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.  We will explore what techniques and equipment works and does not work (real meat and potatoes stuff) in the context of how we are “being” while we study what we are doing.  The ACOs I have learned from may not use these words but they re-affirm the importance of being calm, being relaxed, and staying connected to the animals so you can read and interact with them in the most subtle ways.  Another theme that I feel is worth exploring is how to gather and handle uncooperative dogs without us adding to the conflict any more than we have to.   We are far more successful if we are not adding to the fight, but it is a continuous learning process.

Yes there are feral dogs in the U.S., but I realize that the name is not so important.  Shelter workers, ACOs, rescue groups, disaster responders, and spay/neuter programs are all striving to work with fearful dogs in the best way we can.

Thank you to all for your input and contributions.  Does anyone have photos of “feral” dogs in the U.S.?

Do you have an interest in starting a forum or discussion section to better share ideas? Are there forums you recommend? Does anyone want to have a discussion about nets and netting? or boxtraps? or other topics?.  Are you from outside of the US.  We would love to hear from you.

13 Responses

  1. Mark —

    I’d suggest that your blog is a fine place to hold discussions, rather than creating a new list or newsgroup.

    While many parts of the US may not have free-roaming packs of never-owned dogs, feral behaviors are common among the survivors of the largest and worst puppymills and hoarder colonies. So the terminology is useful, since the psychology is about the same.

    I’d suggest that the biggest difference is that the puppymill and hoarder dogs tend to be MORE fearful, and to take longer to relinquish that fear. They’ve been denied the option of flight for their whole lives, and have been kept crowded and deprived of adequate resources while confined with other animals. Often they have been roughly handled or frankly abused, and these have been the ONLY interactions they’ve had with humans. They’ve had more to fear than a naive dog, or a free-ranging dog in a human community that tolerates them.

    I was just reminded of a pack of ferals that was killing livestock in the next county to me (Beaver County, PA — not exactly the back of beyond) about ten or so years back. Farmers swore it had to be coyotes or imaginary wolves and cougars, but the MO was all dog — multiple animals in the herd killed, each only partly consumed, any survivors showing evidence of continual harassment — a scene of pandemonium in the morning. No sightings of the pack, just the dead animals. After a few months, a pack of three or more (don’t recall) LARGE shepherd-type dogs snatched a toddler from her back patio, fought the baby’s mother for her, and even went after the police when they responded. The police shot the dogs; the baby survived, just, the mother was pretty ripped up, and one police officer bitten. (If I am recalling correctly.) Astonishing.

    No way to say that this predatory pack was “feral” in the purest sense of having never been owned, but they were certainly operating as wild dogs in the most extreme sense. Quite different from tolerated ferals in undeveloped countries.

    • Heather,
      Thank you for the suggestion. It would be a pleasure to create discussions with this blog. I will start learning how to create the best discussion format.

      You suggested there was a difference between dogs from hoarding cases and ferals. Maybe in the US ferals may not be as fearful, but in other parts of the world, feral dogs are very afraid of people. It is common in heavily populated areas for people to throw rocks and sticks and threaten them any way they can.

      In many ways I wish I had not referred to feral dogs so much (should I change my blog name?!). There is no one type of feral dog or quality, as I wrote in my last blog entry.

      Thank you again for your in put. Mark

  2. You asked for photos… Steven Sable currently is showing his Rez Dogs photos in a Durango, Colorado gallery. These dogs are lightly “owned” to feral and can be very scared of people. The photos are on his website.

  3. Hi Mark
    I do not have any photos for you but I have been listening to reports of roaming dogs in packs as large as 400 on a reservation in my home province of New Brunswick, Canada. A friend of mine does a lot of work with a shelter in Alberta and hears similar stories from the reservation near her community. My understanding is that the provincial dog control officers do not have any authority on the reservations. Many “lightly owned” dogs are getting themselves into a whole heap of trouble!
    I think the term “feral” is very appropriate. I am really enjoying reading about your philosophy and techniques.
    Thank you,
    Catherine Thomas

    • Catherine,
      I had no idea there are large numbers of feral dogs in New Brunswick! I have seen many news articles about children and adults getting attacked by dogs in the Yukon in native communities. Yes there are serious dog problems on native nations. This summer I am hoping to participate in a spay/neuter program in a Montana reservation and I will write about it if it comes together. Even though I can conduct spays and neuters as a veterinarian, my first choice is always to do the gathering and to teach local personnel as we work.
      I sincerely appreciate your feedback and glad you are enjoying the articles. Thank you. Mark

  4. What happens to all these feral dogs once they are captured? Are there organizations that work to make them adoptable? Or are they just brought to a dog pound and killed?

    What about the American Dingo dog, or Carolina dog, do you have any expedience with these dogs?

    I live in Louisiana and I do believe that there are feral dogs in some areas. Also some pre-owned dogs are dumped and these are so fearful of people that you can not catch them. Some of them grow thinner and thinner until the coyotes finish them off. We have a lot of poor people that dump unwanted puppies along the highways.

    Here are photos of one of the puppies of a litter of four that we caught in the woods. Took days. Pixie – She is still fearful of most people.

    We also took in some dog from a hoarder. Most of these dogs have a lot of fear of people. Do you have any links to info on how to work with fearful dogs to make them adoptable?

    • Dear Animal News,
      This blog and my website and YouTube Channel teach a compassionate and conscious approach to capturing and handling fearful dogs. This information and training is intended for spay/neuter programs around the world, disaster responders, animal shelters and any groups or individuals who rescue dogs (such as from hoarding cases or puppy mills.) Hopefully the outcome of every dog handled is in the best interests of the dog, but that is entirely up to any organization who used my training and resources.

      I am not familiar with the American Dingo or Carolina Dog, but I tend to handle all fearful dogs on an individual basis. I look at the dog’s personality and handle it as effectively and humanely as possible.

      Thanks for doing such good work. Dr. Mark

  5. For the past six years we have been feeding a pack of abandonend dogs in an Orchard in Calif. we successfully caputered 3 females and 3 males had them spayed and neutered, found homes for 30 puppies and generally have a healthy pack of very sweet but shy animals. Only 1 male has eluded us all these years. Now he has an insured paw and I am really worried he may not get away if chased by some coyotes. We tried the trap, we tried sedation, but he is so smart and nows instantly when “something is up”.Anybody have any sugestions? He is an absolutely beautiful dog and Iam “dying” to bring him home so he can live safely with his mother and littersister that we were able to capture early and they love it here. Thank You so much

    • Christine,
      Unfortunately, there are no easy answers for such a wary dog. My recommendation is to study the details of boxtrapping i my blog and wire the trap open until he is eating around the trap then inside the trap. This could take weeks or if there is other food available, he may be too scared. Be sure to check the trap every day, make the trap feel like a cozy den, and change the types of food. I sincerely wish you success. Dr. Mark

  6. I appreciate your answer very much. I will check with the Orchard owners if it is OK to set up a large Kennel and rig it as a trap. We have tried with regular large dog size trap before but were unsuccsessful. We will not give up. I will keep you posted.
    Thank you

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