Catching a Dog with the Sack Method (videos)

Dog handlers holding sack for catching dogs at Jeevashram near Rajokri, New Delhi.

Dog handlers holding sack for catching dogs at Jeevashram near Rajokri, New Delhi.

Around the world, nations, cities, and villages are struggling with large roaming dog populations attacking children and adults, infecting people with rabies, especially in Asia and Africa, and the dogs are suffering as well.  To address these serious and significant problems, Animal Birth Control (ABC) programs, also called CNVR (Capture, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Release) programs are dedicated to manage dog populations in a humane way and reduce human rabies spread by dogs.  These organizations throughout the worldwide are often in remote settings and struggling to gather humane capture equipment and need as many humane tools as possible for catching dogs.  Nets are fast and reliable and an important tool, but they can be expensive and difficult to get for some programs.  The Sack Method is an alternative to netting-and even preferable-in some locals.  It is easy to make, is inexpensive, and can be used to catch dogs in locations like narrow alleys where nets are not effective.

Sack for catching dogs.

Sack for catching dogs.

The Sack Method was invented in India and is described in the ABC Operations Manual for Help in Suffering (HIS), Jaipur India.  According to the HIS manual, “It is the professional opinion of all the veterinary surgeons that have been involved with the ABC programme at H.I.S.  that the sack catching method is by far the most humane method of catching dogs which can not safely be caught by hand. No injuries to dogs have been recorded following capture in a sack throughout the time this method has been used. Equally very few injuries to staff have resulted from the use of this method. Furthermore the catching sack method is hard to abuse in the hands of inexperienced staff whose main consideration may not be animal welfare.” Many different names have been used for this tool and it would be good if all ABC programs in India agreed upon a single name.  People have called it the  “Sack and Loop” method, but this is confusing because people confuse this tool with the “Loop and Pole Method”.   I suggest calling it the Sack Method since is it made from two burlap sacks.

Sewing two burlap sacks into one larger sack.

Sewing two burlap sacks into one larger sack.

The Sack method uses two burlap sacks sewn together to make a larger sack. There are 8 metal rings sewn along the top edge.  A rope is threaded through the rings and tied to the last ring.  A loop is tied on the other end of the rope and placed around the handler’s wrist.  The dog handler can secretly carry the net folded under his arm.  The sack is thrown over the dog and the rope is pulled closing the sack.  The sack can be twisted to reduce the dog’s struggling. The sack is later lifted into the truck and the rope is loosened which releases the dog.  Sacks will be soiled and need to be periodically washed.

How to Make a Sack for Catching Dogs

The parts needed for making a sack to catch dogs are:

1) Two large burlap sacks  – 3 ft (91 cm) long and 2..25 ft (68cm) wide

2) Strong string and large blunt needle for sewing sacks together

3) Eight (8) metal rings (6-8 cm or in 2-3 inches in diam)

4) Sixteen feet (5.5meters) of sissel or hemp rope.

First open one side seam on each sack and sew them into one large sack. Then sew eight metal rings evenly spaced along the top edge.  A 16 foot long rope is threaded through rings then tied to the last ring which works like a draw string.  The free end of the rope has a loop to place around your wrist.

Here is a great catch by Shyam Lal from Help in Suffering.

Of course we are not successful with every throw.  Here is a great attempt.

In many places such as the narrow streets, the nets are too big and they are hard to hide.  With the Sack you can easily tuck it under your arm and approach a dog without it knowing you are trying to catch him.

Remember HOW you do it is as important as WHAT you do.  We must be casual and calm when we approach the dogs, just as when we are working with the nets.  Don’t focus on catching the dog when you approach them.  If you do, your body language will be tense, and you will look like a predator.  Be relaxed and hide your intentions.   Let’s see an example of this.

The Sack Method is one more effective and humane tools for catching dogs.  It is important for CNVR programs to have as many different tools as possible.  Try not to limit your program to just one tool.  Dog handlers need many different options.

