Y Poles – an essential tool for every animal shelter

Y Poles

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The Y Pole – an essential tool for shelters for handling fearful dogs

The Y pole is a new tool that Dr. Mark Johnson is introducing to the animal welfare world.  The history and complete details of the Y pole can be seen on our GWR Y Pole webpage.  Also videos using the Y pole on our Youtube Channel: GWRFeraldogs.

It is humane tool for working with fearful dogs and in animal shelters it can replace most uses of the catch pole.  Most animal control officers and the major animal welfare organizations agree that using catch poles should be used as a last resort.  But Y poles are an essential tool when working with feral dogs or fractious dogs in animal shelters.  My goal is to see that every animal shelter in North America knows about the Y pole and shelter staff will readily reach for them even as a precaution to ensure a calmer animal handling.  The Y pole is so humane and empowering for the staff that Y poles can change the culture of an animal shelter for more compassion, comfort, and confidence in handling fearful dogs.

Y poles are a simple tool that is merely a safe extension of our hand. The Y pole is intended for situations where the dog is already caught, cornered or penned. People find that the Y pole is far more versatile and much more humane than a snare pole. When used properly, a Y pole creates a much calmer situation that is more compassionate for the animal and more pleasant for the animal handler who has no desire to fight the animal.

If you cannot get your hands on the dog because it feels unsafe, the Y pole provides you with a humane tool to reach out to the animal, calm it, and work with it.  You can move the dog into a transport kennel or crate. You can “invite” it to comply to examine the surgical site after it is sterilized or conduct a physical exam. (I am using unusual terminology because I wish to teach new ways of working with difficult dogs. These methods strive to blend or connect with the dog whenever possible rather than forcing a dog to do what we wish.) You can blindfold and hobble it to move the animal; or you can use the Y pole with a syringe pole for a truly successful chemical immobilization.

How It Works

Y Pole with a Coyote

Y Pole with a Coyote

Using Two Y Poles

Using Two Y Poles

The Y pole utilizes fundamental principles for canid behavior to restrain them. It is about 75% psychological control and 25% physical restraint. It is the nature of canids to submit to this gentle restraint device when properly used. Proper use requires a combination of strong leadership with kind and calm movements. The leadership motivates the dog to comply. Kindness and compassion will make the animal feel safer and more will to do what you request.  The Y pole will not work with physical force alone.

An effective way to use the Y pole is to cover the head with a towel (by a second person) as soon as the Y pole is applied. This will calm the animal more and prevent it from being able to track your movements. A second Y pole may provide stronger guidance  and when the animal is down may provide more control and safety during a procedure such as a physical exam.

I believe that every animal shelter in North America (and elsewhere) should have two Y poles for handling fractious dogs. The Y pole will significantly improve how difficult dogs are handled in shelters and will create a more comfortable working environment for shelter staff. I also believe that increased use of the Y pole will help change a trend from physically forcing dogs to do things (i.e. with a snare pole) to utilizing an animal’s behavior and working with dogs in a manner that is for calm, compassionate, and humane.

Useful for All Captive and Wild Canids

Y Poles with a Gray Wolf

Y Poles with a Gray Wolf

As I have written in the About page, I learned about handling feral dogs from handling hundreds of captive and wild wolves, coyotes, and fox.  I have introduced the Y pole to several captive wolf facilities and now they are a critical tool for safely working with the wolves.  The California Wolf Center and Wolf Haven International now capture their wolves with Y poles to conduct annual physical examinations, vaccinations, and blood collection.    Over the years, the captive wolves have learned that submitting to the Y pole is much better than trying to evade capture by a net (the net is a very common method for humanely capturing captive wolves).

Where to Get Y Poles

You can either make a Y pole yourself or purchase them. Here is a PDF file with directions for how to make a Y pole:  HOW TO MAKE A Y POLE  It is important to make them light but strong. Aluminum is best except for the largest canids, such as wolves. It is better to make the tines too short rather than too long. If they are too long, the animal can slide its head through the tines. The best covering for the tines is first a layer of tough rubber hose such as radiator hose,  very sturdy garden hose, or wraps with bicycle inner tubes. Then cover with a foam tube used for insulating water pipes. Lastly, cover with many, many layers of tape.

Y pole and parts

Y pole and parts sold at GWR Products webpage

Global Wildlife Resources offers an unfinished 2 piece Y pole which is both sturdy and affordable. It comes with directions on how to pad the tines.  Visit our on-line store for more information.

