Is There a Feral Dog in the US?

Dogs Owning the Neighborhood in the Caribbean

I often talk about capturing and handling “feral” dogs and people question how useful my information or methods are for dogs in the U.S.  Some people even suggest there are no feral dogs in the States.  I don’t agree with the last suggestion, since there are many places with free-ranging dogs (yes, often running in packs) who have never had owners and have rarely been touched.    But I do agree that the name “feral” can be distracting.

Thank you for sharing your doubts and challenges!  Please send more so I can learn from you.

I use the word “feral” a lot because most of my learning and experience has been with feral street dogs I have handled around the world.  I believe they give me the purest examples for learning how to work with fearful dogs.  But all of the methods and mannerisms I have learned also apply to every dog I handle.

For the record, my capture and handling training is for working with any dog which does not walk up to you for affection or hop into your truck.   Some are fractious (simply uncooperative) but some are simply shy.  Some are truly aggressive, but most of these are motivated by fear.   When I consult for trap/neuter/release programs around the world, we are usually talking about feral dogs and “community” dogs but all of them can demonstrate any of the behaviors.  I am probably as clear as mud now.

And as I talk about techniques and equipment, there will always be an underlying theme of care, honor, and respect for every animal and every colleague.  Continue reading

Work Dogs The Way We Work Horses

Dr. Mark during his cowboy years.

I have just returned from working “in the field” with horses in South Dakota.  Actually I was working around horses and was helping Dave Pauli of Humane Society of the United States dart captive wild mustangs with an immunocontraceptive called PZP.  It is always a pleasure working with Dave and I love being around horses.

In high school, my dream was to be a cowboy and as soon after I graduated high school near Minneapolis, MN, I started working on a ranch near Red Lodge, MT.  I worked on several different ranches that still used horses to round up the cattle.  And when I was a veterinarian in private practice, horses were often my patients.

Now I work more with wolves and dogs.  At times when I teach about dog handling, people remind me how similar it can be to working with horses.

Dogs recovering together in a large room after surgery.

There are times when we have to work with dogs that are loose in

large rooms or pens.  This might be a hoarding situation with large pens or in a disaster response or with captive wolves.  Some trap/neuter/release (TNR or ABC-Animal Birth Control) programs around the world cannot build individual kennels and have to keep their dogs, recovering from surgery, in one or more large rooms.  And then they have the difficulty of re-catching them for transport to return them to where they were caught.  It can be terrifying for the untrained handler to work dogs in these rooms. Continue reading