Safely Hiking With Your Dog: Brief & Important Winter Wildlife Tips

Safely Hiking With Your Dog: Brief & Important Winter Wildlife Tips

Even during the coldest winter months when wildlife is less active, they can still present some potential threats for you and your four-legged friends when you’re out hiking.

If you’re going to take along your furry partner onto the trails during these cooler treks, think about these safety tips when you go out and about when it comes to wildlife.

Many hikers may imagine encountering a bear in the wilderness as a realistic, scary and deadly threat. During the wintertime, these beasts are likely hibernating, but could still be a potential problem if awakened. In reality, you’re more likely to cross paths with a skunk looking for food after a fresh snowfall. They’re much easier to repel a rodent instead of challenging a much larger animal like a cougar or other more dangerous woodland creature that could be found on the trail.

Experienced hikers already know a trick or two when it comes to encountering wildlife, but the rules change when you have your four-legged best friend in tow. First and foremost, you should keep them on a leash at all times when you’re outdoors. Even the most well-behaved and trained dog is likely to bolt after a creature they’ve unexpectedly encountered in the wild and these results are unexpected at best.

Here are some general, overall safety tips to consider when hiking alongside your dog on the trails in the great outdoors:

  • Don’t wear earbuds, play music or other auditory distractions while you’re on the move as you need to be aware of everything that’s going on around you at all times.
  • Avoid running or jogging on trails as this arouses much larger wildlife to engage in their natural instincts to prowl and eventually give chase.
  • Make sure a close friend or family member knows exactly when and where you’re going and your expected return time.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of wildlife such as fresh animal tracks and droppings.
  • Always carry an animal deterrent such as mace, a well-stocked first aid kit and a fully charged cell phone.

Even if you don’t plan on being out after dark or for an overly extended period of time, pack items you might not think you’ll need, like a flashlight, matches or a lighter, extra food and water.

Encounters and Attacks

Smaller animals, like skunks, snakes and other potential menaces are usually more afraid of you, than you are of them, unless you surprise or startle them in some way. If you see one of them at a distance, simply avoid them. For other smaller critters like coyotes, where there’s one there’s likely to be more, so be on high alert if you see one.

Encountering larger wildlife, mountain lions, bears and other potentially deadly threats, warnings regarding these animals are generally the same, but slightly different. If you come across one of these dangerous creatures… First of all, stay calm, don’t run from them, this is a foot race you and your animal will likely lose. Stand your ground and command your animal to “stay” in a quiet and firm voice. If you have a smaller dog, pick them up to better protect them.

Too Close for Comfort

As long as they’re at a distance, you should remain calm and quiet, they may simply move on and ignore your presence. If they aren’t paying attention to you, do your best to back away slowly while keeping them under constant watch.

If they do begin to approach or you fear an attack:

  • Make yourself seem as large as possible, raise your pack in the air, but don’t run towards or away from them.
  • If you believe a bear attack is pending, grab your dog and put in underneath you, protect your head and neck as much as possible – play dead – don’t move an inch.
  • Our previous advice of carrying mace, a burning shot into their eyes should give you enough time to make a safe getaway.

An active offense can be just as effective as a good defense, so be aware of your surroundings while you’re out walking in the high country and these forested areas. One last tip, avoid hiking alone, even if your companion is an animal, by sheer numbers, wildlife is more likely to leave you alone (so to speak) and not approach you if there’s more of you, than them.

Amber Kingsley

Amber Kingsley is a freelance writer whom has donated countless hours supporting her local shelters. With writing, she has spent most of her research on animals with regards to food, health and training.