Website dedicated for hard to trap dogs – hardtotrap.wordpress.com
Waukegan ACO built a guillotine door to a dog house to capture a “lost” dog named Tulip.
We have been following the story of Toby, a shy lost Australian Shepherd who bolted from the sound of fireworks on July 4th. We hope we have given you some tips and ideas on how to effectively lure a shy, lost dog either back to where he went missing from or to a safe location where you can implement a plan to catch him. Remember, throughout the entire process, you should always keep your dog’s bed, smelly food, water and familiar-scented articles at the spot he went missing from – even if it is not his home. Many lost dogs do return on their own; so make it easy for him to find his way back.
This is the first of a few articles on humane trapping your lost dog. It is meant to be used for reference to help an owner whose dog is already coming reliably to a feeding station. If you aren’t at that point; please go back and read the previous articles first. We are going to begin at the end – what can go wrong, because it is important to understand the liability and seriousness of trapping BEFORE you begin.
Although humane trapping can be very successful it comes with a lot of risk and expense. If you are not prepared to commit to the process, don’t begin it. Come up with another strategy to find your dog.
Many owners want to rush out with a trap, throw it down on the ground, and expect POOF! their dog will be in it the next day. It is rarely that easy.
You MUST understand the risks. Remember: It’s a trap! It’s not a cage or a crate. The door comes down fast and hard and can injure or kill something that it strikes. Animals that are entrapped can panic and injure themselves. What all can go wrong?
How long does it take a trap to work? You may catch the dog in an hour. Or, it may take days, weeks or months. You won’t be able to trap in extreme weather conditions (heat or cold), so be prepared for lengthy delays; during which you must still replenish the feeding station and monitor the trail camera. Make sure you are prepared for the time, emotional and financial commitment involved with trapping.
You will need to check the trap several times a day. Ask yourself these questions:
You MUST have a plan in place for when you catch your dog. Think this through beforehand. The worst thing that can happen is you trap your dog and as you are taking him out of the trap, he slips away again. You may never get a second chance to trap him. Traps must be transported with the dog inside to a safe, enclosed place – a garage or vet clinic is ideal. Ask yourself before you begin:
Thinking this through before you begin is imperative to success and your dog’s safety. Next we will talk about choosing the best style and size humane trap for the job. Part 10
You’ve decided that you are prepared to accept the risk and expense of trying to trap your shy lost dog. If you aren’t aware of the risks or financial commitment involved, please read Part 9 of the series before you continue.
Choose your humane trap wisely. You may only get one shot at trapping your dog so make sure you set yourself up for success. You may be limited to what is available to rent or buy in your area, but if at all possible, follow these guidelines.
1. Size: Always choose a trap that your dog can easily stand up and turn around in. Larger is better than smaller. Some dogs won’t mind entering a small enclosed space, but some will: especially those that have been lost a long time or are distrustful and will want an escape route.
2. Doors: If at all possible choose a trap with a front and rear door. The rear door is used to access the bait and it is very handy. Otherwise you will physically have to crawl into a large dog trap, very awkward – especially on rainy or snowy days. With a smaller trap, you will need to have very long arms, or some kind of tongs to position the bait. The rear door can also help your dog become comfortable with the trap, and you can allow him access from both sides and use it as a shelter (more on this later).
3. Design: There are some large coyote traps on the market for a very cheap price at farm supply stores. Don’t waste your money and/or endanger your dog with these. They are flimsy and poorly designed. The trip plate is set in the middle of the trap instead of almost to the back, where it should be. We have heard of many incidences where the dog begins to enter but then gets suspicious. He has already stepped on the plate (because it is in the middle) and then starts to back out. The door isn’t all the way down so he manages to push his way out, bends the trap all apart, and is thereafter scared to go near a humane trap. Don’t risk it! Remember, you will have one shot at this. If your dog gets scared, then you will have to start all over with a new plan that doesn’t involve a humane trap.
4. Functionality: The trap should operate as smoothly and quietly as possible. Give it a few test runs by setting it and tripping it with a stick. If it isn’t working properly, don’t use it. The wire shouldn’t be all bent out of shape. When it is closed, and a dog inside, the dog shouldn’t be able to push his nose against the door and get it open enough to get his head or neck partway out. He could injure himself and panic.
There are some excellent brands of traps including TruCatch and Tomahawk. Havahart makes a large raccoon trap that is suitable for catching a small dog, probably up to about 20 pounds. Heart of the Earth Animal Equipment has a good website with a large selection of live traps. Again, make sure, you choose a trap large enough for the dog you are trying to catch.
