog is only trying to protect itself or escape.
Feel your intentions and listen to your stories and thoughts.
Are you determined to win?
And strive not to let the energy escalate.
Move in steps and lower the energy as you pause.
PHYSICAL RESTRAINT AND HANDLING EQUIPMENT
Emphasize calm and compassionate physical control rather than forceful action.
When the animal is struggling & your hands are tense, your mind & heart should be relaxed.
1. Ear in the notch of the thumb. Thumbs will be parallel.
2. Fingers together and point to the corner of the mouth. Be careful.
3. Squeeze and make them grin.
Only use as much strength as you need to accomplish your goal.
Option: One handed scruff, add leash muzzle wrap, then add towel.
B. Lateral restraint
Dog on his side. Forearm over the first neck bone. Hold the front lower leg above the
elbow. Cover the head with a towel.
Not commonly used. Valuable for moving an uncooperative dog with headcover.
Only use with headcovers/towel.
Headcovers & towels reduce animal stress. And they increase handler safety.
Quickmuzzle (Wolf Quickmuzzle: Four Flags Over Aspen; http://www.fourflags.com/)
Use towels with all kinds of handling – physical restraint, netting, Y pole, carrying dog.
Note: People are most often bit by the small, friendly looking dogs they trust.
Consider a leash muzzle wrap and towel for when carrying dogs, unless they get more upset.
The Y POLE
A. What is a Y pole?
Read HSUS Y Pole article: One Cool Tool.
Aluminum Y-shaped pole varying in size to match the dogs.
Padded tines so teeth cannot touch metal.
B. What is its Purpose?
It is a safe extension of our hand to convey compassion and request.
A safer way to reach in to work with the dog.
Can be used to guide a dog into a crate or down the hall.
Can be used with a net to create faster and quieter restraint.
Can be used before a syringe pole for the most difficult dogs.
C. The Y Pole Will Not Work with All Dogs
Free ranging dogs need to be cornered.
Alpha dogs will only fight it.
Dogs previously beaten with a stick may never trust it and try to flee.
Flighty dogs with closeness issues.
The more you practice, the more dogs will comply.
D. Contrast with Catch Pole
Avoids the horrible struggles
It can only pin. Only works if the animal is in a corner or room or pen.
Usually requires a second or third person.
Conveys a more compassionate relationship and message. Blends with the animal.
Requires us to be less forceful. We offer a request rather than a command.
E. How/Why Does It Work?
The dog is a pack animal. It grows up with a submissive reflex to survive.
The Y pole utilizes this behavior. The Y pole is 75% psychological and 25% physical.
It is not used physically like a stick to pin the animal. It should never be demeaning or
punitive. Most dogs are MORE friendly after being properly handled with the Y pole.
F. Setting Up The Situation
A confined location in a corner or kennel.
A cooperative dog – willing to stand and be greeted
Several calm people who understand how to use the Y pole psychologically.
G. Greeting The Dog
Good posture is less threatening. Use calming signals.
Tines up and down below eye level.
Move in slow in steps. Pause and relax. Sense when you are too slow.
Stop at times if the animal is panicking and settle.
Make a friend with the Y pole. Offer the tine to the corner of the mouth. Then pet the
base of the ear. Then pet the neck. Rest the Y pole over the neck.
Never look away. Cover the head. Second Y pole on hip?
H. Things You Can Do with the Y Pole
Physical restraint with scruff, muzzle wrap and towel to move animal
Lift legs and wait until the dog tires and settles to put the dog on its side.
Physical exam or vaccinations
I. What Not to do
Don’t use the Y pole in a negative way.
Don’t look away when the Y pole is on the animal and people are working
A. Construction - wide hoop and 6 feet deep.
Sources: Salmon nets – Beckman and Frabill with coated netting
B. Techniques - catch and twist net with Y pole assistant
Along wall or fence – invite them to run past you, then change your mind.
Sleeping dog – settle net over dog with net away from you. Tug net toward you.
Carry dog on top twisted in net and covered with towel.
Don’t use nets by themselves. Add Y pole and towel.
A valuable took for ACOs handling free-ranging dogs.
A very last choice for shelter workers. Offer the Y pole first.
The crazier the animal gets, the calmer you should be.
Use the catch pole like a Y pole.
A. Proper construction – swivel head
B. Proper technique
Understand that the message of the snare around the dog’s neck is working against
you to work compassionately with the dog. Walk the dog in front of you.
