Doggie Dos: Dogs and Wildlife
Linda Shipman / Juneau Empire / April 9, 2004
Kathy Hocker is a naturalist, educator and nature artist who has lived in Juneau
for almost 30 years. She has observed and taught about Southeast Alaska wildlife
for more than 12 years. Kathy spends many hours each week hiking with her dog,
L: How do dogs affect wildlife - and why do you think we should be concerned?
K: Wild animals fascinate dogs and may elicit their "prey drive" - which makes
sense, because we've bred them for thousands of years to track, pursue and herd
other animals. They love to chase - but while chasing can seem like harmless
fun to them and us, it's serious to wildlife. Repeated hazing and chasing by
uncontrolled dogs can cause wild animals to abandon areas they formerly used,
and in many cases it can kill.
But it's not just chasing. Traffic by dogs and humans
can be pretty rough on the more sensitive wildlife
habitats - with dogs tending to do more damage if
they run off-trail. Finally, just the presence of dogs can be a deterrent to
some wild animals.
L: How can we tell if our dogs are disturbing wildlife when we're out walking
on a trail?
K: Be aware. Watch for wild animals and study their behavior as you pass. Most
wild animals, if they don't run outright, will vocalize and/or make nervous
movements when they feel threatened.
Your dog can help you be more aware of wildlife. For every wild animal you
see, he probably senses ten others. Study his behavior, and you'll learn how
he reacts when he senses an animal. Then you can respond by controlling him
and also enjoy watching the wild animal too.
L: What kinds of things do you do, to walk your dog in a wildlife-friendly
K: I keep Magpie within sight while we walk. I try to pay attention to the
habitats we're passing through, and to manage her accordingly. For example,
when hiking past sensitive habitats such as certain fragile riparian zones,
marshes, or meadows, I keep her with me on the trail.
I also make choices about where I take her. Sometimes I'll choose to leave
her at home if I want to visit a place that is particularly vulnerable, at
a sensitive time of year such as nesting or migration season.
L: What do you do when you encounter a wild animal while walking with her?
K: I call her to me and put her on leash or ask her to "stay" beside me until
the animal has moved out of our path. If the animal is not on our path, I'll
have her "heel" beside me until we've passed. My goal is to keep her under
control, so she doesn't chase, and to make our movements as predictable as
possible for the wild animal, so it feels less threatened.
L: Do you have any training ideas for keeping dogs from disturbing wildlife?
K: One key to good wildlife manners is being in control of your dog. Here are
some things that have worked well for me:
* Practice basic obedience, particularly "come," a LOT. Do it at home, where
there aren't so many distractions. And always reward your dog for coming. Make
it a part of this exercise to snap a leash on your dog's collar and then release
it again. In time, your dog will learn that the leash doesn't mean the fun
* Teach your dog an alternative to chasing wildlife. Get her hooked on fetching
a toy or sticks, or playing tug-o-war. Then when she notices an animal, call
her before the chasing behavior begins. Reward her by playing with her. If
your timing is good and you're consistent, her chasing instincts can become
displaced, so that she comes to you for her toy when she sees an animal, instead
of chasing it.
* To teach a "leave it" command, put a favorite toy or a treat in front of your
dog's nose and say "leave it." If she lunges for it, cover it and say "leave
it" again. As soon as she backs off and gives you her attention, give her a different
toy or treat. Repeat frequently, until she automatically "leaves it" when told
L: Some wildlife areas and seasons are especially sensitive. Where do you not
take your dog?
K: Basically I try to avoid places where the habitat is so valuable and limited
that we won't be able to avoid displacing wildlife or damaging the habitat.
Some of those places are:
* Estuary mudflats and sloughs, such as those on the Mendenhall Wetlands, and
at Eagle Beach at low tide, while shorebirds are present (April and May, and
July through September, in particular, although some flocks are year-round
* Salt marshes, such as the lower regions of the Mendenhall Wetlands, when
the geese and ducks are feeding (flocks can be there throughout the year; late
spring and early fall are particularly sensitive times).
* Wild sedge and grass meadows, such as the ones out by Peterson Creek, which
are very important to ground-nesting birds, bears and deer throughout the spring
and early summer.
to Current Events 0404]
Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670
Wolf Song of Alaska.
The Wolf Song of Alaska
Logo, and Web Site Text is copyrighted, registered,
protected, and cannot be used without permission.
Web design and artwork donated by She-Wolf Works and Alaskan artist Maria Talasz
All rights reserved