If you are renting a trap from a shelter or animal control facility, be prepared to pay a deposit, a rental fee, and to sign a liability waiver. In smaller communities, you might also check with your local police department or town office. If they are in charge of animal control for the area, you may be able to rent a trap from then. The large raccoon trap from Havahart is available at many farm supply stores. If you have to purchase a trap online: start early. Traps are large and cumbersome to ship, so substantial shipping charges usually apply and delivery may be slow. Part 11
Choose the spot wisely, and you’ll have a better chance of successfully trapping your shy lost dog. Choose it poorly and it can be an exercise in futility. First and foremost, you MUST have the landowner’s permission to set a trap on his property. If you don’t, you are setting yourself up for a whole lot of legal trouble. Trapping can be risky to both wildlife, pets and people. Landowners need to be aware of their potential liability when they allow you to set a trap on their property.
Because of the liability, there are several places where you are unlikely to get permission. So be forewarned, you may want to choose a different spot. The places you are unlikely to get permission are:
We have the most success getting permission from a private homeowner, farmer or small business owner. Call them up and arrange to meet with them; explain your situation and show them a picture of your dog. Many private property owners will sympathize with you and give you the permission you need to set up a feeding station and a trap. Make sure they understand that you may be visiting at odd hours, several times a day. Otherwise, you may wear out your welcome quickly. An ideal situation, is when you can get easy access by a path or side road. Then you won’t have to be driving past their house at all hours of the day and night.
Now, where to actually put it? The site needs to be level and cleared of any debris that might stick up through the bottom of the trap and interfere with the trip plate. If it is a two door trap, you will need to have easy access to both sides. You don’t want to have to keep pulling it out and moving it to rebait it.
Make the trap “part of the landscape”. Look around and think like a shy, lost dog. They usually like to slink along the side of a building or a tree line. Positioning your trap along a building, fence line or tree line is usually a wise choice.
You don’t want it anywhere that the public can see it or may stumble across it. In fact, you NEVER want to disclose a trap location or a feeding station publicly – never on a Facebook page, in a blog, or to the media. Keep the location confidential because wanna-be heroes, reward seekers, and curious people can derail your plans very fast. Then you will be picking up and starting all over again. It is very frustrating and easier to avoid problems by keeping the details confidential.
Choose a spot where you can see the trap from a distance, possibly with binoculars. You can put a small square (about 4″) of white material on the door of the trap to help you determine from a distance if it has been tripped. The less you disturb the trap location, the better. Your shy, lost dog needs the confidence that he can visit the site, eat and relax without being disturbed. Part 12
You’ve rented or bought your trap to catch your shy, lost dog. Now all you have to do is go out and throw it on the ground, right? And your dog will jump in, right? Sorry, wrong. Again preparation is the key and we’ll try to walk you through it step by step.
Many people give up trying to trap their dog in frustration and it is generally because they haven’t taken the time to do it properly.
Here is what you will need in your trapping supply kit:
Quietly unload your equipment and trap with only one or two helpers. Remember, your dog has been visiting this location to eat and he might be lying in the woods watching you right now! Keep your voices down, get the trap set up and then get out of there as quickly as possible. You don’t want to frighten him away.
Choose your location based on what you learned in Part 12 of this series. Clear any debris from the ground. You may have to prune a few trees or remove any small plants that will poke up through the bottom of the trap. Securely lock the trap to a tree or solid object using your padlock and chain. The number one reason that shelters have stopped lending out traps is because they get stolen and not returned. Prevent that from happening and help the next person who has lost their dog and needs a trap! Make sure that everybody that is helping you has a key to the padlock or knows the combination.
In winter or inclement weather you will want to wrap the entire trap in a plastic tarp. This will provide your dog with shelter and prevent the bedding from getting wet. Leave both ends open so the dog can see through. Roll the trap in the tarp and use your electrical ties to secure it to the wire of the trap. You will have to punch small holes in the tarp with your scissors to push the electrical ties through. Get it really nice and tight. You don’t want the tarp to flap in the wind and scare your dog. Tape one of your dog’s flyers to the top so that anybody that stumbles across the trap knows what you are trying to do.
In summer, you might want to leave the trap unwrapped, for better air flow. It can also depend on the nature of the dog also. Some dogs enjoy the feeling of a “den”. Some will feel claustrophobic and prefer to feel like they have an escape route.