Calm and relaxed. Help the animal find a calm place.
Reward the animal by decreasing pull or pressure.
C. Things not to do – Do not pull, do not lift. Use for short periods and short distances.
Don’t use it when there are better ways.
VARI-KENNELS AND CRATES
Make the crate inviting – cover if necessary; door hinge away from the wall.
Thread long lead through crate.
Guide dog into crate with the Y pole – moving the animal along the wall.
Your angle to the dog and wall is key.
Move slow. Remember to move in waves – pressure, pause, pressure, pause.
Another person takes in the lead slack without pulling on the dog.
Working a fearful dog in a large area
Move in a line with calmness and move in waves: Pause and relax. Then move again.
Don’t rush the dog. Give him time to think.
A net and Y pole can be at the end near a wall.
Add a 25 ft long burlap barrier.
IMPORTANT!: Debrief after every difficult dog handling
Learn from every animal and every colleague
1. ASPCA Pro Webinars
“Leash Skills and Body Language”
“Canine Communication: Understanding Canine Body Language”
“The Effect of Human Body Language on Dog Behavior”
2. “Calming Signals – What Your Dog Tells You”. Video by Turid Rugaas
3. Dog Language: An Encyclopedia of Canine Behaviour. Roger Abrantes. Wakan Tanka
4. Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition. Adam Miklosi. Oxford University Press.
5. “One Cool Tool – An expert explains how to use the Y pole, a tool for working with fearful
dogs.” By Mark R. Johnson DVM. Animal Sheltering Magazine Sept/Oct 2010.
6. “Control Issues” by James Hettinger. Animal Sheltering Magazine Jan/Feb 2013.
The “Y” Pole: One Cool Tool. Animal Sheltering Magazine Sept/Oct 2010.
Making a Y Pole
Control Issues. Animal Sheltering Magazine Jan/Feb 2013.
Four Flags Over Aspen Quick Muzzle Handout
One Cool Tool
An expert explains how to use the Y pole, a tool for working with fearful dogs
By Mark R. Johnson, D.V.M.
One of your animal control officers has
brought in a dog found roaming the streets.
The dog has a collar, and through her matted hair you can see an ID tag. But no matter how calmly you approach the dog, she is
so fearful you cannot safely touch her. The
dog becomes defensively aggressive, and you
have to back off.
You need to handle this dog to provide
the best care and to read her tag, but the
dog refuses to cooperate.
What are your options?
The Traditional Catch Pole
T he comm on o ption for working w ith
uncooperative dogs is the catch pole (also
known as the control pole or the snare pole).
Every shelter in North America has one or
knows what it is. It is the tool most ACOs and
shelter staff resort to when a dog refuses to
The catch pole is a valuable and fundamental tool for the ACO, allowing an officer
to work safely with potentially dangerous
dogs and to catch a dog who may not be
captured with a leash. With the catch pole,
a properly trained ACO can catch a dog out
in the open so that the animal does not have
to be cornered. This is one of its most important assets. And when necessary, the catch
pole also allows an ACO to work by himself,
because it controls a dog in every direction
she might try to move.
Unfortunately, the catch pole is not very
forgiving, because if things go wrong and
the dog vigorously fights the snare pole, she
can become seriously injured and may even
be killed. And it is not forgiving because,
in effect, the snare pole motivates a dog to
fight to protect herself, since a loop around
the neck is very threatening and can easily
inspire a dog’s fear.
In addition, the control that the catch
pole provides allows significant potential for
abuse. Having problems with a dog? Grab
the catch pole. Is the dog fighting hard? Fight
back harder. If a shelter worker or ACO is not
extremely attentive to the amount of force he
uses, this tool can actually escalate the energy and aggravate the fight between human
and dog. Without a measured, deliberate approach, the catch pole can influence the handler to be sloppy or overly aggressive.
For this reason, the catch pole should be
used only as a last resort. As often as possible, shelter staff and ACOs should seek humane alternatives.
Used correctly, the Y pole can be one
What Is a Y Pole?
I learned about the Y pole working with
captive-wolf facilities. It is an effective and
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Bill Gilbert/Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter
Rub the Y pole on the dog’s cheek to greet her. This will calm the dog, and let her know that
the Y pole will not hurt her.
humane tool for handling captive wolves
without chemical immobilization.