You can also purchase heavier Y poles from Heart of the Earth Animal Equipment and Animal Care Equipment & Services.

For more information on the Y pole, visit our website Y Pole Page.

PLEASE SEND US YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT THE Y POLE.  Is the Y pole new to you?  If not, what are your experiences with it?  WE WISH TO HEAR FROM YOU.      Dr. Mark

19 Responses

  1. Hello Again 🙂
    my name is paulina, by any chance do you have available your video about Y Pole training?
    Thanks a lot

    • Paulina,
      Thank you for contacting us. We are still working on the full training video and will have it completed this spring. In the mean time, please visit our website for video training segments. We will be posting them over the next month. We would be glad to contact you when the full video is complete.
      Mark Johnson DVM

  2. I work with feral dogs in Kuwait doing capture, rescue, sheltering and handling in just about every type of situation. I’ve had the opportunity to work with nearly every type and manufacture of equipment during my work here, and I have to say that the “Y” pole is a wonderful piece of equipment. The last time I used a control pole was to pull a chain through a cable spool…other than that, it’s great for getting neonate puppies out of feral dog caves. The ‘Y” pole is my only choice for handling difficult dogs where safety is an issue. I just wanted to pass on my recommendation for this great tool. Thanks for the design Dr. Johnson.

    • John,
      Thank you very much for your comments from Kuwait. Our goal here with the Feral Dog Blog is to share, across the world, an open forum on the best humane handling of dogs. It is exciting that we are connected with you in Kuwait. Thank you. Dr. Mark

  3. […] Johnson is a passionate promoter of the Y pole as a more humane and practical alternative in many contexts to catch poles, chemicals, and nets. He […]

  4. Hello,
    I am in Kolkata, India and work with free-roaming dogs. Here, there is no training facility for catching dogs. I just try to catch them by befriending them when probably they are injured, or need to be examined for some wound or given vaccines or other injections. I have never used any tool. But frequently, injured dogs or dogs who have bitter experience with human beings refuse to be come near. Some maintain a constant gap of say 1.5 metres or some run away the moment I try to approach them.
    At times I have called the animal catchers of our city because it was necessary to catch the dog for some wound or sterilisation. But I hate it because it is very traumatic to the dogs, they shriek, they bite the local made metal lassoe poles, they bleed from their mouth and they are utterly terrified. it is very very risky also for the animals. can you please tell me where I can find videos of your courses on catching dogs, giving them medicines etc. and were from the necessary tools can be purchased. I badly want to learn this so that I can give the animals their due care without harming them. I also want to show people that there are better methods of handling animals than suddenly jumping on them and catching them unawares with a tight rope around their necks.

    Can you please give me another information: some so called animal welfare organisations in Kolkata are in the habit of catching dogs cruelly and then injecting them with 1-2ml xylazine (for dogs weighing 7-20kg) before transporting them. The people know nothing about the dogs like whether they are in empty stomach, are healthy etc. They sedate the animals because it is convenient for them. Can you please tell me the resks involved so that I can make people aware? Thanks a lot

    • Oindrila,
      Thank you for your comments and questions. Your situation and questions are the very reason I am creating this blog. Soon I will also have a forum so that it is easier for many different people to provide comments, experiences and ideas.

      I am actually in the process of filming dog handling and producing training videos which will be in English, Hindi, and Spanish. But unfortunately it will take awhile. I will make an announcement on this blog and will post them on my YouTube Channel: GWRFeralDog. The most humane methods that you and your colleagues can use are the sack method used in Jaipur and large nets on a hoop. Boxtraps are also very effective for the dogs that stay 1.5 meters away, but boxtraps are difficult to find and expensive. The sack method uses a very large gunney sack with a long rope around the opening. It is thrown over the dog and the rope is pulled which closes around the dog’s legs and holds the dog in a safe manner. I will write a post about this, though I am still trying to find photographs of the sack method. Nets work extremely well, but I have not yet found any companies in India who make or sell them. I would love to hear from other readers. We all need to compile a list of companies in India who sell humane handling equipment such as nets and boxtraps.

      When used properly, there is actually nothing cruel about using the sedative xylazine. If the dog handlers monitor temperature, pulse, and respiration and watch over the dog, it can be very safe. It is also a good idea to cover the eyes to protect them when the dog is drugged and to make less stimulus for the dog. It is not common to transport them when drugged but it can be done in a good way. The risks are indeed vomiting if the dog has an full stomach but if they are watching the dog it can be taken care of. Also the dog can get too hot, but a simple thermometer allows them to monitor the temp and cool the dog if necessary.

