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Extremely Fearful Dogs: Drug-Free Capture and Handling Tips

  • sima26938168624522681's picture
    Extremely Fearful Dogs: Drug-Free Capture and Handling Tips
    (20 Jun '18)

    Fearful animals can be a real challenge to work with. Whether they are unsocialised, undersocialised, previously mis-handled, genetically shy, new to you, of a high wolf percentage, or feral dogs of any breed--they have special needs, and require specialised handling. This is all too obvious when the animal reacts badly to human presence or is an "untouchable", but must be captured in short order for transport, examination, or medical care.

    In some of the more extreme cases, it may be ideal to chemically immobilise the animal for immediate capture and handling. However, chemical capture carries substantial risk, and appropriate drugs for this are normally not available to the public. Therefore, helping each other to devise safe and effective capture methods without chemical intervention is of prime importance to people working with fearful Dogs supplies - https://petdogshopping.com .

    What you want in the long run is to gradually socialise a dog until he accepts gentle handling, leashing, crating, and other day to day interactions. This can be a long process, though (an unsocial wolfdog "hybrid", for example, can take 6 months to a year of careful rehabilitation to become a reasonably civilised companion) and requires much more than a mere article or two to teach. This essay focuses on some short term techniques that can be used in a pinch.

    The problem: you have a dog who runs or slinks off in fear whenever you step into his vicinity-you can't simply walk up and put a leash on him.

    If you have even a small amount of time to spare, you might try to acclimate him to a crate. You will need a very heavy duty metal crate, one that is reinforced at all joints with heavy gauge wire so he cannot bend the bars in a panic and free himself. (Never underestimate the strength of a frightened animal! Even a smallish dog can destroy a sturdy, un-reinforced store-bought crate in seconds.)

    Leave the crate in his area 24/7. Prop the door open so he can enter and exit freely, without the door accidentally swinging shut behind him and scaring him. Each day, place some delicious meat (or something else he loves) way in the back of the crate. In the beginning, you don't need to watch him enter the crate. Gradually, you want to work up to where he will enter with you nearby, and then with you in the pen, and eventually with you right beside his crate. (You may need to toss a few treats further away to "prime the pump" and get his appetite engaged--then leave a trail of treats leading up to the crate, to entice him to continue on for the goodies inside it.)

    When you are ready to transport him, simply close the door to the crate. BE QUICK about it, of course, and be sure to lean firmly against the door while latching it so that he doesn't slam into it and burst from the crate. (Yes, this is dramatic language; when it happens in real life, it is even more dramatic, and very very fast.) Put clips or zip-ties on the latches to keep him from sliding them open.

    You can also try building your relationship with the dog by sitting in there every day, with yummy high-value treats such as lunchmeat, freeze-dried liver, liver pudding, cheese, hot dogs, burgers, or other cooked meats to offer. Don't even try to touch him, at first; just be present and toss him a treat for any positive interaction he initiates. Looks at you? Treat. Comes closer? Treat. Even "acting less scared for a second" or lying down in the corner deserves a treat, in the early stages.

    Also, dinner should be served by hand, especially when trying to bring a shy dog around. All good things come from you, and are eaten in your presence. In the first few days, if he is too stressed to eat with anyone around, you can try leaving a recently-worn shirt or sock with him so he gets used to your scent and associates it with his food. (Don't expect to get any clothing back in one piece, though.)

    Over time, you will progress to getting him to DO things, in order to drive you to give him treats. A dog can be trained without ever having to be touched! Simply wait for a behaviour to be offered, perhaps a play-bow or a Sit, or eventually a bump of your treat-filled hand with his nose. Then say "YES!" enthusiastically the instant it happens (or use a clicker to mark it) and toss a great treat...or a piece of his dinner. You can then pair a command to the action, and start to ask the dog to perform it in order to get the treat. I've had rescue dogs I couldn't walk up and touch, who would Sit, Gimme Five, or otherwise interact with me in order to solicit a treat. This is *two way communication*, and it's important. Even coming up close to ask for food can be a triumph for a fearful dog.

    Another great trick--a variation on a taming protocol for wild mustangs, actually--is the "Treat and Retreat" interaction. Approach the dog, and the instant he shows ANY improvement in behaviour, toss him a treat and back up a few steps (or even leave the pen). Both the treat and your retreat are rewards. "Positive behaviours" on the dog's part can include a change from pacing to not-pacing, wandering closer to you, sitting down, lying down, making eye contact, sniffing the last spot you stood or the last thing you touched (try to offer this opportunity by touching things and moving around occasionally), sniffing you, play bows, or any sort of voluntary interaction.

    If the dog is too afraid to eat in your presence, you can approach at a distance that slightly pushes his current comfort zone--not enough to create panic, just enough that he looks at you warily--then "reward" him for any calm or social behaviours by retreating immediately. (In the beginning, even a lack of reaction can be an improvement over a fear response.) It may be helpful to read about 'Constructional Aggression Treatment' for a better understanding of this method. Don't let the name mislead you; it was developed to work with dog-on-dog aggression, but that issue is most often fear-based, and the process works on other fear-based behaviour as well.

    Again, if you have time to spend with the animal before he needs to be handled, by all means try these things first.