Years ago, managers of captive-wolf
programs noticed how quietly most wolves
would submit to the calm use of the Y pole.
It was not only amazingly calming and effective, it also allowed people to conduct
physical exams, vaccinations, and minor
treatments without fighting or drugging the
animals. I see the same potential for the Y
pole in shelters, and teach those who handle
dogs about the Y pole, because I believe it
embodies a compassionate approach to
working with fractious canids in a calm, respectful manner.
Having used it effectively with hundreds
of dogs, I believe that every professional
working with dogs should know about the Y
pole. Shelter workers, animal control officers,
disaster responders, those rescuing dogs from
puppy mills and hoarding cases, and trap /
neuter/release programs may all benefit from
knowing how to use this simple tool.
The Y pole is simply a “Y”-shaped metal
pole with a long handle—typically 4 and a
half feet long, with 6-inch tines forming the
Y. But it can be made to any size. The tines
are heavily padded with rubber so, should
a dog bite it, his teeth will never touch the
Bill Gilbert/Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter
How Does It Work?
Place the Y pole on the dog’s neck without forcing her to the wall or ground. The contact on
her neck echoes the way wild dogs communicate.
Animal Sheltering september /october 2010 ANIMALSHELTERING.ORG
The Y pole is not a pin stick—it is not used
to physically force the animal down. Rather,
it is an extension of the human hand that can
be used to safely and compassionately enter
the animal’s personal space, touch her, and
convince her to relax. Used properly—with
dominance and compassion—the Y pole’s
control is 75 percent psychological and only
25 percent physical. An officer’s calmness and
smooth movements will allow him to touch
the dog while communicating to her that it is
safe to submit.
One of the main reasons the Y pole works
on dogs is because of their pack mentality. In
the wild, dogs and other canids quickly learn
to submit to more dominant animals in the
pack. The Y pole placed across the dog’s neck
imitates the same pressure he could get from
the jaws of dominant dogs.
When the Y pole is used properly, there
is nothing punitive or demeaning for the dog.
With this compassionate extension of the
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Place a towel over the dog’s head without moving too fast and scaring her.
hand, an interaction can actually build more
trust and tolerance between the dog and her
Many people learning about the Y pole
have said that, in order to successfully use
it, they would have to redefine their concepts, change habits, and interact with
each dog in a whole new way. The Y pole
requires us to invite the dog to participate
in the handling rather than continue our
usual habit of forcing ourselves on the dog
to catch her.
Other people are enthusiastic about the
tool for the same reasons, and have told me
that their desire to work with fearful dogs
with calmness, compassion, and respect is
embodied in the Y pole because it requires
them to be steadily mindful of being compassionate and helping the dog feel safe.
How to Use a Y Pole
Setting Up the Situation
To successfully handle a dog with a Y pole,
the dog must be contained. She can be in
a large pen or room, or in a small kennel.
If the animal is in a large pen, you must reduce the space available to her; a “wall”
of calm people can slowly move a dog
into a corner. But be sensitive and respon-
sive to the dog’s behavior and personality.
Instead of putting steady pressure on the
dog as you move her and continuing that
way, move in waves. Take a few steps, then
stop and settle. Take another few steps,
then stop and settle. With most dogs, you
can do this in a way that calms the animal
and lowers everyone’s energy. (For an example, watch the video “Using Dominance
to Humanely Catch a Wolf” on Dr. Mark’s
Feral Dog Blog.)
Approaching the Dog
It is best if you have three people on hand,
though two can be effective. Two people
carry Y poles, and one carries a towel. The
lead person will first greet the animal and will
eventually use the pole on the neck. This is all
about guiding the animal while helping her
feel safe to cooperate. If you are calm and relaxed, it will help calm the dog.
If the dog is a candidate for the Y pole,
she will eventually settle into a corner. She
may be standing or lying down, but she
will not be trying to flee with your every
Hold the Y pole so the padded tines are
directly up and down. Keep the fork at the
dog’s eye level or slightly lower, and slowly
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Don’t approach the dog with two Y poles
at once. That is like two people talking in
each of your ears. The person using the Y
pole on the hips should be a little behind
the person using the pole on the neck. The
neck person is in charge.
n Don’t be tense—the dog can feel your tension and will be more tense. Teach yourself
to relax. Take a slow breath, and consciously
relax your shoulders.
