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Wildlife encounters with your dog: Hiking safety tips

Spending time outdoors hiking and camping with your dog is a great way to spend your summer vacation. The thing about Canadian forests, hillsides, lakefronts, and ocean beaches is that they’re teeming with wildlife. While most animals will stay away from humans and dogs, we do need to be mindful of possible encounters when travelling in these areas. Check with the regional conservation or natural resources office for advice about hiking and camping in specific locales.

The first thing to consider is how your dog reacts when excited. Not all dogs will return to their owners when they scent a deer or see a fleeing rabbit, especially if they aren’t used to other animals. And that’s okay. Just be honest with yourself and your dog. A very easy solution can be a flexi-lead leash that allows you to run trails while he sniffs and investigates by your side. Other dogs will recall on immediate command in the presence of a deer or other wildlife.

Noisy dog tags or bells on your dog’s collar will notify wildlife in the area that you’re approaching. Bringing a walking stick may be helpful in case a wild animal gets too close for comfort.  Waving the stick or making noise against a tree will likely help more than using it in actual self-defence. Always carry a small first aid kit.


Skunks are a common critter, and they’re a known reservoir for rabies in Canada. Keep your dogs’ rabies vaccine status current. Rabid skunks, as with other affected animals have the potential to actively attack humans and dogs. A skunk can spray up to 5 metres
and are very good at repelling happy dogs looking for a good chase. 


Porcupines are also quite plentiful in Canadian rural areas and woodlands. Dogs will be very interested in these weird creatures until they suffer a quill attack. Porcupine quills are barbed and are best removed by a veterinarian under heavy sedation or anaesthesia to minimize the chance of infection or quills breaking off under the skin. On occasion, quills may be trapped in deeper tissues and can migrate down legs, into the chest, and down into the abdomen. If your dog appears lethargic or feverish-even months later-remember to let your vet know of previous quill exposure. When it comes to skunk and porcupine encounters, the majority of dogs do not learn from prior experience and can be “skunked” or “quilled” again and again if not properly controlled.


If you’re hiking or camping in areas where deer are abundant, please try to keep your dog from harassing them. You should also be aware that mature bucks, elk, and moose may turn and challenge a dog, especially in the fall during rutting season.


These creatures tend to poop in a common area, and your dog may be attracted to the smell of their feces, which can carry an intestinal roundworm. The best way to protect you and your dog from infection is through prevention of exposure. They can also carry canine distemper virus, so always keep your dog’s core vaccines up to date. 


The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources tell us that bears tend to move away from the presence of dogs and people if given the chance. You do want to ensure that you never find yourself or your dog between a female and her cubs. Should you come across a bear on your travels, quietly back away. These are the moments it helps to have your dog on a leash if you cannot trust him or her to come back to you immediately on command. Speak softly to your dog to calm the situation, and do your best to evade the bear in his habitat.

Wild cats

Wild cats such as cougars and lynx are more likely to be startled off by a barking dog than strike unless they truly are hungry or feel cornered. The British Columbia Forest Service advises that you make yourself as large as possible and make lots of noise to show that you can hold your own against an attack. Waving your walking stick or banging it against trees or pots may help to ward off an attack. Never turn your back on these cats, but again do your best to keep your dog calm and back away from the predator.

Hiking and camping can lead to great bonding experiences between you and your dog but always keep these considerations in mind. Know your pet and be honest with yourself in order to keep him or her close. Educate yourself and prepare for possible encounters before you leave your home. Use common sense and be a respectful visitor as you both enjoy all the wonders of our beautiful forests, waterways, and countryside.  

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