Lodge: Dogs and wildlife don’t mix
One of the great pleasures in my life is watching my dogs run on a trail; catching the scent of the world. There is a Grand County adage that when you move here you pick up a dog on top of Berthoud Pass. However, another adage is that knowledge is power and when you understand the landscape in which you live, you can thrive. Getting outside in winter is good for you and your canine companion, however, disturbing wildlife in the process is bad for everyone.
The best way to keep dogs safe and not harm wildlife according to Jeromy Huntington, District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is to keep them on a leash.
According to state statutes, any wildlife officer or police officer can shoot a dog chasing wildlife. However, Huntington says that is typically the last resort.
Most likely the dog owner would be issued a citation in the amount of $200 and upwards. Statute 33-6-128 states that it is unlawful to harass wildlife. Violation of this statute is a misdemeanor with a $200 fine; and additional surcharges can cost even more.
In the winter elk and deer are doing everything they can to survive, he said. If they get chased they can lose some of the calories they can’t replace very easily. Deer lose 40 percent of their body weight in the winter relying on woody plants which is not a high level of nutrition. Wildlife is battling the negative temperature and trying to conserve energy to survive the winter. Unnecessary energy spent running from dogs can kill them.
“It is important for them not to be stressed by dogs, and to conserve calories,” said Huntington.
Ever wonder why you tend to see moose on trails in winter?
Moose like hard packed ski trails or groomed trails, said Huntington.
“As we get more snow the moose will utilize the trails a bit more. If a person sees moose tracks – avoid that area.”
Dogs can run on hard pack snow and wildlife can fall through, which gives dogs an advantage.
If you do see a moose turn around and go in the opposite direction; leave the area immediately.
The Forest Service is posting flyers where moose are active – avoid those areas even with dogs on a leash. Even on the leash, dogs can be injured by a moose. Moose tolerate dogs to a point but there is a line and we don’t know where that line is going to be, said Huntington.
“It depends on the experience of the moose and their encounters with dogs.”
They aren’t afraid of people and will fight instead of flee. It is part of their nature to be aggressive toward dogs instead of waiting to be attacked.
Where to Hike and Ski
Huntington recommends avoiding areas with thick cover and willows. Recreate in open area where you can see wildlife from a distance and and avoid blind corners.
Since Winter Park doesn’t have much winter range for elk and deer people will tend to see moose.
•Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs
Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs have small pockets of winter range so elk and deer are more plentiful. Granby Ranch has conservation easements where elk and deer winter. Huntington advises to stay away from these areas to give wildlife the best chance of survival. Areas may be closed to human activity so obey posted signs at trailheads.
Dog Training Tips
Here are some tips from Annie Phenix, a dog trainer out of Durango to train your dog to be off-leash on trails:
•Understand that off-leash work is equivalent to a graduate degree. You cannot expect your high-school level dog to suddenly become a PhD when you unhook its leash on a tempting mountain trail. Getting that PhD requires education and tons of recall practice in your home, yard and elsewhere.
•Accept that dogs are like us in this important way: they seek to avoid pain and gain pleasure. If you punish your dog for returning to you, why should he do it again? If you motivate your dog (think delicious meat or cheese training treats-dry dog biscuits are boring and insufficient) to stay close to you, you are well ahead of the game.
•One way to motivate your dog to stay close by is to “leak chicken.” This means you go outside with your dog (on a loose leash at first) and you don’t talk to her but you quickly bend down and—oops—drop pieces of chicken every few steps. Try this for five days in your backyard and watch how “sticky” your dog becomes.
•We say in dog training: “you get what you reinforce.” I encourage (beg, actually) owners to reinforce EVERY TIME your dog visually “checks in” with you on a walk. They look back at you and when they do: jack pot! Reward with smiling, petting, and some of that chicken you haven’t yet leaked. This is the beginning of a reliable recall.
•Put bear bells on your dog, even if you aren’t concerned about a bear being in the area. It alerts wildlife to your dog’s presence and it gives you an indication of where your dog is. Don’t allow those bells to get out of hearing. If they do, go back to high school and get back on that recall.
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