    If the dog won't crate or leash willingly and you're out of time, you will need to corner him. In a small area, this is easily accomplished; just be sure to maintain NON-THREATENING body language the entire time. For example: don't look directly at him, approach sideways, move slowly and calmly. Don't reach over his head, other than to gently drape a blanket or towel over it...if he can't see you, it can have a calming effect, and the towel also makes it much harder for him to deliver a fear bite. It is very important to read up on, and fully understand, canine body language and calming signals before ever attempting to corner a fearful dog (or any dog, really).

    Once towelled, the dog can be picked up and put in a crate...or he can be leashed, if he is leashable or a crate is not an option. I strongly recommend TWO collars and TWO leashes for walking fearful dogs. This way, if he "gator rolls", or one set breaks, or a collar isn't on right, or any other malfunction--you still have the dog. The vast majority of dogs are docile enough to be walked out by one person. However, if he is extremely strong, or gets upset and "climbs the leash" to win his escape by attacking the handler (rare, but it happens) then you can have one person hold each leash, so he can't get to either one. This also works for more aggressive dogs-and in most instances beats a catch pole, hands down. A catch pole will almost always trigger a "freaking out" response-the dog lashes out, loses all rational thought, bloodies his mouth or chips his teeth, fights much harder than he would fight leashes, risks biting a person, risks choking himself, and may never like you again. He may not even like anyone who vaguely reminds him of you-or he may generalise his experience to a distrust of all humans. As you might expect, I am not a fan of the catch pole. There are circumstances where it may be necessary, but I would consider it a last resort. One can get MUCH better results with the Y-Pole, which will be discussed later on.

    In a large fenced area, you could easily pursue a dog all day and never catch him. If the dog is only slightly afraid, you might have success with sitting calmly on the ground beside a bowl filled with extra special food: wet cat-food, perhaps, or a pile of finely chopped cooked meat. Warming the food offering makes it easier for the dog to smell from a distance. He might eventually come up and let you clip a leash to him while he is eating. If he has no collar, you can try to slowly drape a slip lead over his head--or use a soft leash threaded back through its own handle, which does not need to slide over his head at all but can simply be draped over his neck before threading back through itself. (You'll want to add a second collar they just do. Dogs are sensitive that way. Focusing on him will make him uncomfortable and thwart your chances of this working.

    Some dogs can even be "talked into" allowing a leash, by having a quiet, reassuring conversation with them and sending mental pictures of the dog in a more comfortable or enjoyable situation. I remember one shy wolfdog I went to pick up on short notice, while I was on the road with no equipment besides a leash. His owner had fallen into trouble, and he and his companion had been left behind in a large fenced area, without a steady water supply in the summer heat. I knew that I couldn't catch him without his cooperation, so I sat down and quietly explained to him that I wanted to take him somewhere safe, where he could get regular food and water, and sent visualisations of him lying under cool shade trees and playing in a doggie pool. Within minutes, he walked hesitantly up to me...still afraid, but willing to give me a chance.

    Alternately, you could bring over several friends, and try to slowly corral the dog into one corner of the yard. Everyone should close in gradually, while maintaining calm energy and not staring at him. The person he seems most comfortable with should do the final approach and leashing.

    If you don't have the luxury of a large group, and the pen doesn't have a secure "double entry" or other small area attached to it, then you will need to temporarily subdivide the yard using fencing material. It should be high enough that the dog can't easily jump it--at least 4 to 5 feet. With large yards and limited fencing, your best bet is usually to cut the yard in two sections, trapping the dog on one (hopefully smaller) side, then run an additional strip of fencing diagonally so you have a small "dead end" he can be corralled into.

    The more people you can gather, the less fencing you will probably need...but you still want a small--no more than a few feet wide--alleyway to finish up in, in most cases. This will help convince the dog there is no hope of escape, and he will lie down in resignation. (If this is a dog you need to catch more than once, perhaps for behavioural rehabilitation - http://Search.usa.gov/search?affiliate=usagov&query=behavioural%20rehabilitation or ongoing medical care, you can install a semi-permanent "capture zone" that the dog becomes accustomed to being handled in.)

    Once the dog goes down, you are free to leash, crate, or examine as needed. Just remember to move slowly and maintain a non-threatening posture. At this point, you may find that you can set a crate in front of the dog (with the open door towards him) and push it towards him slowly-and he will walk right in. This works especially well in an animal shelter, in the kennel runs. If the dog glances furtively OVER the crate, you might need to set something on top of it so he doesn't sail it. If you have a specific corner in mind, you can also set the crate up ahead of time in that area, and corner/towel/scoop him up right in front of the crate if he doesn't walk in on his own.

    If you have an animal who refuses to crate, and picking him up is not an option, you can also thread his leash through the bars of the crate, and use it to guide or pull him in. This is more of a last resort, since it is confrontational...but if the dog cannot be lifted, or will fight off the blanket and try to bite, it may be worth considering.

    Mildly fearful dogs may also be improved by feeding 1-2 melatonin tablets (3mg) and/or 1-2 Benadryl tablets (25mg) in a meatball. It won't put them to sleep, but can take the edge off. Wait 20-30 minutes after medicating before trying to catch the dog up. Some vets will prescribe Acepromazine, if you ask-but I would discourage the use of this drug. Ace rarely works well on serious cases (the ones who really need it). They can work right through it, and will run and run until you finally go away, then sleep it off. Ace can make some dogs more aggressive--they still want to avoid you, but are less inhibited and may fight back--and the bottom line is that it does not reduce fear. It simply makes the animal less in control of his body ("doped up")-so he is still terrified, still trying to escape, but out of balance and more likely to hurt himself or you in the process.

