The Most Complete Information Source On Y Poles

global-wildlife-resources-y-pole-human-animal-capturingThe Challenge And Need
The Traditional Catch Pole
What Is A Y Pole?
Who Will Benefit From The Y Pole?
How Does It Work?
How To Use A Y Pole
What Not To Do With A Y Pole
What The Y Pole Cannot Do
How Can I Make A Y Pole?
Where Can I Purchase A Y Pole?

Here is a great article on the Y Pole “One Cool Tool” published in Animal Sheltering Magazine Sept/Oct 2010.

The Challenge and Need

A variety of professionals and volunteers around the world are challenged when working with fearful dogs.  HOW DO YOU HANDLE A DOG WHO REFUSES TO BE HANDLED?!  Animal control officers (ACOs), animal shelter staff, disaster responders, volunteers rescuing dogs from puppy mills or hoarding cases, and dog handlers for trap/neuter release programs around the world all must work with dogs who do not want to be handled.  They wish to do this in as calm and compassionate manner as possible, but the dog refuses to cooperate.  One solution is the Y pole, which brings safety and confidence to the dog handler so they can relax and work with the dog in a calm way.

The Traditional Catch Pole

The traditional or common option for working with uncooperative dogs is the catch pole (also known as the control pole or the snare pole).   Here in the U.S., every shelter in North America either has a catch pole or knows what it is. It is the tool most ACOs and shelter staff resort to when a dog refuses to be handled.

The catch pole is a valuable and fundamental tool for the ACO, allowing an officer to work safely with potentially dangerous dogs and to catch a dog who may not be captured with a leash. With the catch pole, an ACO can catch a dog out in the open so that the animal does not have to be cornered—this is one of its most important assets. And when necessary, the catch pole also allows an ACO to work by herself, because it controls a dog in every direction he might try to move.

Unfortunately, the catch pole is not very forgiving and has great potential for abuse. It is an unforgiving tool because if things go wrong and the dog vigorously fights the snare pole, he can become seriously injured and or even killed. And it is not forgiving because, in effect, the snare pole motivates a dog to fight to protect himself, since a loop around the neck is very threatening and can easily inspire a dog’s fear.

In addition, the control that the catch pole provides allows significant potential for abuse. Having problems with a dog? Grab the catch pole. Is the dog fighting hard? Fight back harder. If a shelter worker or ACO is not extremely attentive to the amount of force he uses, this tool can actually escalate the energy and aggravate the fight between human and dog. Without a deliberate and conscious approach, the catch pole can motivate the handler to be sloppy or overly aggressive.

See video of dog killed by snare pole. Caution: This footage may be disturbing.

For this reason, the catch pole should be used only as a last resort—as often as possible, shelter staff and ACOs should seek humane alternatives.  Used correctly, the Y pole can  often be a wonderful alternative.  I have used the Y pole effectively with hundreds of dogs and wolves, and I believe that every professional working with dogs should know about the Y pole.  That is why I have published this Y Pole Page and teach about the Y pole.


The Y pole is a more humane, effective, and safer tool for handling fractious dogs in animal shelters. When you bring the Y pole into your shelter, you are not just adding another tool to work dogs, you are choosing to incorporate a compassionate and respectful relationship with every dog that comes into your shelter.

What is the Y Pole?

The Y pole is simply a “Y” shaped metal pole with a long handle that is commonly 4.5 feet (1.4 m) in length with 6 inch (16.5 cm) tines or forks.  The Y pole can me made to any size to match the size of the dog. (See How to Make a Y Pole below)  The tines are heavily padded so the dog’s teeth never touch the metal.

Who Will Benefit From the Y Pole?

First of all, the dogs will benefit from improved compassionate handling.

The Y pole is an essential tool for animal shelters.  In the shelter, the Y pole can replace the catch pole virtually 100% because the dog is already contained within the building.  If a dog comes into the shelter and becomes aggressively defensive or dangerous, the Y pole can bring calmness and control to diffuse the situation.

Dog rescue programs saving unsocialized dogs from puppy mills or hoarding cases can “extend a hand” to these dogs with the Y pole (which is an extension of your hand) so they can be handled, carried, or crated for transport to a shelter.

Disaster responders often work with dogs who are traumatized, confused, and even injured.  The Y pole often allows the disaster responder to get their hands on the dog so it can be rescued.

