Wildlife Encounters: Expert Advice on How to Keep Your Dog Safe in the Big Outdoors
Hiking and camping with your pet can be a wonderful experiences—unless you find yourself face to face with a wild animal.
While avoiding an area well-known for wild animal encounters might be a good idea, there are also things you can do even if you end up crossing paths with a bear or a coyote.
First and perhaps most important tip? Always be aware of your surroundings. “Don’t talk on your cell phone, but rather scan the area for movement,” says Annalisa Berns, a missing pets detective and Missing Animal Response Technician. “Most animals are more afraid of us than we are of them, and they give us wide passage.”
Be Aware of Prime Times for Wildlife Encounters
The risk of a potentially negative wildlife encounter increases during certain times of the year. “This includes late spring and early summer when most animals have young offspring,” according to Brian Ogle, an anthrozoology instructor and expert in human-wildlife contact at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. “During the fall, male deer can become more dangerous as a result of their increased testosterone and willingness to defend potential mates.”
The best advice for activities in an area known for animal encounters? Be active when they are not, Ogle says. “For example, most predatory species are active at dawn and dusk rather than in the middle of the day,” explains Ogle. “During the times when humans are most present on trails, wildlife is often deeper into the habitat away from humans or even sleeping to avoid the risk of encountering a human.”
Coyotes and Leashes
If you can, stay out of coyote territory. While dusk and dawn are prime activity times for coyotes, they can also be active at other times of the day—meaning the threat is always there. Berns recommends always keeping small dogs on leashes and close to you. “A small dog sniffing a bush in coyote territory is the equivalent of putting out bait for a coyote,” Berns says.
Stay away from retractable leashes too, as Berns points out they can get wrapped around you or your dog, causing you to fall or be injured. “Plus, if you are startled and drop the leash, then the retractable plastic box ‘races’ after your dog, scaring your dog even more and possibly causing them to run off in a blind panic—right into the coyote’s territory without you.”
There’s also safety in numbers. Bringing another person or multiple dogs along will make the group appear larger and may deter coyotes. “Larger dogs are excellent at being a deterrent to coyotes and they can ‘sound the alarm’ with loud barks of any danger,” Berns says.
If you live in an area that has different species of deadly snakes, investing in snake avoidance training is a very smart idea. “Dogs are naturally curious animals; couple that with the amount of dog toys that resemble snakes, and you have a recipe for disaster,” says Andrew Horan, a Certified Canine Training and Behavior Modification Specialist. “I want to be clear that snake avoidance training isn’t a fun thing to watch, but that little burst of unpleasantness has the potential to save your dog’s life, as well as save you thousands in medical bills.”
Regardless of training, if you come across a snake, the best thing you can do for you and your dog is to stay calm, according to Horan. “A big reaction could set your dog off, and cause them to go after the ’cause’ of your hysteria,” says Horan. “Plus, you are less likely to be able to call your dog off a snake if you are screaming and panicking.”
Bear Encounters and Noise Safety
Bear attacks are rare, but they do happen. “Most incidents occur because the bear was surprised by the approaching human or the human got in between a mother and cubs,” explains Ogle.
There are the number of “bear bells” in the market, which you can attach to your dog’s collar to create noise and keep bears away. “The theory behind these bells makes sense, as they provide either a warning noise to a bear that you are approaching or serve as a deterrent because of an irritating noise,” Ogle says.
You don’t necessarily have to buy anything to keep bears away, though. Just making enough noise so the bear knows you are coming in advance should work “Talking at a louder than normal volume while hiking in bear territory usually suffices as a warning signal,” says Ogle. Or try an air horn, whistle or another loud noise maker.
In the end, though, keep in mind that encounters with wild animals don’t have to be scary if you take the necessary precautions. “As long as you are vigilant and practice trail safety, you reduce the risk of these types of encounters,” Ogle says.