    Most of the time, if your body language is good and you let the dog's body language set the pace, you can avoid being bitten during a basic capture. However, some dogs have better bite inhibition than others. For those dogs who make it clear they will bite when you invade their space, I recommend the use of a "Y-pole"--a tool developed by Global Wildlife Resources to humanely work with ferals and frightened shelter dogs. They have an excellent video online that demonstrates the use of the Y-pole to capture a "Mexican wolf" for medical care, and I strongly suggest you check it out! Dr. Mark's site hosts what is probably the BEST educational footage out there on this specialised and poorly known topic, and his extensive experience really shows. The basic method of capture is one I've had success with for many years myself, but the Y-pole is a highly useful addition to one's toolbox! Please note that the dog knows the Y-pole is not your hand, so will bite it even when he would not have bitten you. What the pole does offer is a safe outlet for his instinct to defend himself; he can redirect his anxiety onto it, and you can safely invade his space without taking the risk. It also provides psychological dominance that keeps him passive and immobilised while you are examining him or preparing him for transport.

    Beware: once in a while, you meet a dog who will come AT you when cornered, rather than surrender. If you get this dog, by all means get out of his way and let him pass-if you grab out at him or try to pin or block him while he is in a panic, you are very likely to be bitten. (He probably won't mean to, but panic is a funny thing. It gives you "tunnel vision" and impairs your better judgment--even when you are a dog.) Try again next time, and more slowly or with a better plan. Usually when a dog bolts, it's because you didn't allow him enough time to calm himself before your approach. If he is still spinning in circles, running into the fence, trying to climb or dig, or otherwise showing escape behaviours, he is NOT ready for you to close in and towel, leash, or Y-pole him yet.

    Be sure to allot plenty of time to the effort, because it will probably take much longer than you think. Don't do this sort of work when you are time-pressured; if you are angry, impatient or anxious, it will rub off on the dog and make things worse.

    Moving Merlin
    Here is a working example of a large-area capture, with a very fearful older dog who has a low bite threshold when cornered. He also will "hamstring" if you turn your back on him-that's the stage of fearfulness and semi-socialisation that he came here in. Merlin needed to be transferred to another enclosure, so chainsaw work could be done near his initial one. I was unable to film, having only one other person to work with, but will describe in detail. (Be sure to watch the film on using the Y Pole before continuing, so the description will make more sense.)

    Size up and prep the situation:
    Merlin was in an oblong pen with another dog, a social female. She was removed prior to rounding up Merlin, to prevent her from playing into things in any way, and to prevent her from escaping while he was being removed from the enclosure.

    The fencing is 8' tall, so there should be no concerns - http://www.travelwitheaseblog.com/?s=concerns of escape during capture. There is a 6' tall semi-permanent "capture zone" in this pen, along with a standing fence panel strategically placed to keep him from running circles around his shelter...so additional fencing did not need to be brought in.

    As mentioned, he is a bite risk in close quarters-so is a prime candidate for the Y-poles.
    Merlin was to be leashed, not crated. Transporting the crate would have been very difficult under our conditions, and Merlin had been leash trained as a pup. The two leashes needed to be held by two different people, because of the bite risk.
    All materials (Y-poles, blanket, collars, 6 foot leashes) were gathered in advance and placed into the enclosure.

    The pen he was to be transported *to* was prepared, and a clear route from one pen to the other was verified. Meanwhile, Person 2 entered the enclosure in advance, simply to stand with him and let him acclimate to the idea of people in his space.

    Cornering:
    Both people slowly and calmly walked towards Merlin, allowing him to run around and blow off some excess energy. After minute or two, Merlin ran up the alleyway that leads to the capture zone. Both people moved smoothly in behind him, blocking his exit but not advancing any further than necessary. You want the atmosphere to remain as casual as possible when cornering. Direct stares or excitement are very counterproductive. This is not a confrontation or a battle of wills; you're simply standing in the dog's way, and since he wants to get further from you, he'll walk closer to the capture zone or corner.

    As Merlin moved forward towards the desired area, we slowly closed in behind him. The Y-poles were held down low and somewhat sideways, to provide extra "size" to our presence. Any time Merlin showed panic or escape behaviours, we stopped moving and averted our eyes until he relaxed. Eventually, he walked into the small corral area and sat down. We moved closer, little by little, until near enough to touch him with the poles (perhaps 3 feet).

    Leashing:
    Once he was sitting calmly before us, the first Y-pole entered Merlin's space. He had been Y-poled once before, and had bitten it fiercely and repeatedly...but this time he felt less threatened by it (familiarity, perhaps?) and only wrinkled his lip and air-snapped. After he had settled enough that stroking him lightly with one prong did not get any response, the pole was placed on Merlin's neck, and we waited calmly until he lay down at our feet. The second pole was used to gently pin his flank, and he did not even attempt to move at all after that, until we removed both poles.

    Person 2 held both poles in place while I laid a blanket carefully across Merlin's head, then threaded the two collars around his neck and snapped them shut. The collars I used were quick-release chain martingales from Cetacea. These are excellent tools for working with a dog who is not wearing an inescapable collar, and is likely to object if one is slipped over his face and head. They constrict to some degree when pulled, to keep from being thrown off if the dog panics (not enough to choke the dog)...and the only accessible part is the chain, which cannot be chewed through in seconds the way a nylon martingale strap can.