Spay/neuter and trap/neuter/release programs (animal birth control programs) around the world struggle with capturing and handling street dogs (feral dogs).  Dog catching becomes dangerous and stressful for both humans and animals. Y poles cannot catch free-ranging dogs and so nets or traps are the principle capture method, but there are many situations where the dog is already contained and must be handled.  Handling dogs that are netted can be dangerous and the Y pole on the net can reduce struggling.  Many programs hold dogs after surgery in kennels or common rooms so they must be handled a second time in order to return them to where they were caught.  The Y pole solves many of these problems, reduces the stress, increases safety for both dog and handler and allows the spay/neuter programs to handle dogs in a compassionate way that is in sync with their mission.

The Y pole is good for many different canids.  I first learned about the Y pole by handling wild and captive wolves (and coyotes).  Many programs work with captive wolves including zoos, captive breeding programs, wolf education programs, and private collections.  It is their responsibility to handle the wolves at least once a year for annual physical exams and vaccinations.  The traditional and most common method for catching captive wolves is by netting them.  I urge wolf managers to first try to catch the wolf with the Y pole.  If the wolf chooses to submit you will have offered a quieter safer capture method and the wolf may learn that the Y pole is the best option and may be more likely to submit with future handling. The wolf may continually panic and never choose to stop long enough to be a candidate for the Y pole.  If that is the case, the wolf must be netted.  Even then, as soon as the wolf is netted, a Y pole over the net will reduce how much the wolf struggles.

Catching a Mexican Wolf Using Y Poles

Taught by Dr. Mark Johnson DVM on location at Dakota Zoo, Bismarck, ND Watch the video here


The origin of the Y pole in it’s current form was apparently developed in the 1980’s at the Wildlife Science Center near Forest Lake, MN by Peggy Callahan and her husband Mark Beckel. The Wildlife Science Center is a non-profit organization with captive wolves and other wildlife providing valuable environmental education and research. Their staff has a vast amount of knowledge on canid behavior and captive and free-ranging wolves. Peggy suspects that the Y pole may have had its origin with trappers or early field biologists who might have picked up large branches to assist with holding an animal down while caught in a trap.   The more I used this tool with other captive wolf programs the more I realized how important it was to promote.  I then began using the Y pole with feral (street) dogs and fear aggressive dogs in animal shelters.

How Does It Work?

The Y pole is not a pin stick—it is not used to physically force the animal down. Rather, it is an extension of the human hand that can be used to safely and compassionately enter into the animal’s personal space, touch him, and convince him to relax. Used properly—with dominance and compassion—the Y pole’s control is 75%  psychological and only 25% physical. An handler’s calm manner and smooth movements will allow her to touch the dog while communicating to him that it is safe to submit.

One of the main reasons the Y pole works on dogs is because of their pack mentality.  In the wild, dogs and other canids quickly learn to submit to more dominant animals in the pack. The Y pole placed across the dog’s neck imitates the same pressure it could get from the jaws of a dominant dog.

When the Y pole is used properly, there is nothing punitive or demeaning for the dog. With this compassionate extension of the hand, an interaction can actually build more trust and tolerance between the dog and her handler.  When used properly, the handler is interacting with the dog in a “give and take” manner to match the personality of the fearful dog.

Many people learning about the Y pole have said that to successfully use it, they have to redefine their concepts, change habits, and interact with each dog in a whole new way.  The Y pole requires us to invite the dog to participate in the handling rather than continuing our usual habit of forcing ourselves on the dog.  And people have told me that the Y pole embodies their desire to work with fearful dogs with calmness, compassion, and respect and has the potential to change the dog handling culture of their entire program.

How to Use a Y Pole

Setting Up the Situation

To successfully handle a dog with a Y pole, the dog must be contained. She can be in a large pen or room, or in a small kennel. If the animal is in a large pen, you must reduce the space available to her; a “wall” of calm people can slowly move a dog into a corner. But be sensitive and responsive to the dog’s behavior and personality. Instead of putting steady pressure on the dog as you move her and continuing that way, move in waves. Take a few steps, then stop and settle. Take another few steps, then stop and settle. With most dogs, you can do this in a way that calms the animal and lowers everyone’s energy. (See the video above, Catching a Mexican Wolf Using Y Poles).

Approaching the Dog

It is best if you have three people on hand, though two can be effective. Two people carry Y poles, and one carries a towel. The lead person will first greet the animal and will eventually use the pole on the neck. This is all about guiding the animal while helping her feel safe to cooperate. If you are calm and relaxed, it will help calm the dog.

If the dog is a candidate for the Y pole, she will eventually settle into a corner. She may be standing or lying down, but she will not be trying to flee with your every movement.

Hold the Y pole so the padded tines are directly up and down. Keep the fork at the dog’s eye level or slightly lower, and slowly move toward the dog, a few steps at a time, then stop and settle. Each time, move a few steps, then settle and allow the dog to recognize that she’s still safe as you move closer. This—moving into the animal and moving with the animal at the same time, without scaring her—is the most difficult part to learn.