Bill Gilbert/Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter
A towel on the dog’s head can comfort her, as well as make things safer for the handler.
move toward the dog, a few steps at a
time, then stop and settle. Each time, move
a few steps, then settle and allow the dog
to recognize that she’s still safe as you move
closer. This—moving into the animal and
moving with the animal at the same time,
without scaring her—is the most difficult
part to learn.
As you move, do not focus on catching or
controlling the dog. Focus on greeting the animal with kindness so she feels safe. Remember:
Think of the Y pole as a compassionate extension of your hand; let the animal know that the
Y pole is not a threat. Take your time.
Engaging the Dog
Move the pole toward the corner of the dog’s
mouth and let her bite the Y pole if she wants
to. Don’t react—when she bites, do not pull
back with the pole. That will only encourage
her to bite more and will make her feel less
safe. Let her chew on it until she gets bored.
As she settles, consider rubbing the tip of one
fork below her ear and later on the neck, like
petting. Let her relax and accept the situation.
Once she settles or submits, pet her a
few more times with the Y pole, then gently slide the pole across her neck, pause,
and relax. At this time, consider covering
her head with the towel, or use the sec40
ond Y pole on her hip and then apply the
towel. Covering the eyes is important because it reduces the dog’s stress and increases your safety.
Be aware of the vertical angle of your
handle. If your handle is too high, the dog
might be able to slip under the Y pole. If it
is too low, there may be an opening above
the Y pole.
With a Y pole in place and a towel on
the head, the animal can be handled in
many ways. You can examine a surgical
site, conduc t a physical exam, give
vaccinations and minor treatment s, or
administer chemical capture drugs with a
hand syringe or pole syringe. You can also
physically restrain her with a head-cover and
hobbles (a belt-like strap used to safely and
humanely restrain a dog while she’s being
carried), so she can be moved to another
location. By placing the Y pole in front of
you and guiding the dog in a soft way, you
can also use it to guide her into a transport
crate or into another kennel, if there is an
open path to it.
What Not to Do With the Y Pole
Don’t poke the animal, or use it in a way
that decreases her sense of trust and
Animal Sheltering september /october 2010 ANIMALSHELTERING.ORG
What the Y Pole Cannot Do
The Y pole cannot catch free -ranging
dogs. The dog must be confined —to
a room, to a large pen. It will work in
most restricted spaces—but there must
be some degree of confinement in order
for the ps ycholo gic al res traint to b e
n The Y pole is not effective with every dog.
Some dogs may be too skittish and leap
away any time the Y pole is moved in their
direction. Some “alpha dogs” may refuse to
submit. If an alpha dog must be handled,
then the Y pole can be used to restrain
or distract the dog long enough to give
anesthetics with a syringe pole.
But some of what the Y pole cannot
do is good : You cannot harm dogs the
way that you can with a catch pole. If a
problem occurs, you simply back away and
The Y pole also cannot be used in a
fast way or at the pace of the handler. The
Y pole must be used at the dog’s pace. This
is a good thing, because instead of forcing
a dog to cooperate, we are asking the dog
to cooperate. It’s more respectful, more
compassionate, and more humane.
P ra c t i ce w i t h f r i e n d l y d o g s to g e t
a fe eling for how to conne c t w ith the
animals and succes s fully interac t w ith
them. Although it is ver y difficult using
the Y pole with a goofy, friendly dog who
only wants to play, it is great practice, and
when properly used, it will not be stressful
for the dog.
Animal shelters, spay/neuter programs,
and groups responding to disasters and
hoarding cases of ten have to handle
difficult dogs who cannot be safely caught
with bare hands. Too often these situations
turn into a fight, with animals injured and
handlers bitten. The ideal solution is to
handle the dog in a calm, respectful manner
that is effective, humane, and safe for both
people and the dog. Give the dog a chance
to cooperate. Reach for the Y pole, calm
yourself, and enjoy the improved interactions
that are possible.