    The leashes were already attached. I handed one leash to Person 2 and took back one of the poles, and we stood quietly for a minute to prepare for our exit and let Merlin recover from being touched.

    Exit:
    With our exit carefully planned to keep both people out of harm's way (in the event Merlin had sprung to his feet and bolted away snapping), we withdrew the poles and stepped backwards and out of the corner in opposite directions. This positioned Merlin directly between us, without enough slack leash to reach either one of us. He stood up, and we walked slowly towards the gate, one step at a time, keeping Merlin halfway between us with little to no slack in the leashes. He was walked out of the enclosure and into the waiting temporary pen, which he ran into on his own, given the chance. After a few minutes' recovery time, we entered that pen and poled him a second time, to unsnap the collars. Upon our leaving the pen, Merlin was actually quite calm. The next day, I was able to sit with him and see unusually calm behaviours, as well. If anything, this method IMPROVED our relationship instead of destroying it.

    A few general tips to come away with:
    -Plan your capture carefully and 'rehearse' it before involving the dog.
    -Body language is PARAMOUNT; telling the dog what you're doing (via clear and non-threatening body language) makes all the difference in gaining his cooperation.
    -Use appropriate tools. Different dogs may have different needs.
    -Double collars, double leashes. Consider heavy duty hardware and chain martingales.
    -Wire crates should always be reinforced. (Standard duty airline crates can be destroyed by pulling the door in, or by chewing out through ventilation holes or gaps at the door, so they are not necessarily a better solution.)

    If your unsocial or fearful dog has escaped from his fence and is at large, you may be in a much tougher situation.

    If he has a penmate or is bonded to other dogs on the property, he probably won't go far. You can try leaving the pen open and putting tempting food in there; another dog-especially a puppy!-tied to the far side of the fence as "bait" can also draw him back in. You may be able to sneak up from behind and close the gate, or rig up a string to close the gate from a distance. (High test fishing line makes great, invisible string.) Be creative, and use your landscape to your advantage.

    If you sit or lie down quietly, with a friendly leashed dog or delicious treats, you may also get him to come close enough for you to clip a leash on.

    -NEVER chase a loose dog! You won't catch him and he will only run further and faster, and be more afraid. (However, if you run the other way, the dog may actually follow you.)

    If he has escaped your car, or otherwise ended up far from home, check to see if there is anyone in the area with a securely fenced yard (or even a garage) who would let you use it to lure him into. There may also be a tennis court, baseball field, or other "corral" nearby you can use. Again, consider using a friendly dog as a lure. Some loose dogs, even fearful ones, will follow a leashed dog almost anywhere, so you may be able to lead him into a fenced area or even a building. In fact, ferals and primitives tend to adore other dogs, especially puppies.

    Long distance loose dogs need to be caught up almost immediately. Ask your local Animal Control or animal rescue if you can borrow a "live trap", or buy one if you can't borrow. Set up feeding stations if the dog is lost in a wilderness area, to keep him coming back to the same spot so he can be trapped. Animal Control may also be willing to tranquilise the dog at this point, since it is an urgent situation.

    "Field capture" is often your worst case scenario, and you may not get a lot of chances to get it right. If you have access to someone with experience, so much the better! If not, be sure to set up a careful game plan, with backup options, to give you the best chance of bringing the dog home safely. You might also want to watch some of Eldad Hagar's excellent videos on capturing strays!

    Acclimating a frightened animal usually goes much smoother and quicker if he is kept in the house, where there is far less external stimulation. If this is an option, so much the better--just be aware that fear strongly inhibits behaviour, so you won't know his true personality (and how he acts with other dogs, cats, and children) until he is less afraid, or you are not present. It is not uncommon for a fearful dog to do nothing but lie around while you are watching, then fight with another dog or kill the family cat as soon as you leave the house. Panicked dogs may climb up on things to reach an escape route. They're attracted to any window left open, and on rare occasion have been known to open the window themselves! They can also tear out the screen, or even break the window glass if they want out badly enough. Always supervise these dogs carefully, or secure them in a crate, kennel, or excellent fence.

    Remember that excellent containment is critical when working with fearful dogs. A metal crate should be reinforced with heavy wire at all joints to prevent him from collapsing it, and a clip put on the latch to keep him from sliding it open. Fencing must be gone over extensively for weaknesses; research "husky fencing" or "wolfdog containment" for a multitude of stories on how easily a determined dog can defeat the average fence!

    When carrying a (smallish) dog or unsocial puppy in your arms, be sure to always have him on a leash attached to your wrist, for backup. If he kicks off and tries to run, you will s...till have hold of him. If you are walking a larger dog, remember: two collars, two leashes. Safety first! The one time you fail to latch a gate or double-leash the dog, may be the time that counts...and if he gets away from you, he may be gone forever.

    As you can see from this article, highly fearful dogs can be an enormous amount of work and responsibility. While it is incredibly rewarding to see them blossom into the special beings they were meant to be, the decision to adopt or foster one should not be taken lightly. It can take a lot of time and energy to bring them around; there are no quick fixes.

    Please remember, too, that every decision in life carries risk. These suggestions come directly from my own experiences and observations over the years. I cannot guarantee that my ideas will work well for your situation; I offer them merely as possibilities to consider, as food for thought. I also want to stress that it is CRITICAL to understand how dogs communicate, before attempting to work with the troubled ones. With any reactive animal, there is always a risk of injury to you or the animal. Always use your own best judgment when implementing these, or any other, techniques.

