IndianAdventure dogs, gun dogs, shed hunters, hounds and game recovery trackers alike face potential hazards uncommon to most domestic canines given the nature of their trade… barbed wire fences, hidden holes, underwater beaver cuttings, gators, snakes, broken bottles or jagged metal hidden in grasses, only to mention a few of the more obvious. Now, we all have another to consider, traps.

With the return in recent years of fur prices, more trappers are afield, not just for predator control, mind you, but profit. The frequency of trap encounters with domestic dogs and cats prompted Grayson Schaffer, Senior Editor of Outside Magazine, to contact us to develop a few short video tips on the subject of the risk of traps to outside canines. These films coincide with an article (p.29) in the August, 2014 edition of Outside, entitled “No Where to Run.” Pictured is Wildrose Cooper, Grayson’s Lab, with his paw caught in a trap (a set-up photo, no worries here). Both the article by Ryan Krogh (also the owner of a fine Wildrose lab) and our involvement with the video tips prompted this issue’s article, “Traps.”

“In the past two years, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of incidents of dogs and cats getting caught in traps set to snare bobcats, coyotes, and other fur-bearing animals. These non-target species, in trapping lingo, have become unintended victims in a nationwide resurgence of something most people assumed had gone the way of the coonskin hat.” Outside, August, 2014. Trapping is back with a vengeance because fur prices have escalated primarily by demand from abroad (Russia and China). The article further explains that a coyote hide may now sell for $50 while a bobcat pelt may bring as much as $2100. Although I am told some hide prices are down a bit this summer given a warmer winter this past season abroad which helped in harvesting more local fur, this situation will likely be short lived.

Recently, we encountered two different trapping parties along the Little Buffalo River in Arkansas. One was asking permission to trap our stretch of the river and that of our neighbor. Another encounter occurred while floating the river just upstream from our property as we happened upon a pair along the river’s edge no doubt setting traps. I had no idea trappers were at work along the Little Buffalo in proximity to the Wildrose training grounds.

A single trapper may constitute quite a number of trap sets. In the shooting sports world, one hunter equals one gun. Not so with trappers. One guy may have numerous sets. According to Outside’s research, 39 traps is the average per trapper. Think of the multiples.

A Wildrose client told the story of his dog trapped while hunting upland birds along a field’s edge. He heard his dog in distress in thick cover. He arrived to find his dog’s head trapped in a powerful, large trap. He was alone and did not have the strength to free his Wildrose lab. The dog was lost on the spot. A tragic, terrible story that struck one of our own. The trap was a conibear trap, a device designed with enough power to break an animal’s neck and certainly it was large enough to kill this Gentleman’s Gundog.


Dog-proof Traps

smaller foot trapThere are traps commonly used in predator control that present little danger to sporting dogs. The cage-like traps that trip when the animal enters are among these. Another is the dog-proof coon trap. The trap catches the animal’s foot as it reaches in to grab the bait. Most average-size dogs’ paws won’t fit, but those of a coon or possum will.



A real danger to the adventure dog, retriever or any game dog is the snare trap. Snares are looped wire cables designed to catch a foot or loop around the animal’s neck. Snares are often used to trap beaver and otter at the water’s edge or other fur species along animal trails. When a dog is trapped by a snare, the loop closes tightly. The dog’s reaction is to twist and fight in panic. Therein lies the tragic danger of such an encounter. Some snares are a thin, metal cable. To release such a snare may require cutting with wire cutters, an item that may not be handy afield.


shep in snare snare by water



Foothold Traps

More common is the foothold trap which varies in size and type of jaws. They are designed to catch an animal’s foot. Some are anchored to keep the prey at the scene. Others have drag chains with hooks so the animal may run or move about hopefully with less chance of damage to the leg. Some foot traps have serrated teeth while others are smooth jawed, even off-set to prevent excessive damage to the animal that could facilitate an escape.



Death Traps

conibear trapConibear traps are powerful enough to break a dog’s neck, leg, even snap a small animal’s spine. These powerful traps are potentially very dangerous to sporting dogs of all breeds far more so than foothold traps. Some groups are moving to outlaw or restrict the use of these devices given their danger to non-target animals both domestic and wild.



Traps are normally set in runs (multiples) along paths, in water edges, trails, in ditches, under fences, any area frequented by target animals traveling or seeking food and shelter. Unfortunately, these areas are the same in which hunters and adventurers (fishers, hikers, etc.) find themselves. Trappers are supposed to keep their steel off public trails, but…

  • Adventure dogs should be controllable afield. Hikers, keep to the trails. Be able to recall your dog when off-lead. Avoid allowing your dog to freelance about sniffing off trail or along stream’s edges. Traps are set with very attractive scent so stay close to the beaten path.
  • Hunting dogs must handle. Be able to direct your dog out of an area or recall immediately. A dog that will handle may be kept out of a high-risk area.
  • Know the area. Public lands, float-able streams, creek banks, ditches, beaver dams or areas unfamiliar to a hunter or trekker offer a degree of danger. Any property you have permission to hunt may also be territory of a trapper. Perhaps that little obscure fact did not come to the mind of the property owner or guide with which you spoke. Ask if there are trappers about.

Know how to free your dog from a trap.

