Utah wildlife often struggles to find food during winters that have heavy snow. By spring, many animals are vulnerable and weak. People who plan to hike with their dog this spring and summer should take steps to keep the animal from chasing wildlife, said Faith Heaton Jolley, public information officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife.
Dogs that are off-leash in nature may act on their instincts to chase deer and other big game animals they see. However, that is harmful for the deer because by the end of winter, they are usually in survival mode, said Jolley.
“If they get chased, it uses up their energy and they might not survive the winter,” saud KJ Pollock, the public affairs specialist for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. “These animals are often starving, and they can’t afford to waste energy from any actions that cause them to move away from where they are trying to feed.”
Deer and other big game animals typically move to lower elevations in search of feed during the snowy winter months, which often brings them closer to roads and other populated urban areas where people and pets might be, said Jolley.
“While there are many areas throughout the state where dogs aren’t required to stay on a leash, we ask that pet owners not let their dogs chase deer, elk, moose or other wild animals, said Jolley. “It can be harmful not only for the wildlife, but also can be dangerous for your pet.”
“Wildlife is often unpredictable and may injure or kill a dog seen as threatening,” said Covy Jones, DWR big game coordinator.
Dogs that are off-leash can also disturb nesting ground birds and can chase, injure or kill small mammals, deer, elk or moose, said Jolley.
Here are some tips from Wild Aware Utah about keeping your dogs safe around wildlife: Keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date. Moose can be especially aggressive towards dogs. Always supervise pets when outdoors, particularly at dawn and dusk. Avoid going near den sites and thick vegetation. If you find an animal carcass, leave the area, it could be a kill that a cougar is guarding or storing for later. Make noise while hiking. Do not allow dogs to play with or chase wildlife. It is against Utah law to allow dogs to chase or harass wildlife.
“It is also in your best interest to not allow your pet to chase wildlife, because Utah law states that a person may kill or injure a dog that is ‘attacking, chasing or worrying any species of hoofed protected wildlife,’” said Jolley.
“Pets allowed to run at large also are at risk from vehicles and predators,” Pollock said. “If you care about your pets, it’s in their best interest to keep them secured.”