    If you have a fearful dog in your world, thank you for caring. I hope that sharing my experiences will help you lead him into a better life.

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sima26938168624522681's picture
on Jun 20, 2018
Forum category: 

Fearful animals can be a real challenge to work with. Whether they are unsocialised, undersocialised, previously mis-handled, genetically shy, new to you, of a high wolf percentage, or feral dogs of any breed--they have special needs, and require specialised handling. This is all too obvious when the animal reacts badly to human presence or is an "untouchable", but must be captured in short order for transport, examination, or medical care.

In some of the more extreme cases, it may be ideal to chemically immobilise the animal for immediate capture and handling. However, chemical capture carries substantial risk, and appropriate drugs for this are normally not available to the public. Therefore, helping each other to devise safe and effective capture methods without chemical intervention is of prime importance to people working with fearful Dogs supplies - https://petdogshopping.com .

What you want in the long run is to gradually socialise a dog until he accepts gentle handling, leashing, crating, and other day to day interactions. This can be a long process, though (an unsocial wolfdog "hybrid", for example, can take 6 months to a year of careful rehabilitation to become a reasonably civilised companion) and requires much more than a mere article or two to teach. This essay focuses on some short term techniques that can be used in a pinch.

The problem: you have a dog who runs or slinks off in fear whenever you step into his vicinity-you can't simply walk up and put a leash on him.

If you have even a small amount of time to spare, you might try to acclimate him to a crate. You will need a very heavy duty metal crate, one that is reinforced at all joints with heavy gauge wire so he cannot bend the bars in a panic and free himself. (Never underestimate the strength of a frightened animal! Even a smallish dog can destroy a sturdy, un-reinforced store-bought crate in seconds.)

Leave the crate in his area 24/7. Prop the door open so he can enter and exit freely, without the door accidentally swinging shut behind him and scaring him. Each day, place some delicious meat (or something else he loves) way in the back of the crate. In the beginning, you don't need to watch him enter the crate. Gradually, you want to work up to where he will enter with you nearby, and then with you in the pen, and eventually with you right beside his crate. (You may need to toss a few treats further away to "prime the pump" and get his appetite engaged--then leave a trail of treats leading up to the crate, to entice him to continue on for the goodies inside it.)

When you are ready to transport him, simply close the door to the crate. BE QUICK about it, of course, and be sure to lean firmly against the door while latching it so that he doesn't slam into it and burst from the crate. (Yes, this is dramatic language; when it happens in real life, it is even more dramatic, and very very fast.) Put clips or zip-ties on the latches to keep him from sliding them open.

You can also try building your relationship with the dog by sitting in there every day, with yummy high-value treats such as lunchmeat, freeze-dried liver, liver pudding, cheese, hot dogs, burgers, or other cooked meats to offer. Don't even try to touch him, at first; just be present and toss him a treat for any positive interaction he initiates. Looks at you? Treat. Comes closer? Treat. Even "acting less scared for a second" or lying down in the corner deserves a treat, in the early stages.

Also, dinner should be served by hand, especially when trying to bring a shy dog around. All good things come from you, and are eaten in your presence. In the first few days, if he is too stressed to eat with anyone around, you can try leaving a recently-worn shirt or sock with him so he gets used to your scent and associates it with his food. (Don't expect to get any clothing back in one piece, though.)

Over time, you will progress to getting him to DO things, in order to drive you to give him treats. A dog can be trained without ever having to be touched! Simply wait for a behaviour to be offered, perhaps a play-bow or a Sit, or eventually a bump of your treat-filled hand with his nose. Then say "YES!" enthusiastically the instant it happens (or use a clicker to mark it) and toss a great treat...or a piece of his dinner. You can then pair a command to the action, and start to ask the dog to perform it in order to get the treat. I've had rescue dogs I couldn't walk up and touch, who would Sit, Gimme Five, or otherwise interact with me in order to solicit a treat. This is *two way communication*, and it's important. Even coming up close to ask for food can be a triumph for a fearful dog.

Another great trick--a variation on a taming protocol for wild mustangs, actually--is the "Treat and Retreat" interaction. Approach the dog, and the instant he shows ANY improvement in behaviour, toss him a treat and back up a few steps (or even leave the pen). Both the treat and your retreat are rewards. "Positive behaviours" on the dog's part can include a change from pacing to not-pacing, wandering closer to you, sitting down, lying down, making eye contact, sniffing the last spot you stood or the last thing you touched (try to offer this opportunity by touching things and moving around occasionally), sniffing you, play bows, or any sort of voluntary interaction.

If the dog is too afraid to eat in your presence, you can approach at a distance that slightly pushes his current comfort zone--not enough to create panic, just enough that he looks at you warily--then "reward" him for any calm or social behaviours by retreating immediately. (In the beginning, even a lack of reaction can be an improvement over a fear response.) It may be helpful to read about 'Constructional Aggression Treatment' for a better understanding of this method. Don't let the name mislead you; it was developed to work with dog-on-dog aggression, but that issue is most often fear-based, and the process works on other fear-based behaviour as well.

Again, if you have time to spend with the animal before he needs to be handled, by all means try these things first.