      If I could be so forward, people around the world often provide unconditional love to animals yet are very hard on people. Let’s strive to give kindness and respect to each person as well. Maybe the people who are using xylazine give attention to those risks just as you do and would be happy to share their experiences with others. I encourage you to visit with them and share concerns and solutions. We are all in this together.

      So I apologize that I do not have more videos at the moment, but I am seriously working on it. Not only did I film in Seattle which you read about in this blog, but I am also applying for grants to help pay to edit the footage and produce the videos. Feel free to send more questions and keep watching!
      Respectfully, Mark

    • I hope no one minds if I add my two cents here since I’ve commented before.

      I wanted to reinforce Mark’s assertion that using ketamine/ xylazine is a very humane option if done properly. Wether employed via syringe or dart, my experience has taught me that dose, temperature, and light are the key concerns. An under dose is better than an over dose, and I always keep an extra syringe with pre-mixed ket/xyla at a 1:1.5 ratio. This way if the weight estimate, location of injection, health of the animal or natural resistance is an issue, a quick decision can be made to add more drug IM or IV to minimize the uncomfortable onset period. Once the animal is going down, the next step is to fully immobilize and cover the eyes. Wearing gloves and using my handy Y-pole, if I’m working alone and have darted a dog, I approach from behind as soon as I can ( my dogs are feral, not community) I place the pole swiftly at the base of the neck pinning the dog then put sufficient body weight on the animals back, slide my hands down the pole and control the muzzle while covering the eyes, basically a headlock with one hand over the eyes and one under the neck. Ketamine causes sensitivity to light in canids. Covering the eyes will drastically reduce the rate of negative reactions. A physically immobilized dog with covered eyes will go down much faster and with less drug.

      I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this method alone on a big fully conscious dog, but I have done it. The important thing is however the animal is caught, covering the animal will reduce it’s stress. I carry a big tarp to throw over a cage trap and small blankets to cover the head of a loose dog under the influence of anesthesia. It’s just as important as the animal comes out of anesthesia. Cover the cage or put in a dark room. Adding these precautions to the use of chemical capture will likely change your opinion of the welfare of the animals involved. Obviously there is additional monitoring as mentioned above, and careful notes should be taken if the animal will be under anesthesia for a prolonged period, such as for surgery.

      Without using any expensive or specialized equipment, I would recommend the sack method for catching even those dogs with a flight distance. Use your environment. You need more than one person using the sacks, and you have to herd the dog into an area where it can’t escape. Dead end alleys and abandoned buildings work well for this. Whoever you’re working with need to be well practiced so they can lunge and catch the dog as they bolt. You might have to prep an area to prevent escape by blocking openings in advance. Even without videos, you can get big sacks as described above. I personally don’t believe there is anything wrong with practicing on healthy animals. just as you give part of yourself to help them, they can help too by putting up with you practicing. It’s a small price to pay for your ability to help them when they are hurt or sick. My pet dog plays his part too. He gets captured all the time.

      I’m in India as I write this, just on a short vacation. I know a man in Ahmedabad who has run massive TNR clinics in the area. He’s an expert in catching dogs using cheap and humane methods. I could put you in touch with him if you like.

      On a final note, while we may not like the people in our communities who catch animals, they are often the only people around willing to do that job. As animal lovers or whatever we call ourselves, it’s our job to learn better ways, find better equipment, and teach them. Development takes hundreds of years. Right now, we have to focus on the most practical steps we can take to make progressive improvements. Remember to take small steps forward and you won’t feel so overwhelmed.

      I hope this helps. I’m happy to answer questions and accept criticism. I’ve developed my methods mostly on my own; there just isn’t anyone to help in Kuwait!

      • John,
        Thank you for your excellent contributions. I like how you stress how drugging with xylazine or ketamine/xylazine can be safe if people monitor temperature at the very least and cover the head. If I may add, I would prefer that for the minimum people would monitor the dog’s temperature, pulse, and respiration and color of the gums, but that takes a bit more training. I teach all of this in my wildlife handling courses in the US.

        Covering the dogs head with a towel totally improves the situation. In fact I recommend covering the dogs head with most situations of physical restraint, including covering the dog after it is netted. Covering the dog’s head and eyes will actually lower the dog’s heart rate and make it safer for the dog handler because the dog will not follow your hands and worried about protecting itself from you. And dogs drugged with ketamine are actually more sensitive to all stimulus – sight, sound, and touch, not just light. Ketamine is called a “psychogenic” drug which implies the same thing. Always cover the head of a dog that is drugged. After surgery, it will also wake up more slowly and safely that way.