Best wishes your successful spay/neuter and vaccination programs.

Dr. Mark

Global Wildlife Resources

A Profound Experience Filming Dog Handling

Filming Dog Handling

I just returned from Seattle to film humane methods in dog capture and handling to train disaster responders.  My colleagues were former students, Shawndra Michell, who specializes in film making and Linda McCoy, who runs Happy Hounds Hotel in Sammamish, WA.  Linda’s hotel specializes in large dogs and can offer special care for dogs needing socializing.  Shawndra and Linda, like myself, volunteered rescuing dogs after Hurricane Katrina and they are members of the Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART).  After taking my course in Olympia, they were inspired to get my training on video and gathered camera equipment, dogs, and volunteers to film at Linda’s hotel.

Volunteers brought dogs who were typically large and fearful, many were pitbulls, and most of them were rescued animals being socialized. The owners were willing to share their four legged family members because they knew that through this filming their dogs would help dogs all around the world.  They also knew that this was a fresh approach in humane dog handling. Continue reading

One Step at a Time – A Testimony from an ACO

I recently received the following wonderful email from an ACO who took my course in Massachusetts last month.

“I just wanted to tell you that last night I used the “quiet” technique you taught
us in class. Unfortunately I couldn’t use the Y pole as the dog could have bolted (not fenced in) and with the way he looked, I wasn’t sure if he was rabid or not, or just really terrified. Anyway, I approached him one step at a time letting him settle each time I moved. He never stopped growling and I never took my eyes off of him. I used the catch pole in the same manner as the Y pole, carrying it low to the ground. When I finally got close enough to use the catch pole the dog was calm, I was calm, the audience just watched (LOL) and I quietly slid the noose over his head and tightened it just enough not to lose the dog. When I realized he was just terrified, I patted his head, scratched his ear and put my lead over his head patted him again and I took the catch pole off. It really was the most awesome experience and I really didn’t care how long it took me to get him. The folks thought I was scared of him and I informed them that I just didn’t want him stressed out any more than he was. The dog jumped into my truck and his mom found him this morning. I really want to thank you for all you do for the dogs and for training all of us. It really did help last night………your voice was reminding me to take that deep breath and be calm… really worked.  I thank you, Niko (the German Shepherd) thanks you. Nicest catching experience I’ve had since I started this job.”
Tracy Root, Southwick MA ACO

What a great story!  I asked her in a following letter: “Tracy, I see you as a very kind and caring person. And you are obviously a very experienced ACO.  Why is this a new approach?  Have you not always handled dogs this way?”

Tracy responded, “As for why its new…..the classic case of “needing to get it done NOW” syndrome. I’ve always tried to be slow, caring and just let the animal chill, but most the time we have that homeowner or driver acting like your “imposing” on them by taking that extra time. Since your class, I’ve decided the human can wait, the animal is my first and most important reason for being there and if it takes me 30 mins or more to collect the animal, and the animal is calm and relaxed then I have a much nicer, happier animal and call that I just finished. Hey, at my age I’ll never stop learning! Lots of “new” in my life of working with the animals. Patients had gotten pushed aside. I had forgotten how to tune out the rushed world until your course……now its back and its not going anywhere again. I see so much calm in the animals and myself now. Very experienced??? Not really, I’ve only been an ACO for 4 years…………just love my animals and want to do the best for them.“

Tracy, it is great that you used the catch pole in the same way you would use the Y pole.  It clarifies to me that what I am striving to teach is not just the tool (the Y pole) but the calm and compassionate approach for all situations.  Thank you.  Dr. Mark

Street Dogs Instantly Barking at the Dog Catchers – from a mere smell.

Dear Sujatha,

Thank you very much for your valuable question.

In my opinion, the important challenge may not be to address how dogs can smell the dog handlers, but how to change how the dogs are reacting when they are aware of the catchers.  Most dog catchers have very high and aggressive energy when catching dogs.  They have the predator energy of chasing and they see it as a fight to see who wins.  It is hard for people to even imagine any other way.