If the dog won't crate or leash willingly and you're out of time, you will need to corner him. In a small area, this is easily accomplished; just be sure to maintain NON-THREATENING body language the entire time. For example: don't look directly at him, approach sideways, move slowly and calmly. Don't reach over his head, other than to gently drape a blanket or towel over it...if he can't see you, it can have a calming effect, and the towel also makes it much harder for him to deliver a fear bite. It is very important to read up on, and fully understand, canine body language and calming signals before ever attempting to corner a fearful dog (or any dog, really).

Once towelled, the dog can be picked up and put in a crate...or he can be leashed, if he is leashable or a crate is not an option. I strongly recommend TWO collars and TWO leashes for walking fearful dogs. This way, if he "gator rolls", or one set breaks, or a collar isn't on right, or any other malfunction--you still have the dog. The vast majority of dogs are docile enough to be walked out by one person. However, if he is extremely strong, or gets upset and "climbs the leash" to win his escape by attacking the handler (rare, but it happens) then you can have one person hold each leash, so he can't get to either one. This also works for more aggressive dogs-and in most instances beats a catch pole, hands down. A catch pole will almost always trigger a "freaking out" response-the dog lashes out, loses all rational thought, bloodies his mouth or chips his teeth, fights much harder than he would fight leashes, risks biting a person, risks choking himself, and may never like you again. He may not even like anyone who vaguely reminds him of you-or he may generalise his experience to a distrust of all humans. As you might expect, I am not a fan of the catch pole. There are circumstances where it may be necessary, but I would consider it a last resort. One can get MUCH better results with the Y-Pole, which will be discussed later on.

In a large fenced area, you could easily pursue a dog all day and never catch him. If the dog is only slightly afraid, you might have success with sitting calmly on the ground beside a bowl filled with extra special food: wet cat-food, perhaps, or a pile of finely chopped cooked meat. Warming the food offering makes it easier for the dog to smell from a distance. He might eventually come up and let you clip a leash to him while he is eating. If he has no collar, you can try to slowly drape a slip lead over his head--or use a soft leash threaded back through its own handle, which does not need to slide over his head at all but can simply be draped over his neck before threading back through itself. (You'll want to add a second collar they just do. Dogs are sensitive that way. Focusing on him will make him uncomfortable and thwart your chances of this working.

Some dogs can even be "talked into" allowing a leash, by having a quiet, reassuring conversation with them and sending mental pictures of the dog in a more comfortable or enjoyable situation. I remember one shy wolfdog I went to pick up on short notice, while I was on the road with no equipment besides a leash. His owner had fallen into trouble, and he and his companion had been left behind in a large fenced area, without a steady water supply in the summer heat. I knew that I couldn't catch him without his cooperation, so I sat down and quietly explained to him that I wanted to take him somewhere safe, where he could get regular food and water, and sent visualisations of him lying under cool shade trees and playing in a doggie pool. Within minutes, he walked hesitantly up to me...still afraid, but willing to give me a chance.

Alternately, you could bring over several friends, and try to slowly corral the dog into one corner of the yard. Everyone should close in gradually, while maintaining calm energy and not staring at him. The person he seems most comfortable with should do the final approach and leashing.

If you don't have the luxury of a large group, and the pen doesn't have a secure "double entry" or other small area attached to it, then you will need to temporarily subdivide the yard using fencing material. It should be high enough that the dog can't easily jump it--at least 4 to 5 feet. With large yards and limited fencing, your best bet is usually to cut the yard in two sections, trapping the dog on one (hopefully smaller) side, then run an additional strip of fencing diagonally so you have a small "dead end" he can be corralled into.

The more people you can gather, the less fencing you will probably need...but you still want a small--no more than a few feet wide--alleyway to finish up in, in most cases. This will help convince the dog there is no hope of escape, and he will lie down in resignation. (If this is a dog you need to catch more than once, perhaps for behavioural rehabilitation - http://Search.usa.gov/search?affiliate=usagov&query=behavioural%20rehabilitation or ongoing medical care, you can install a semi-permanent "capture zone" that the dog becomes accustomed to being handled in.)

Once the dog goes down, you are free to leash, crate, or examine as needed. Just remember to move slowly and maintain a non-threatening posture. At this point, you may find that you can set a crate in front of the dog (with the open door towards him) and push it towards him slowly-and he will walk right in. This works especially well in an animal shelter, in the kennel runs. If the dog glances furtively OVER the crate, you might need to set something on top of it so he doesn't sail it. If you have a specific corner in mind, you can also set the crate up ahead of time in that area, and corner/towel/scoop him up right in front of the crate if he doesn't walk in on his own.

If you have an animal who refuses to crate, and picking him up is not an option, you can also thread his leash through the bars of the crate, and use it to guide or pull him in. This is more of a last resort, since it is confrontational...but if the dog cannot be lifted, or will fight off the blanket and try to bite, it may be worth considering.

Mildly fearful dogs may also be improved by feeding 1-2 melatonin tablets (3mg) and/or 1-2 Benadryl tablets (25mg) in a meatball. It won't put them to sleep, but can take the edge off. Wait 20-30 minutes after medicating before trying to catch the dog up. Some vets will prescribe Acepromazine, if you ask-but I would discourage the use of this drug. Ace rarely works well on serious cases (the ones who really need it). They can work right through it, and will run and run until you finally go away, then sleep it off. Ace can make some dogs more aggressive--they still want to avoid you, but are less inhibited and may fight back--and the bottom line is that it does not reduce fear. It simply makes the animal less in control of his body ("doped up")-so he is still terrified, still trying to escape, but out of balance and more likely to hurt himself or you in the process.

