Wildlife officials warn against letting dogs chase big game

Following winter, deer are usually in survival mode

If you plan to take your dog on any hikes this spring and summer, make sure your pet doesn’t chase or harass any wildlife. Courtesy photo
If you plan to take your dog on any hikes this spring and summer, make sure your pet doesn’t chase or harass any wildlife. Courtesy photo

As you avoid large groups and practice social distancing in the coming weeks, you can fight cabin fever — and still stay away from other people — by going for a hike or doing some wildlife watching. However, if you are planning to take your dog on any hikes this spring and summer, make sure your pet doesn’t chase or harass any wildlife, according to Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesperson Faith Jolley.

Utah wildlife often struggles to find food during winters that have heavy snow. By early spring, many animals are vulnerable and weak. Dogs that are off leash in nature might 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.

“If they get chased, it uses up energy they may need to survive,” said Covy Jones, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources big game coordinator. “These animals are already depleted, and they often 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.

While there are many areas throughout the state where dogs aren’t required to stay on a leash, pet owners should not let their dogs chase deer, elk, moose or other wild animals. 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,” Jones said.

Dogs that are off leash can also disturb nesting ground birds and can chase, injure or kill small mammals, deer, elk or moose.

It is also in people’s best interest to not allow their 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.”

“Pets allowed to run at large also are at risk from vehicles and predators,” said Dave Whittekiend, forest supervisor for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. “If you care about your pets, it’s in their best interest to keep them secured.”

Here are some tips from Wild Aware Utah about keeping dogs safe around wildlife:

Keep the 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 a person finds an animal carcass, leave the area — it could be a kill that a cougar is guarding or will be returning to at some point.

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.