Hiking Safety: Encountering Predators on the Trail

Hiking is an extremely popular pet-friendly activity and a great way to explore new places when you travel. And observing the wildlife along the trail is a treat! But it’s important to know how to handle encountering predators on your hike.

Woman with a dog in the mountains.  Autumnal atmosphere.  Traveling with a pet.  Nova Scotia Retriever

 

Hiking is one of our favorite pet activities, and I know many of you feel the same way. Of course, communing with nature can lead to encounters with wildlife and, while exciting, it can also be dangerous.

Deterring an attack, or surviving one, requires different behavior depending on the animal you encounter. Before you go, familiarize yourself with the wildlife that lives in the area you’ll be hiking and follow these tips for encountering predators on the trail.

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Brindle dog on the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge - North Rim

 

Pet-Friendly Hiking Tips

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When hiking with your pets, keep in mind that many wild animals view dogs as a deadly threat. Even if your dog is a teddy bear who wouldn’t harm a fly, his presence in an animal’s environment can cause him to behave defensively. They also believe they are encountering predators! So, as with any activity, it is important to take precautions to ensure your safety and that of your pet.

Here are some things that might make you and your dog less threatening to any wildlife you might encounter:

— The best strategy is to avoid startling animals by making noise while you hike and to stay aware of your surroundings, especially on sections of trail where sightlines are limited.

— Attachment bear bells on your dog’s collar will alert wildlife to your presence and give them time to avoid you.

— If you’re hiking in bear country, keep in mind that bears tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, so plan your hikes accordingly.

— Do not wear headphones. Instead, listen to your surroundings so you can hear any animals that might be moving near you.

— Keep an eye out for tracks, fresh droppings, digging and other signs that animals are active in the area.

— Do not jog on trails where it is common to encounter predators. Running activates a predator’s instinct to hunt and attack.

— Keep your dog on a leash so that he cannot put himself or you in danger by chasing animals you encounter. If he reacts to an animal, do your best to keep him close and under as much control as possible. Calmly walk away from the animal, taking care not to run or let your dog run, as this may encourage the animal to chase you.

— In areas where off-leash hiking is permitted, consider keeping your dog on a leash if he does not have a solid recall. And even if it does, keep your pets close and within sight at all times.

— Make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return.

– Wear a first aid kit and a cell phone.

– To carry bear spray and make sure you have practiced using it before an attack.

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Man and his dog enjoying the view of Mt.  Pet-friendly Rainier from Ira Spring Trail near Seattle, WA

 

Tips for Encountering Predators on the Trail

If you see a mountain lion (Cougar)mountain lion

— Calmly face the lion and maintain eye contact according to the US Forest Service. THE The Humane Society of the United States recommends looking at a cougar’s feet instead..

— Hold on or back away slowly.

— Stand – don’t crouch or bend over. Make yourself look tall – raise your arms or hold a jacket or backpack above your head.

— Speak loudly and firmly in a deep voice.

— Pick up your dog (if small enough) so it doesn’t run, or keep your larger dog close to you.

— If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, sticks or your belongings in its direction.

If you are attacked by a mountain lion

– Do not run.

— Fight using whatever is at your disposal: sticks, tools, keys, stones or even your bare hands.

— Protect your head and neck by using your backpack or jacket as a shield.

 

If you encounter a coyote

Coyote— Coyotes sometimes hunt in small packs, so keep an eye on your surroundings.

— Back away calmly and slowly and maintain eye contact. Don’t turn your back.

— Pick up your dog (if small enough) so it doesn’t run, or keep your larger dog close to you.

— Raise your arms or hold a jacket or backpack above your head to appear taller.

— Clap your hands and shout in a deep voice.

If you are attacked by a coyote

– Do not run.

— Shout loudly and throw stones, sticks or your belongings.

— If he gets closer, throw dirt, gravel or sand in his eyes.

If you encounter a bear

Bear

— When you see a bear but the bear does not see you, turn around quickly and quietly, but do not run. Give the bear enough space to continue its activities without being disturbed.

— Pick up your dog (if small enough) so it doesn’t run, or keep your larger dog close to you.

— If the bear sees you, stay still, hold on and avoid sudden movements.

— You want the bear to know that you are human, so speak calmly in a normal voice and move your arms.

— The bear can approach or stand on its hind legs to get a better view. Remember that a bear standing is not always a sign of aggression.

— If the bear looks at you but does not move, slowly move away from the bear to the side. This allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. If the bear follows you, stop and stay put.

— Throw something on the ground (like a hat or camera) if the bear comes towards you. This could distract the bear and allow you to escape.

— Never feed or throw food to a bear.

 

If a bear charges you

— Remember that the bear charges like a bluff by running towards you and then suddenly turning or stopping. Hold on until the bear stops, then back away slowly.

— Never run away from a bear. They will chase and bears can run over 30 mph.

— Do not run towards a tree or climb on it. Black and grizzly bears can climb trees, and many bears will be enticed to chase you if they see you climbing.

If a brown bear or grizzly bear attacks

– To use bear spray if you have it. Spray when the bear is within 40 feet so it runs into the fog. Aim for the bear’s face.

– Play dead! Lie face down on the floor with your hands around the back of your neck.

— Stay quiet and try not to move.

— Keep your legs apart and if you can, and leave your backpack on to protect your back.

— Riposting generally increases the intensity of the attack. However, if the bear persists, fight back vigorously. Use everything you have to punch the bear in the face.

— Once the bear has retreated, stay quiet and still for as long as you can. Bears often watch from afar and return if they see movement.

If a black bear attacks

– To use bear spray if you have it.

— Black bears are generally less aggressive than their brown and grizzly bear cousins, so fight back! Be aggressive by focusing your blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.

 

If you encounter a mooseMomentum

— While it may seem silly to include moose in an article about “encountering predators,” we know they don’t like dogs. So if you see one on the trail, pick up your dog or leash him close to you.

— Speak calmly and step back, giving the moose enough space.

—Moose often don’t leave the trail, so you may have to detour through the brush to get around.

— Watch for signs that the moose might attack, such as back ears, raised hairs on the hump (or “hackles”), growling or stomping.

— The moose will also charge bluff, running towards you then suddenly turning or stopping. Hold on until the moose stops, then back away slowly.

If a moose attacks

— Get back and run. Get behind a tree or rock – anything that can separate you from the moose.

Relax with your hands on your head and neck using your backpack as a shield.

Stay still until the moose is a good distance away. If you try to get up while he’s close, it could trigger another attack.

Anytime you see an aggressive animal, you should report the incident to a park ranger, area parks and recreation department, animal control, your local wildlife center, or similar organization.

Are there any tips for encountering predators on the trail that you would like to add?

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