The other way is to gather dogs with calmness and compassion.  I teach that the crazier the dog gets the calmer we should be.  Imagine catching a dog with a leash or net and at first there is a struggle.  Imagine that when the dog stops struggling, it already finds the person calm and relaxed and not threatening at all.  Imagine that while the dog is in the net, its head might be covered with a cloth and it actually has a feeling of being safe.  This is possible. 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

Physical Restraint for Dogs. Part 1 The Scruff

Around the world, feral or street dogs are often handled strictly with equipment such as snare poles or nets.  In India, I once trained some great young men who were dog catchers for a spay/neuter program who had never touched a dog!  They had only caught and transported street dogs with nets. They were great at it!  But they only recognized one kind of dog – in their eyes every dog was the same  and they never attempted to use softer methods for capturing the friendlier dogs.

The body structure and behavior of the dog allows us to physically restrain them with our hands.  This is unlike cats which require equipment, equipment, equipment!  Physical restraint is a valuable tool for the dog handler.  When we get confident to safely and humanely handle dogs with our hands, it gives us options to first try softer capture methods such as catching with a leash when it is safe to do so.  It also gives us versatility for what we can do when the dog is in hand.  Good physical restraint requires a calm dominance.   Even when the dog is struggling in your hands, be calm and give compassion.   Dog handlers should be confident in applying several types  in order to be versatile in successfully and humanely capturing dogs.  These types of restraint include: the scruff, lateral restraint, and hobbling.   Part 1 talks about the scruff.

The Scruff


Here is how to properly scruff a dog. To safely control the dog you must control the head.  Many people do not think much about how to do a proper scruff and can compromise the safety of the dog and the handler.  Also read my previous blog entry about the Energy of Conflict.

Proper Two-Handed Scruff

The full scruff is a two-handed hold on the dog’s head.   Each ear of the dog should be in the notch of your thumb and the thumbs are parallel on the top of the dogs head pointing forward.  Stretch your fingers of each hand toward the corner of the mouth (be careful not to get bit) and curl your fingers to gather up the skin of his cheeks.  It should make him grin.

Keep the ears deep in the notch against your thumb to get the most control.  Do not let your fingers point to his neck.  If you do, you will gather his neck skin which can choke him.  People have a habit of shaking the dogs head as if to get a better grip.  Do not do this. Not even once. You are sending a message to the dog that you are it’s opponent and wishing to create a fight.  Compassionate animal handling is not only the right thing to do, it makes our work safer and easier!

Physical restraint should not be just physical.  And physical restraint should not be the same as fighting the animal. It should be combined with heart-felt compassion.  Think of using it as a strategy to kindly move the animal into a position you need to do your work.  Maybe you need to examine a surgical wound after sterilizing it or giving it antibiotics, or moving it into another pen without a crate. Continue reading

Feral Dog Capture and the Energy of Conflict

Proper Scruffing Technique

Feral dog capture and handling is challenging and often intimidating.  TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) programs around the world struggle with this.   A vast number of these programs dedicated to animal welfare, with good intentions, actually create more suffering from their capture, handling, and transport methods.

While sometimes the struggle with the dogs is unintentional, some animal control cultures revel in antagonistic relationships with the dogs they catch.  In the United States I have often heard animal control officers talking about the S.O. B. who got away and their tales are like war stories about who was winning or loosing.

Look very closely at the potential conflict or struggle when a street dog  is captured or when a dog in a shelter is looking too dangerous to handle.  You will see that the conflict is almost always created by the dog catcher.  Except for the rare alpha male or female, the dogs are simply afraid and focusing on escaping or protecting themselves.   The most “aggressive” dogs during our capture are simply trying vigorously to protect themselves.  For some animal control officers the intention of the dog does not matter and they will be glad to battle with any animal.

For conscientious dog handlers, truly understanding the dog and the source of conflict allows us to Continue reading