Having your dog on leash and under control helps keep adventures on track
It’s a Yukon dog’s life—naps, treats, belly rubs and racing through wide-open spaces in one of the least-densely populated places in Canada. Well, only least-densely populated in human terms.
From the American beaver to woodland caribou and all the sauntering, soaring and scurrying creatures in between, wildlife abounds throughout the region. And that means a lot of temptation for our prey-driven canine sidekicks. Having dogs off-leash in the great outdoors can ruin a good time—for wildlife, dogs and the humans who love them both.
While the thrill of the chase may fulfill some primitive purpose in our pups, impacts on wildlife are not a walk in the park. Wildlife are more likely to see dogs as something similar to a wolf, triggering various responses, most obvious in prey animals including sheep and deer. Just the presence of dogs can disrupt important activities like foraging, resting and taking care of young. The farther your dog is from you, the greater the range of disturbance.
“Dogs stress wildlife,” says Dr. Carmen Wong, ecologist for Kluane National Park and Reserve. “The energy wildlife spend to avoid dogs can lead to things like exhaustion, increased risk of predation, or abandoning young.”
If the thought of your dog chasing a newborn Dall’s sheep, cornering an at-risk collared pika or bothering a meandering North American porcupine doesn’t give you pause, there are other compelling reasons to put your dog on a leash.
Dogs can be killed or injured while chasing or interacting with wildlife. Dr. John Overell provides veterinary services for pets in the Dawson City region. He has treated dogs for a variety of injuries related to wildlife encounters, including broken ribs and split abdomens from moose kicks, severe cuts from beavers and bears, and embedded porcupine quills. One Whitehorse-based veterinary clinic noted that it sees at least 100 dogs with quills every season, which, left untreated, could enter a dog’s joints, or harm internal organs. And while it may be comforting to think of your off-leash dog as an early detection system for bears, evidence suggests that loose dogs may actually increase your chances of a negative bear encounter.
Hank Hristienko and Stephen Herrero analyzed reports of black bear attacks on humans across North America between 2010 and 2014. Of the 92 attacks reported, 53 per cent involved dogs, and the data suggest that “ … in the vast majority of cases, it seemed as though the dog(s) had been running loose at the time of the attack and drew the bear to their owners.”
Dealing with a serious injury to you, your pup, or wildlife while on a day or two hike into the wilderness can turn your epic weekend adventure into an emotional and logistical nightmare. It can also leave you potentially on the hook for the costs associated with violating off-leash rules. Federal and territorial parks specify that dogs must be on a leash and under control at all times. Visitors to national parks who don’t comply can face charges, including a mandatory court appearance and up to $25,000 in fines.
Being in nature can bring solace, healing and peace, and that opportunity should be available to all users. Not everyone will be comforted by shouts of “he’s friendly!” as a blur of fur comes hurtling down the trail towards them. Keeping your dog on a leash will ensure you don’t have to defend your dog’s behaviour, or have a bad encounter with your neighbour.
It really is a dog’s life—our love and attention to their health and well-being means domestic dogs don’t have to be out in the wild hustling for food and defending themselves from competing predators. Being a responsible dog owner includes making sure that their good life doesn’t come at the expense of wildlife and the experience of fellow outdoor enthusiasts.