The Foot Trap

  1. If the dog is panicked, settle them, wrap your coat around the dog’s body and muzzle with a lead if necessary. (To create a lead muzzle, place the slip loop over the dog’s head at the base of the skull. Extend the line forward under the jaw, wrap around the muzzle over the lead repeatedly, then tuck the end of the lead back under the jaw. Hold the end securely.)

last pic

2.  Stand above the dog placing the trap on the ground.

3.  Grasping the dog’s leg, stand on both sides of the trap’s jaws to depress the spring lock bars that are holding/securing the jaws closed. By standing on both sides of the trap depressing the locking bars/springs, the pressure on the jaws will relax freeing the leg or foot.

4. Treat the injury as you would a laceration or possible broken bone.   If in doubt, see a vet.

The Conibear Trap

The Conibear trap is particularly dangerous as it can break bones or choke a dog in a matter of minutes. An immediate response is important. This video explains the procedures to free your dog but obviously time is of the essence.

Assuredly, these are excellent techniques to know but they were demonstrated in a sterile environment without the realistic complications that a sportsman will encounter in such situations which would likely include wind, rain, water, mud, blood, tangled foliage and a totally distressed animal in pain, injured and possibly violent. These realistic conditions combined with time sensitivity to get the animal out of the device may well complicate an effort to employ these tips.

Be wary these days of public lands, less-traveled paths in wilderness access, bushwhacking, crossing fences and ditches, along water’s edges where fur-bearing animals frequent and hunting grounds that could also be of interest to a trapper. The danger is real.

See “No Where to Run,” Outside, August, 2014.








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9 Responses to Traps

  1. Tim r Gifford says:

    Wow…how interesting. All of my duck and dove hunting takes place on private land, but for the last 20 years I have been hunting woodcock on land that is is in the public hunting program in the east Texas piney woods.
    Until this past season, I had never had a problem with a trap…but twice in one day, my Brittany and my Lab both were caught in traps- both of which were relatively easy to open up and smooth faced on the jaws…very scarey, but neither dog was hurt. I understand those trappers have as much right as us bird hunters do to be there…but they will never use those two traps again…to say I was upset would be an understatement.
    I did not realize the fur market has been on the upswing lately…great article and something I will keep in mind this upcoming hunting season.

    • wrbenmac says:

      Thanks. Hope it helps to keep a few good dogs out of traps. Awareness is the key. Share the article if you can just to let others know of the threat. thanks for the post. Mike

  2. I don’t worry too much about footholds. My dogs have been caught in them and I’ve caught myself in most sizes without any injury. The trap that is killing dogs in MN and some other states is the body grip trap or as we used to call them “killer traps”. They are designed to kill in minutes and do so very effectively.

    My own dog was killed in a recklessly (but entirely legal) body grip trap on Dec. 17, 2011. She was killed 50′ from my car in an area that she and I had scouted for signs of trapping just the day before and found no footprints or tire tracks. I swung back and forth from numbing grief to burning rage. That day could have ended very differently had the trapper showed up at the wrong time. To this day I still choke up when I talk about it. If you rely on predicting where your dog will find a trap you will end up with a dead dog. It’s not possible to predict trap placement and many of the same areas your dog wants to hunt are potential trapping spots.

    We have reports of more than 50 MN dogs killed in body grip traps in recent years yet the DNR and the trapping lobby claim it’s a “rare event” thus making it okay. The reason is that it’s a “rare event” is because there is no reporting system and most hunters assume they were just a one-shot-in-a-million unlucky person that day.

    Our state even allows the use of “power ram” snares and places virtually no restrictions on where they can be hidden just like there are almost no restrictions on body grips from 7″ and smaller. It’s even legal to throw some meat bait in a person’s driveway culvert and set a power ram or body grip in the opening and not ask permission or even warn them. Take a look at some power ram videos. They’ll send a chill up your spine.

    Here’s a short video of a body grip trap firing in a cubby box. It’s slowed down to 1/8th speed.

    Here’s a 2 minute video of a body grip trap placed in a plywood box. It’s similar to the one that killed my dog.

    • wrbenmac says:

      Thanks for the post. These killer type traps are the ones that should be restricted. The idea that their is no control over where these things can be placed and how they are baited is insane.

  3. Here’s a short video of a body grip trap firing in a cubby box. It’s slowed down to 1/8th speed.

    Here’s a 2 minute video of a body grip trap placed in a plywood box. It’s similar to the one that killed my dog.

  4. Scott Slocum says:

    Aside from some good advice on foothold release and a detailed inventory of the dangers of traps for dogs, all this article offers is the advice to “be wary.” Here’s another piece of advice: stand up and call for commonsense trapping regulations. Our dogs shouldn’t have to face these dangers–especially from irresponsible lethal trapping and snaring. There are responsible and effective trapping methods that don’t threaten dogs to this degree, but until we have trapping regulations to require them, the only poor protection we’ll have is this advice to “be wary.”

  5. Lisa Robertson says:

    Thank you Scott. I agree! Wyoming trapping regulations allow a trap check up to 13 days for snares and conibears, and 72 hours for legholds. It’s time for trapping reform in our state.

  6. populus tremuloides says:

    Why do people say trappers have a ‘right’ to be where others recreate and a ‘right’ to harm people’s dogs and even other people and a ‘right’ to kill wildlife to sell to the market when not even hunters can do that and a ‘right’ to kill wildlife they aren’t even licensed to kill, protected species that wander into their traps which if killed by a hunter would be considered poaching? To say nothing of the “right” to cause indefensible injury and and cruel suffering in the process? What about the rights of others to recreate without suffering harm from trappers? Or the rights of others to enjoy wildlife alive in their native habitat. Why are traps even tolerated period? I’m talking ALL trapping. Trapping should be abolished not sanctified as a right.

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