Most of the time, if your body language is good and you let the dog's body language set the pace, you can avoid being bitten during a basic capture. However, some dogs have better bite inhibition than others. For those dogs who make it clear they will bite when you invade their space, I recommend the use of a "Y-pole"--a tool developed by Global Wildlife Resources to humanely work with ferals and frightened shelter dogs. They have an excellent video online that demonstrates the use of the Y-pole to capture a "Mexican wolf" for medical care, and I strongly suggest you check it out! Dr. Mark's site hosts what is probably the BEST educational footage out there on this specialised and poorly known topic, and his extensive experience really shows. The basic method of capture is one I've had success with for many years myself, but the Y-pole is a highly useful addition to one's toolbox! Please note that the dog knows the Y-pole is not your hand, so will bite it even when he would not have bitten you. What the pole does offer is a safe outlet for his instinct to defend himself; he can redirect his anxiety onto it, and you can safely invade his space without taking the risk. It also provides psychological dominance that keeps him passive and immobilised while you are examining him or preparing him for transport.

Beware: once in a while, you meet a dog who will come AT you when cornered, rather than surrender. If you get this dog, by all means get out of his way and let him pass-if you grab out at him or try to pin or block him while he is in a panic, you are very likely to be bitten. (He probably won't mean to, but panic is a funny thing. It gives you "tunnel vision" and impairs your better judgment--even when you are a dog.) Try again next time, and more slowly or with a better plan. Usually when a dog bolts, it's because you didn't allow him enough time to calm himself before your approach. If he is still spinning in circles, running into the fence, trying to climb or dig, or otherwise showing escape behaviours, he is NOT ready for you to close in and towel, leash, or Y-pole him yet.

Be sure to allot plenty of time to the effort, because it will probably take much longer than you think. Don't do this sort of work when you are time-pressured; if you are angry, impatient or anxious, it will rub off on the dog and make things worse.

Moving Merlin
Here is a working example of a large-area capture, with a very fearful older dog who has a low bite threshold when cornered. He also will "hamstring" if you turn your back on him-that's the stage of fearfulness and semi-socialisation that he came here in. Merlin needed to be transferred to another enclosure, so chainsaw work could be done near his initial one. I was unable to film, having only one other person to work with, but will describe in detail. (Be sure to watch the film on using the Y Pole before continuing, so the description will make more sense.)

Size up and prep the situation:
Merlin was in an oblong pen with another dog, a social female. She was removed prior to rounding up Merlin, to prevent her from playing into things in any way, and to prevent her from escaping while he was being removed from the enclosure.

The fencing is 8' tall, so there should be no concerns - http://www.travelwitheaseblog.com/?s=concerns of escape during capture. There is a 6' tall semi-permanent "capture zone" in this pen, along with a standing fence panel strategically placed to keep him from running circles around his shelter...so additional fencing did not need to be brought in.

As mentioned, he is a bite risk in close quarters-so is a prime candidate for the Y-poles.
Merlin was to be leashed, not crated. Transporting the crate would have been very difficult under our conditions, and Merlin had been leash trained as a pup. The two leashes needed to be held by two different people, because of the bite risk.
All materials (Y-poles, blanket, collars, 6 foot leashes) were gathered in advance and placed into the enclosure.

The pen he was to be transported *to* was prepared, and a clear route from one pen to the other was verified. Meanwhile, Person 2 entered the enclosure in advance, simply to stand with him and let him acclimate to the idea of people in his space.

Cornering:
Both people slowly and calmly walked towards Merlin, allowing him to run around and blow off some excess energy. After minute or two, Merlin ran up the alleyway that leads to the capture zone. Both people moved smoothly in behind him, blocking his exit but not advancing any further than necessary. You want the atmosphere to remain as casual as possible when cornering. Direct stares or excitement are very counterproductive. This is not a confrontation or a battle of wills; you're simply standing in the dog's way, and since he wants to get further from you, he'll walk closer to the capture zone or corner.

As Merlin moved forward towards the desired area, we slowly closed in behind him. The Y-poles were held down low and somewhat sideways, to provide extra "size" to our presence. Any time Merlin showed panic or escape behaviours, we stopped moving and averted our eyes until he relaxed. Eventually, he walked into the small corral area and sat down. We moved closer, little by little, until near enough to touch him with the poles (perhaps 3 feet).

Leashing:
Once he was sitting calmly before us, the first Y-pole entered Merlin's space. He had been Y-poled once before, and had bitten it fiercely and repeatedly...but this time he felt less threatened by it (familiarity, perhaps?) and only wrinkled his lip and air-snapped. After he had settled enough that stroking him lightly with one prong did not get any response, the pole was placed on Merlin's neck, and we waited calmly until he lay down at our feet. The second pole was used to gently pin his flank, and he did not even attempt to move at all after that, until we removed both poles.

Person 2 held both poles in place while I laid a blanket carefully across Merlin's head, then threaded the two collars around his neck and snapped them shut. The collars I used were quick-release chain martingales from Cetacea. These are excellent tools for working with a dog who is not wearing an inescapable collar, and is likely to object if one is slipped over his face and head. They constrict to some degree when pulled, to keep from being thrown off if the dog panics (not enough to choke the dog)...and the only accessible part is the chain, which cannot be chewed through in seconds the way a nylon martingale strap can.

The leashes were already attached. I handed one leash to Person 2 and took back one of the poles, and we stood quietly for a minute to prepare for our exit and let Merlin recover from being touched.