Go to the Y Pole Page on the
w e b s i t e fo r G l o b a l W i l d l i fe
Resources Inc. at wildliferesources.
n Read articles about the Y pole
a n d w a tc h i t b e i n g u s e d i n
the video “Using Dominance
to Humanely Catch a Wolf”
on Johnson’s Feral Dog Blog,
on the video category for the
n To p u r c h a s e a Y p o l e, v i s i t
Tomahawk Live Trap at livetrap.
com; Heart of the Earth Animal
Eq u i p m e nt a t a n i m a l - t r a ps .
com; Animal Care Equipment
Ser vices at animal- care.com ;
or Global Wildlife Resources at
M a r k J o h n s o n , D .V. M . , i s a w i l d l i f e
vete rinarian and e xe cutive dire c tor of
Global Wildlife Resources Inc., a nonprofit
organization specializing in humane animal
capture and handling. In the past 10 years, he
has directed his expertise toward improving
the lives of people and dogs, and has handled
more than 2,000 feral dogs throughout
the world, including the Caribbean, India,
and tribal lands, and during three rescue
operations after Hurricane Katrina. He is the
author of the Feral Dog Blog.
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HOW TO MAKE A Y POLE
The Y pole is an extremely useful tool when working with
intractable dogs. For zoos, this tool is also great to
humanely handle or drug wolves and coyotes. It is used as
a safe extension of your hand to teach the dog or wolf that
it is safe to submit and allow the Y pole to be placed across
its neck. From that point you cover the head and can then
conduct physical exams, collect blood, or administer
anesthetics. For this to work, the handler must convey
dominance with compassion and work in a calm and kind
Every animal shelter should have a Y pole for handling fractious dogs in a calm way. In
many shelter situations, the Y pole replaces the use of a snare pole which results in a
much better outcome. Because the Y pole can restrain a dog without the risks and
stresses associated with a snare pole, it allows the handler to develop a quieter, more
respectful relationship with the animal.
How can I make a Y pole?
To build a Y pole, find a welder who works with aluminum, so the
Y pole will be both light and strong. The handle is typically about
4.5 feet (1.37 meters) long. Weld 6 inch (15cm) tines to the handle
in the shape of a “Y” so the tines form a 70-80 degree angle. This
is a good size for handling most dogs. Note that if the tines are
too long, the dog’s head will slip out, so it is better to have shorter
tines. Y poles can be made in different lengths and shapes to address a variety of
animals and situations.
For the first layer, thoroughly cover both tines with a rugged
material to prevent the dog’s teeth from touching the metal. This
can be either automotive heater hose or many layers of bicycle
inner tubing. Reinforce this first layer with duct tape then add the
second layer using closed-cell foam. (Closed-cell foam does not
soak up water.) The easiest foam to work with in the U.S. is pipe
insulation shaped like a long tube. Then add many, many
layers of duct tape as tight as possible. Don’t forget to
cover the ends well. There should be no place where you
can feel the metal of the tines. The padding and tape will
protect the animal’s teeth when they bite on the pole.
Y poles can also be purchased either
from Heart of the Earth Animal Equipment
or from Global Wildlife Resources.
For more information on the Y pole and how to use it, visit our Y Pole webpage,
our Feral Dog Blog, and our YouTube Channel: GWRFeralDog
Choosing and using poles to handle animals
safely and humanely
volved in the encounControl poles have sparked debate for
ter, he adds.
Control poles have
Dave Pauli, an HSUS senior director
developed a bad image
for wildlife response, calls control or catch
because of highly pubpoles “the most misused animal handling
l ici z ed c a ses where
tool in the industry.”
workers misused them
When Pauli visits shelters, he asks the
to s t r a ng le or b e at
ACOs to produce their catch poles, then holds
animals, notes Mark
them up in the air to inspect them. If they’re
Control poles used properly (as shown here by ACO Michael Lindsey) are a
Kumpf, director of the
straight and have a few tooth marks in them,
safe and humane way to handle fearful dogs, but misuse can harm animals
and draw negative attention to an agency.
“they’re being used properly,” he says. “But
Animal Resource Center
most catch poles in the United States have a
Shaw asserts that many officers don’t
in Dayton, Ohio. But he says that image is
slight arc, because they’re using them as a liftget enough training. “A lot of people are
a bad rap: At most agencies, control poles
ing tool,” often to hoist a dog—or, worse, a cat
shown a tool, and sort of told how to use
are used appropriately by trained, comor a wild animal—into their truck.
it, and then just put in a spot to use it, and
Using a catch pole that way essentially
that’s never a good way to go.”
