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

A Double Standard in How We View Aggressive Dogs. – Part 2

A Friendly Dog Curious About the Camera

So what kind of double standard is their in how we view dogs?  Just think about the warm cuddly Cockapoo or the goofy black lab with a tail that knocks everything over in the house.  It is easy to have compassion for them.  If we see them suffering we quickly wish to help them and are sad for that animal’s suffering.  The compassion is a reflex.

But what are we thinking or how are we reacting when a dog in a kennel suddenly becomes very aggressive or a dog in a pen from a hoarding case growls when you approach the pen? How often are we sad for that animal?  And how often do we really try to figure out why that animal is showing “aggression”.  Instead it is common to see those snarling teeth and those raised lips with attitude as we tense up, then we try to figure out how we are going to win with this conflict.  “How can you have sympathy for  a dog who doesn’t even want to cooperate.”   “If it thinks it can win, it is fooling itself because I am going to win.”   Such words are common.

I once helped coordinate caring for a hoarding case where almost 100 dogs were confiscated from an owner trying to transport them in a school bus (without chairs) and trailer.  I was not there when they took the dogs out of the bus but I was told it was total craziness with people trying to grab many of the dogs chained in the bus and several people getting bit.  It certainly wasn’t pretty trying to get those dogs out and into holding pens.

So are dogs which show aggression truly aggressive?  They certainly can be.  And it is definitely a potentially dangerous situation so we have to always address human safety.  But it does not have to be a fight.  It may not be a fight if we try softer, slower techniques first and realize how OUR energy, emotions, thoughts and actions dramatically influence how the dog reacts to you.  And if we cannot feel compassion for that snarling dog the way we have compassion for that goofy black lab, then the dog will feel that as well and trust us less.

A Soft Approach with the Y Pole

So when we are faced with aggressive acting dogs, let’s understand that most dogs show aggression because they are simply defending themselves because they are deeply afraid and we can use that as a tool by softening their fear making them easier to work with.  We can relax and move slow and at times not move at all.  We may choose to use the Y pole to protect ourselves while using it simply as an extension of our hand to pet the dog – first by mouth to let it bite then later on the head and neck.  We can strive to create the calmest, most compassionate environment for the dog, then use tools with a “quieter energy” such as the Y pole.  If the dog accepts we will have diverted a fight.  If the dog refuses to give up it’s fear and cooperate or if it is truly an aggressive dog who thinks he is alpha, then we have to use stronger methods.

I have always taught, “The crazier the animal is, the calmer we can be”.  The self awareness that is required for this approach and the practice of being calm and compassionate is the foundation for successfully working with fractious dogs.


Feral dog attacks and rabies are as bad as ever worldwide.

It is surprising how few people are aware of the suffering caused by feral dogs in the U.S. and throughout the world and how much feral dogs suffer through starvation, abuse, and disease.   In the U.S. the feral dog situation is actually increasing acording to National Geograpshic News at: .  I have taken three trips to India to teach humane capture and handling for spay neuter programs.   The World Health Organization (WHO)  estimates that India accounts for 60% o f the rabies cases with 22,000 human rabies cases each year caused primarily by feral dogs.  During my last trip to India I handled 2 rabid dogs myself.  (Yes, I am vaccinated!)

The proven solution for areas overwhelmed by feral dogs is to conduct extensive trap neuter release programs, but few organizations know how to successfully, safely, and humanely capture and handle feral dogs. Our non-profit, GWR, continues to work on videos, The Feral Dog Library, and publications to make this information available worldwide.

To raise awareness we are gathering photos, videos, and published information on dogs attacking humans and on feral dog rabies.  Please contact us if you have such educational material.   We also seek tax-deductable donations to fund these important projects including:  website development,  training videos, and publications.   Visit our website at: to learn more and email me at if you have an interest in helping us.  Help us make a difference around the world.

Mark R. Johnson DVM

Wildlife Veterinarian