        I hope the sack method will be used more in India. I am in need of videos or photos of the sack method. Do you, or any of the readers, have photos you could email me? Also, if any of you would share how to make a sack or how to catch dogs with the sack method, please send it to me by email or send it to this blog.
        Best wishes in your work in Kawait. Dr. Mark

  5. […] Y Poles – an essential tool for every animal shelter […]

  6. Thanks a lot Mark and John for your replies describing the details. I am very sorry if I have sounded disrespectful of others who love animals or are professionally involved with animals.
    Firstly, can you please tell the proper dose of xylaxine or xylaxine/ketamine based on body weight and other relevant factors. I would be glad to get in touch with the person in Ahmedabad who is an expert in TNR programmes.
    However, my concern over xylaxine was because of the fact that no monitoring is done after injecting the dogs. They are put in the back of open goods vehicles and having the dogs anesthesised is thus convenient . Most people are interested in catching the dogs and taking them to shelters, often never to return, not out of love for the animals but for the love of money that is paid to them by govt. and municipalities . I respect and wish to learn from anyone who loves animals and tries to help them properly.
    I need to be educated myself to be able to prevent improper pseudo animal welfare activities.

    • Dear Oindrila,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Your concern about not monitoring animals is often very legitimate. I teach wildlife chemical immobilization courses across America and it is surprising how few people truly attend to monitoring temperature, pulse, and respiration while the animal is drugged.

      As for providing you with a xylazine dose, use of chemical immobilization (this is often called “chemical capture” in the U.S.) is not as simple as choosing xylazine and giving the correct dose. Different drugs are used for different situations which is why it is important to have a participating veterinarian. To drug dogs in a way that is effective in overcoming excitement, safe for the dog, and safe for the handler, xylazine is not used alone. This is because xylazine is a sedative (the animal is responsive during the drugging) and not an anesthetic. To properly and successfully use chemical capture, the dog is darted with an anesthetic, such as Ketamine or Telazol (Zolatil) combined with xylazine or medetomidine. The anesthetic in this combination will make the animal anesthetized (unresponsive). Common doses for these combinations are Ketamine 10mg/kg with xylazine 1-2 mg/kg or Telazol 10mg/kg with xylazine 1-2 mg/kg. All of this should be done under the supervision of a veterinarian and with monitoring of temperature, pulse, respiration, and the color of the gums. Also, other doses and other drugs can be selected to address the specific needs of the chemical immobilization.

      I have probably provided more technical information than I have time to further explain. But hopefully this simple introduction helps the lay person understand a little about chemical capture. Thank you for you input and questions. Dr. Mark

      • Thank you Dr. Mark. I understand that I shouldn’t be using chemical sedative unless there is some experienced veterinarian present (which is practically difficult here). I’ll try to learn using the sack capturing method instead and also try to get hold of a net. The net enables one to dress wounds (like maggot wounds) while the dog is caught in the net. I’ll keep in mind your suggestion about covering his eyes and also try to calm him while handly. am eagerly waiting for your videos.

      • Oindrila,
        You are quite welcome. I am searching for directions, photos, and videos for how to make and use the “sack and loop” method so I can use them to teach others. I welcome help from anyone who could provide me with this information. Dr. Mark

  7. Oindrila,

    If you can email me, I will pass along your contact details to my friend in India. He keeps a very busy travel schedule, but I hope he will be able to get in touch with you and give you some advice for your difficult situation.


    Best regards,


  8. Dr. Mark,
    Once again thanks for all your help and advices. I hope i can go to one of your courses to learn more about all this soon. It is on my wishing list this year!
    Love your comment about unconditional love to dogs and our own specie! Thank you!!
    (When you are ready for the spanish help, I am ready to volunteer!)

  9. you can use my contact details for supply of different tools for dog cataching in India and around

    • Dear Colleagues,
      Mr. Gagrin Singh, at gagrinsingh@gmail.com lives in Delhi and has an excellent collection of humane dog handling equipment. He is producing and selling an excellent Y pole which then wrapped with padding to protect the dog from biting on the metal. I am very impressed with this Y pole. He is also producing and selling a very professional and effective syringe pole for veterinarians for safely injecting an animal from a distance or through a cage. It is better quality than anything I have even seen in the United States. He also has some excellent nets which are a very humane and effective method for catching dogs. Contact Mr. Singh at his email if you are interested. Dr. Mark

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