As you move, do not focus on catching or controlling the dog. Focus on greeting the animal with kindness so she feels safe. Remember: Think of the Y pole as a compassionate extension of your hand; let the animal know that the Y pole is not a threat. Take your time.

Engaging the Dog

Move the pole toward the corner of the dog’s mouth and let her bite the Y pole if she wants to. Don’t react—when she bites, do not pull back with the pole. That will only encourage her to bite more and will make her feel less safe. Let her chew on it until she gets bored. As she settles, consider rubbing the tip of one fork below her ear and later on the neck, like petting. Let her relax and accept the situation.

Once she settles or submits, pet her a few more times with the Y pole, then gently slide the pole across her neck, pause, and relax. At this time, consider covering her head with the towel, or use the second Y pole on her hip and then apply the towel. Covering the eyes is important because it reduces the dog’s stress and increases your safety.

Be aware of the vertical angle of your handle. If your handle is too high, the dog might be able to slip under the Y pole. If it is too low, there may be an opening above the Y pole.

With a Y pole in place and a towel on the head, the animal can be handled in many ways. You can examine a surgical site, conduct a physical exam, give vaccinations and minor treatments, or administer chemical capture drugs with a hand syringe or pole syringe. You can also physically restrain her with a head-cover and hobbles (a belt-like strap used to safely and humanely restrain a dog while she’s being carried), so she can be moved to another location. By placing the Y pole in front of you and guiding the dog in a soft way, you can also use it to guide her into a transport crate or into another kennel, if there is an open path to it.

What Not to Do With the Y Pole

– Don’t poke the animal, or use it in a way that decreases her sense of trust and safety.

– Don’t approach the dog with two Y poles at once. That is like two people talking in each of your ears. The person using the Y pole on the hips should be a little behind the person using the pole on the neck. The neck person is in charge.

– Don’t be tense—the dog can feel your tension and will be more tense. Teach yourself to relax. Take a slow breath, and consciously relax your shoulders.

What the Y Pole Cannot Do

The Y pole cannot catch free-ranging dogs. The dog must be confined—to a room, to a large pen. It will work in most restricted spaces—but there must be some degree of confinement in order for the psychological restraint to be effective.

– The Y pole is not effective with every dog. Some dogs may be too skittish and leap away any time the Y pole is moved in their direction. Some “alpha dogs” may refuse to submit. If an alpha dog must be handled, then the Y pole can be used to restrain or distract the dog long enough to give anesthetics with a syringe pole.

But some of what the Y pole cannot do is good: You cannot harm dogs the way that you can with a catch pole. If a problem occurs, you simply back away and start again.

The Y pole also cannot be used in a fast way or at the pace of the handler. The Y pole must be used at the dog’s pace. This is a good thing, because instead of forcing a dog to cooperate, we are asking the dog to cooperate.  It’s more respectful, more compassionate, and more humane.

Practice with friendly dogs to get a feeling for how to connect with the animals and successfully interact with them. Although it is very difficult using the Y pole with a goofy, friendly dog who only wants to play, it is great practice, and when properly used, it will not be stressful for the dog.

Animal shelters, spay/neuter programs, and groups responding to disasters and hoarding cases often have to handle difficult dogs who cannot be safely caught with bare hands. Too often these situations turn into a fight, with animals injured and handlers bitten. The ideal solution is to handle the dog in a calm, respectful manner that is effective, humane, and safe for both people and the dog. Give the dog a chance to cooperate. Reach for the Y pole, calm yourself, and enjoy the improved interactions that are possible.

How can I make a Y-Pole?

You can either make a Y pole yourself or purchase them.  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 dense foam  – tube foam used for insulating water pipes works best.  Lastly, cover with many, many layers of tape.  For directions on how to make a Y Pole – visit our Free Training Library.

Where can I buy a Y-Pole?

For your convenience, GWR provides a Y pole that is strong, inexpensive, light, and compact (2-piece handle).  It is unfinished so you can modify it to fit your needs.  It is good to have some with shorter tines and the unfinished tines can be cut to a desired length before wrapping. Since it is unfinished you can purchase one and show it to your local welder to make more if you wish. Visit our GWR Products Store to  purchase on-line.  The Y pole comes complete directions for how to wrap a Y pole.

You can also purchased Y poles from Heart of the Earth Animal Equipment or Animal Care Equipment Services.  These are finished, strong, and durable.  They can be too heavy for most dog work but are excellent for captive wolves.

Visit our You Tube channel to see Dr. Mark teaching about the Y pole with friendly street dogs