ALWAYS cover the entire floor of a trap. Lost dogs often have raw, sore, sensitive feet from travelling. They won’t want to walk on the wire floor. Make it easy and nice for them. Spread your hands and push down on the floor covering. If you can still feel the wire through the covering, so can your dog. You need to make it thicker. Make sure the floor covering fits well and doesn’t interfere with either the trip plate or the door. You might need to cut it with your scissors to fit. It shouldn’t hang out the front of the door.
If your dog has been lost a really long time and is in a very feral mode, you may want to use dried leaves or straw instead of something that smells too “domestic”.
Attach a white washcloth in the middle of the door of the trap using electrical ties. This will enable you to see from a distance if the trap has been tripped.
Next, bungee the trap open. In the next installment of this series, you will see why.
Sprinkle a few bits of hotdog around the front of the trap. Check your trail camera position to make sure that it will capture pictures of your feeding station and your trap. Ideally the two should be about twenty to thirty feet apart.
Give the trap and the ground surrounding it a light coating of Pam butter flavored cooking spray. This acts as a scent blocker and is very important if you have people helping you that your dog does not know. You can also buy scent blockers at hunting supply stores but Pam works just as well, is less expensive and readily available. Spray the area that you have walked on and back out of the area – lightly spraying it also.
Then get out of there! Your dog needs time to get accustomed to the look and smell of the trap. Don’t disturb him.
Notice, we didn’t discuss baiting the trap? That’s because we’re not ready to do that yet. In the next article, you will see why. Part 13
You’re all ready to set up your trap and catch your dog. This should be fast and easy, right? You’ve done all of the careful preparation and set up an inviting little “dog cave”. Your dog should appreciate that and jump right in, right? Sorry – wrong. This is the number one place that people are too impatient and then give up on the trapping process, claiming it “doesn’t work” or “my dog is too smart for the trap”.
Throwing a trap on the ground and hoping that your dog happens to jump in is like an outfielder closing his eyes and holding his ball glove open up in the air. Is there a chance that the ball will fall in it? Yes, I guess so. But there is a lot better chance of him catching the ball if he strategically uses all of his physical and mental powers to position himself to catch the ball. Remember, you have ONE chance to get this right. Make it count.
This is where “going slow will be faster than going fast”.
You already have your shy, lost dog coming to the feeding station. You are already seeing pictures of him eating on your trail camera. (if not, please go back and read those installments in the series) You have now added the trap to the “landscape” and it may take a few days for your dog to get accustomed to it. He will sense that something is different and strange. Your goal is to make that transition as easy as possible. Keep the feeding station at least 20 – 30 feet away from the trap at first. Use bungee cords or electrical ties to keep the trap open – so the door can’t come crashing down and scare him.
If you have a trap with two doors, you may want to remove the rear door so the dog can go all the way through at first. This helps with very claustrophobic dogs and encourages them to use the trap as a shelter and sleeping spot.
Watch your pictures. When he is eating at the feeding station comfortably, move the bowl closer to the trap. When he is comfortable with that – move it closer again. Within a few days, you should be able to put the food under the door of the trap. (that is the scary part for a lot of dogs). When he appears comfortable, move the bowl into the trap – just inside the entrance. But you still have it bungeed open. It can’t scare him. Finally move it to the back of the trap behind the trip plate. When you see that he is going all the way in the trap, eating and looking relaxed, you can set the trap. You should know what time he is coming to eat and you can set it just for that time period.
The above method called “luring the dog into the trap” will save you a lot of grief and frustration because:
Okay, we’re almost done. The last section will talk about baiting the trap, what works and what doesn’t work. Stay tuned, you’re almost done! Part 14
Finally! You have your humane trap for your shy lost dog set up. You have been feeding him at a feeding station and know his routine. He is comfortable with the trap being there because you have made it “part of the landscape”. You have been moving the bowl closer and closer to the trap and finally under the door of the trap. You are monitoring the progress from the pictures on your trail camera.
Still, for some dogs, taking the risk to go into the trap is a big step. It is scary. The longer they have been lost, the more distrustful they have usually become.
So baiting the trap with something absolutely scrumptiously delicious is important. There aren’t any hard and fast rules except one. Think SMELLY. You want the smell of the food to be so wonderful, so delectable, that your dog is willing to take the risk. This means no dry dog food! Dry dog food is not smelly. For some reason that we have yet to figure out, people want to put dry dog food in a trap. Sorry, it just doesn’t work well. We don’t care if it is the ultra premium dry dog food that costs $60 a bag and your dog gobbles up at home. It doesn’t have the sort of smell required to encourage your dog to take the risk.
