Learn How Traps Work: It Could Save Your Dog’s Life

There are any number of things that can go wrong, sometimes horribly, when we take our dogs into the field. They can run through a fence and get torn up, run through a cattle guard or hole and break a leg, run into a porcupine or skunk, inhale dangerous seeds, get bitten by a snake, trampled by a cow, run over by a car, get overheated, dehydrated or completely lost, the list is pretty much endless in terms of potential dangers.

All you can do is take it on faith that those things won’t happen while hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. That’s why most of us do things like carry first-aid kits on all our hunting trips and plugging the phone numbers of local vets into our cell phones.


But here’s one more thing that every one of us should familiarize ourselves with: what to do if one of our dogs gets caught in a body-gripping trap. Here’s an absolutely heartbreaking story from last week’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune about a rash of dogs dying in traps.

From the story:
Doug Snyder won’t forget the day he loaded a .22 rifle and shot his dog at point-blank range. He and his two teenage sons were walking along a forest road near their cabin east of Hinckley in late December when Polka Dot, their 9-year-old setter-Lab mix, suddenly howled in distress. Bolting headlong into the woods, Snyder found his dog 60 yards away with its head and neck caught in a deadly body-gripping trap. “She was standing there, bleeding from the snout,” he said. Frantically, Snyder and his 16-year-old son struggled to free their pet before it suffocated. But two powerful springs held the trap’s jaws tightly closed. “We fought like hell to get it off, and we couldn’t,” he said. “She was melting away.”
Desperate to end Polka Dot’s suffering, he sent his son to the cabin for his .22. “I sat and petted her,” said Snyder, 48, of St. Anthony. Then he loaded the gun and shot his dog. “There was nothing else to do,” he said. “It was devastating. She was a great dog. I loved to walk in the woods with her.” Polka Dot is among at least six hunting dogs that have been killed in traps in Minnesota since last fall.

That number could be higher because some pet owners don’t report the losses and others might never find their dogs, and the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t track such cases. Body-gripping traps such as 220 Conibears — with 7-inch openings, large enough for most dogs to fit their heads into — have been around for 50 years. But the recent rash of dog deaths has spurred some hunters to call for stricter regulations, and the DNR will hold public meetings this winter on the topic. The traps usually are baited with meat, and when an animal pokes its head in to get the bait, the trap springs.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never run across a trap while out hunting with my dogs, but of course that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t ever happen. If you have hunting dogs you owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself with traps and how to get your dog out of them. You probably know how to get a dog out of a leg-hold or a snare, but the Conibear traps require some specialized knowledge. You can either purchase a setting tool for about ten bucks (just Google “conibear setting tool”, they’re sold everywhere) or you can learn how to do it with your hands or a strap to compress the springs.

Here’s a very good breakdown on trap extraction from “Terrier Man” Patrick Burns and here’s an excellent instructional video from Scott Linden at Scott Linden Outdoors.

I’m even considering buying a Conibear 220 just to practice getting it open quickly. That may sound foolish, but the $15 or so the trap will cost me is a small price to pay for the knowledge that may save my dog’s life. Has anyone ever had their dog caught in a Conibear-type trap? Ever encountered one?