“We don’t hear about the thousands
turns it into a noose, and the animals
Kumpf shakes his head in disbelief at
of cases where this piece of essentia l
trapped within it typically react accordreports of ACOs using control poles to lift
equipment is used properly, humanely,
ingly. The practice, which may be driven
dogs into cages. “Come on, folks: Work
safely, and effectively,” Kumpf says.
by a lack of officer training, has been a
smarter, not harder,” he says. “It’s a tool,
Training—available through classes,
source of concern and even cruelty charges
and any tool that’s used improperly can
videos, handouts, and practical demonin some communities.
cause a host of problems, the least of which
strations—is key to promoting the proper
Other veteran field officers agree that
is damage to your image, and the most of
use of control poles, Kumpf says. Lack of
control poles have the potential to be
which could be the unfortunate demise of
training is a problem at some agencies,
both humane animal handling tools and
he adds, because officers don’t have a role
model to demonstrate
“They’re an excellent
tool, as long as you’re not
“If you don’t train
dragging an animal, [or]
Along with ensuring that their officers
people properly, you
you’re not using that tool
learn to use a control pole properly, agendon’t educate them on
as a pickup device,” says
cies should also be aware of other options
how and how not to
Rowdy Shaw, senior field
out there. As the animal control field
use a piece of equipresponder for The HSUS’s
evolves, its equipment evolves with it.
ment, then essentially
Animal Rescue Team.
One proponent of an alternative tool—
A control pole can be
the Y pole—is Mark Johnson. As a veteran
you get is what you’ve
used to block an onrushing
wildlife veterinarian who holds a black belt
signed up for,” Kumpf
aggressive dog from biting,
in the Japanese martial art aikido, Johnson
Y poles are a less-threatening
alternative for maneuvering dogs
says. “… You just don’t
Shaw says, and it also gives
brings a unique perspective to handling
within a kennel, such as this fearful
put a piece of equipthe dog a moment to figure
dog at Heart of the Valley Animal
Shelter in Bozeman, Mont. The
me nt i n s ome one ’s
out the situation and calm
Animal handling situations are “not a
handler keeps the tines vertical,
hand and say, ‘Go out
down. Animals are often
fight for someone to win or lose,” he says.
with the top tine below the eyes,
and the dog can bite it if he wants.
and use this.’”
as scared as anyone else inHe peppers his speech with talk about
Animal Sheltering january | february 2013 ANIMALSHELTERING.ORG
From top: Michelle Riley/The HSUS; Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter
By James Hettinger
connecting to the anima l, “minimizing the energy of conf lict,” understanding how your energy affects the animal,
“compassionate dominance,” and removing the us-vs.-them mentality.
“He did an outstanding job of interacting with the employees here,” says James
Rogers, administrator of the Memphis
Animal Shelter (MAS) in Tennessee, where
Johnson presented a training session in
May. “He’s a very down-to-earth, get-itdone type of person” who effectively demonstrated his methodology and how it can
work in shelters, Rogers adds.
MAS drew criticism earlier in 2012
when a video surfaced showing shelter
staff lifting and dragging animals with
catch poles. Following Johnson’s training,
MAS has limited its use of catch poles in
the shelter to extremely vicious dogs, opting instead to primarily use the Y pole.
Johnson says the concepts he teaches
are instinctive for any good ACO, and
he’s found success taking his message to
animal handlers far and wide. He says
he’s on a mission: He wants to make shelters throughout North America aware of
the Y pole, which he contends can replace
the traditional catch pole in virtually all
Catch poles are convenient, Johnson
says, noting that they can be used by one
person to control a dog in an open area.
But their big drawback, he explains, is that
placing a loop around an animal’s neck
can be life-threatening for the animal. Y
poles, in contrast, create a relationship
with the dog that’s based on trust and cooperation, Johnson asserts.
Typically made of metal and measuring
about 4.5 feet—with 6-inch forks covered
in rubber, foam, and tape—the Y-shaped
poles serve as an extension of the human
hand, he says. “You extend your ‘hand’
with kindness, using all of the skills an
ACO has for moving around a dog.”
The Y pole is not a physical pin stick,
Johnson adds, and it won’t work to capture, say, a dog roaming free in a parking
lot; the animal has to be cornered in some
way. He first encountered Y poles while
working with captive wolves, and found
they can also be perfect for fear-aggressive
dogs in contained areas such as kennels.
He concedes that some people are skeptical of Y poles, thinking that they won’t
give the handler enough control. “And anyone who says, ‘This is a stick, and it won’t
work’ is completely correct, because they
will handle it like a stick,” he adds. “For
those who truly see the dog, who know how
to move around a dog in a way that softens
the dog, that’s where it’s going to work.” n
For more information on the Y pole, go
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