So here are some better suggestions that have worked for us. We are sure you will also come up with some on your own:
The possibilities are endless. Walk through the hot deli section of your grocery store and sniff. What smells delicious? What smells irresistible? Remember, a dog’s sense of smell is at least 100 times better than a human’s. So you have the ability to draw your dog from a really long distance if you choose something smelly. Change it up. If something isn’t working and your dog doesn’t appear willing to “take the risk” try something else. Always make sure that your dog is getting some food at the feeding station though. You don’t want him to abandon the location out of frustration and move on.
Imagine you are in a restaurant and you haven’t eaten all day and are starving. The service is slow and nobody has come to take your order. The waiter passes by your table with a plate of steaming hot fresh rolls. He is distracted and you think: Maybe, just maybe I can sneak a roll off the plate and he won’t notice. You are “willing to take the risk”. That’s how you need your dog to feel.
If your dog is getting food from other sources also (very likely); you have to make sure your offering is better. You may have to find the other food sources and cut them off. This can be tricky and we’ll cover this in more detail in another article. But, regardless, you will have the best chance of success if you are offering the most delicious food that your dog has smelled in a long time.
Remember, don’t set the trap until you have seen on your trail camera pictures that your dog is comfortably going in and out and eating. This is your best chance for success and is much better than a hit or miss attempt which can scare your dog, and make him abandon the location. Then you have to start all over again somewhere else.
Toby, that shy Australian Shepherd who bolted from the sound of fireworks will be safely caught soon because you have carefully and patiently followed all of the steps to catch a shy, elusive dog. Good Work! Part 15
If all goes well and you have prepared carefully by following the steps in the previous articles, you may catch your dog very quickly! Or not.
Regardless, make sure that you are prepared when you head out to check a trap. Always carry these items and if somebody is helping you, make sure they have them also.
Approach the trap quietly with your leather gloves on. If you have used the white washcloth on the door of the trap, you should be able to see from a distance if it has been tripped. Or you can use your binoculars. If you get closer and see your dog inside, speak quietly to him and make what ever phone calls are necessary to get the help you need to lift the entire trap and dog into your vehicle to transport him to a secure location, preferably a vet clinic. You may want to slide a piece of plywood under the trap to make sure the wire floor doesn’t give way or bend when you lift it. Remember, you will be responsible for any damage to the trap when you return it.
Bungee the doors tightly closed (both front and back if the trap is a two door model). You don’t want a door to pop open when you are lifting the trap into a truck. Remember, this is very scary for your dog and he may struggle in an attempt to escape.
NEVER attempt to take your dog out of the trap. If he slips by you and escapes, you may never trap him again. Remember, your dog has been in survival mode. He may not recognize you or be happy to see you. He may do everything in his power to flee the area, including biting you.
When your help arrives, give them leather gloves to protect their hands and YOUR dog while you lift the trap. If your dog bites someone and they require medical attention, your dog may have to go into quarantine. Don’t put him through this stress – he is already dealing with enough! If the dog is a foster dog, he may lose all chances for adoption if he bites someone; and he may lose his life. Don’t take this chance! You can avoid a bite that breaks skin by wearing gloves.
Take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible! Many lost dogs will have internal parasites (worms) and ticks. They may have been exposed to tick-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease or Ehrlichiosis and your vet may recommend putting them on a course of antibiotics as a preventative measure. Also, your dog may be dehydrated. Your vet will give you good advice on how to rehabilitate him and get him back on a regular schedule of food and water.
If there is an animal other than your dog in the the trap, don’t despair! This is very common and has absolutely no bearing on whether you will trap your dog. Again, with your gloves on, unlatch the door and pull it open. Slip a bungee on it to prop it open and walk away. Go sit in your car and drink your coffee or check your emails. When you come back, whatever was in the trap will be gone. You will have to clean out the trap and refresh everything. Also, give it a light coating of Pam. This will block the scent of the animal and make it more enticing to your dog.
If you have caught your dog, congratulations! You have worked hard to successfully capture a shy, lost dog and we now ask that you pay it forward and share what you have learned with others that are going through this frustrating process. If you have not caught your dog, stay tuned, because in the next set of articles we will cover what can go wrong and recommendations that may help.