Exit:
With our exit carefully planned to keep both people out of harm's way (in the event Merlin had sprung to his feet and bolted away snapping), we withdrew the poles and stepped backwards and out of the corner in opposite directions. This positioned Merlin directly between us, without enough slack leash to reach either one of us. He stood up, and we walked slowly towards the gate, one step at a time, keeping Merlin halfway between us with little to no slack in the leashes. He was walked out of the enclosure and into the waiting temporary pen, which he ran into on his own, given the chance. After a few minutes' recovery time, we entered that pen and poled him a second time, to unsnap the collars. Upon our leaving the pen, Merlin was actually quite calm. The next day, I was able to sit with him and see unusually calm behaviours, as well. If anything, this method IMPROVED our relationship instead of destroying it.

A few general tips to come away with:
-Plan your capture carefully and 'rehearse' it before involving the dog.
-Body language is PARAMOUNT; telling the dog what you're doing (via clear and non-threatening body language) makes all the difference in gaining his cooperation.
-Use appropriate tools. Different dogs may have different needs.
-Double collars, double leashes. Consider heavy duty hardware and chain martingales.
-Wire crates should always be reinforced. (Standard duty airline crates can be destroyed by pulling the door in, or by chewing out through ventilation holes or gaps at the door, so they are not necessarily a better solution.)

If your unsocial or fearful dog has escaped from his fence and is at large, you may be in a much tougher situation.

If he has a penmate or is bonded to other dogs on the property, he probably won't go far. You can try leaving the pen open and putting tempting food in there; another dog-especially a puppy!-tied to the far side of the fence as "bait" can also draw him back in. You may be able to sneak up from behind and close the gate, or rig up a string to close the gate from a distance. (High test fishing line makes great, invisible string.) Be creative, and use your landscape to your advantage.

If you sit or lie down quietly, with a friendly leashed dog or delicious treats, you may also get him to come close enough for you to clip a leash on.

-NEVER chase a loose dog! You won't catch him and he will only run further and faster, and be more afraid. (However, if you run the other way, the dog may actually follow you.)

If he has escaped your car, or otherwise ended up far from home, check to see if there is anyone in the area with a securely fenced yard (or even a garage) who would let you use it to lure him into. There may also be a tennis court, baseball field, or other "corral" nearby you can use. Again, consider using a friendly dog as a lure. Some loose dogs, even fearful ones, will follow a leashed dog almost anywhere, so you may be able to lead him into a fenced area or even a building. In fact, ferals and primitives tend to adore other dogs, especially puppies.

Long distance loose dogs need to be caught up almost immediately. Ask your local Animal Control or animal rescue if you can borrow a "live trap", or buy one if you can't borrow. Set up feeding stations if the dog is lost in a wilderness area, to keep him coming back to the same spot so he can be trapped. Animal Control may also be willing to tranquilise the dog at this point, since it is an urgent situation.

"Field capture" is often your worst case scenario, and you may not get a lot of chances to get it right. If you have access to someone with experience, so much the better! If not, be sure to set up a careful game plan, with backup options, to give you the best chance of bringing the dog home safely. You might also want to watch some of Eldad Hagar's excellent videos on capturing strays!

Acclimating a frightened animal usually goes much smoother and quicker if he is kept in the house, where there is far less external stimulation. If this is an option, so much the better--just be aware that fear strongly inhibits behaviour, so you won't know his true personality (and how he acts with other dogs, cats, and children) until he is less afraid, or you are not present. It is not uncommon for a fearful dog to do nothing but lie around while you are watching, then fight with another dog or kill the family cat as soon as you leave the house. Panicked dogs may climb up on things to reach an escape route. They're attracted to any window left open, and on rare occasion have been known to open the window themselves! They can also tear out the screen, or even break the window glass if they want out badly enough. Always supervise these dogs carefully, or secure them in a crate, kennel, or excellent fence.

Remember that excellent containment is critical when working with fearful dogs. A metal crate should be reinforced with heavy wire at all joints to prevent him from collapsing it, and a clip put on the latch to keep him from sliding it open. Fencing must be gone over extensively for weaknesses; research "husky fencing" or "wolfdog containment" for a multitude of stories on how easily a determined dog can defeat the average fence!

When carrying a (smallish) dog or unsocial puppy in your arms, be sure to always have him on a leash attached to your wrist, for backup. If he kicks off and tries to run, you will s...till have hold of him. If you are walking a larger dog, remember: two collars, two leashes. Safety first! The one time you fail to latch a gate or double-leash the dog, may be the time that counts...and if he gets away from you, he may be gone forever.

As you can see from this article, highly fearful dogs can be an enormous amount of work and responsibility. While it is incredibly rewarding to see them blossom into the special beings they were meant to be, the decision to adopt or foster one should not be taken lightly. It can take a lot of time and energy to bring them around; there are no quick fixes.

Please remember, too, that every decision in life carries risk. These suggestions come directly from my own experiences and observations over the years. I cannot guarantee that my ideas will work well for your situation; I offer them merely as possibilities to consider, as food for thought. I also want to stress that it is CRITICAL to understand how dogs communicate, before attempting to work with the troubled ones. With any reactive animal, there is always a risk of injury to you or the animal. Always use your own best judgment when implementing these, or any other, techniques.

If you have a fearful dog in your world, thank you for caring. I hope that sharing my experiences will help you lead him into a better life.