5 Tips for Avoiding Bears During Your Wilderness Dog Walks
If you go out to the woods with your dog today, you don’t want to be in for a big surprise – like meeting up with a bear! Keep clear of bears and stay safe with these tips.
Yogi Bear wasn’t your average bear – he was friendly, well-dressed, and enjoyed stealing people’s picnic baskets as a lark. While bears of the non-cartoon persuasion will also happily steal your picnic basket, a meeting with a real-life bear isn’t funny at all… especially if you have a dog with you! Whether you and your dog are backcountry canoeing, hiking a mountain, or enjoying some time at a campground, be prepared for a run-in with one of Yogi’s cousins!
While an encounter of the furry kind may sound exciting, it’s best all those involved – people, dogs, and bears – should never meet. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t spend time outdoors in bear country. Many dog owners enjoy hiking and camping safely. But you may need to take some extra precautions to avoid an unwelcome encounter.
Follow these tips to avoid bear encounters while out in the bush:
1) Keep your dog on a leash.
Keeping your dog on a leash makes it easier to keep your dog under control. Should you surprise a bear, you and your leashed dog can quickly leave the area, and everyone avoids becoming a statistic.
This will also avoid your dog running off and getting into trouble somewhere off the beaten path. Bears will do their best to avoid humans. This means avoiding areas that they know are occupied or heavily trafficked. Your chances of running into a bear on a trail are less likely than they are while creating a path through the bush.
If your dog is running off-trail and comes across a bear, it could be a dangerous experience. Bears view dogs as a potential threat and their presence could trigger defensive actions on the bear’s part. Especially if the bear has young cubs close by. If the pup can get away and return to you, they may be bringing an angry bear with them.
2) Make some noise.
There’s plenty of debate on how effective bear bells are. They are relatively quiet, and their sound may not carry far in the dense bush. Even if a bear does hear the bell ringing, it may not associate the sound with a human being nearby. But one thing all the bear experts can agree on is that making noise is the best way to avoid surprising a bear. Talk or sing to your dog, or just make noise. The more warning you can give a bear that you are in the area, the more time they have to flee.
3) Keep a clean campsite.
Dog bowls, treats, and toys must be cleaned up and put away immediately after use. Put anything food-related away in a bear box, or secure it in a bear-resistant container. Dispose of your trash each night if you are sleeping in an organized campground with dumpsters. If not, gather all your garbage into a bag and place it into a bear-resistant container as well.
If you don’t have access to a bear-resistant container, food and garbage can be hung from a tree. The tree should be at least 12 feet above the ground and 10 feet from any nearby tree limbs or parts of the tree. Choose a tree that is a safe distance from your chosen campsite as the smells of the food or garbage may still attract a bear to the area.
Feed and potty your dog at least 100 meters from your sleeping area. Water bowls and poop may not seem like tempting items, but for a curious bear, anything even remotely food-related might be enough to attract them.
4) Keep your dog inside at night.
Sneaky bears love to come in under the cover of darkness to snoop around looking for food. If your dog is in your tent with you, he’s going to be able to give you a warning that there’s a bear out there.
This will also prevent your dog from lunging at the bear to scare it off. If a bear sees a dog lunging in its direction, it can make a situation far worse. Feeling threatened, the bear will then respond as it feels that it needs to keep itself safe. As long as you have no tempting scents in the tent, the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” will apply.
5) If you see a bear, remain calm.
Your calmness sets a positive example for your dog as well. Remain calm and assess the situation. Most bears are going to want to leave the area. Make note of which way the bear leaves, and go in the opposite direction.
Bonus Tip: Carry Bear Spray and Know How to Use It
Any time that you are in bear country, you should carry bear spray as an added precaution. Make sure that it is somewhere accessible, such as on a belt, allowing you to grab it in a hurry when needed. You are likely going to be nervous and may not be thinking straight at that moment. The easier it is to grab the bear spray, the better your odds.
Before heading out, take some time to practice using your bear spray. Enough practice will train your body to react even if your mind isn’t calm and focused at that time.
Keep in mind that bear spray isn’t a repellent like a bug spray. It’s a form of pepper spray that is more high-powered than the standard options used for self-defense against a person. Be cautious not to spray it at any other hikers or in the direction of your dog.
Have fun out there and always stay bear-aware. Pay attention to your surroundings, look for bear scat and fresh tracks. Listen to your dog – he’s likely to give you some signs if there is a bear close by. Some dogs react by becoming clingy, while others will put on a brave face. Either way, it’s your job to manage the situation and keep everyone safe.
Kevin Roberts lives for adventure. Together with his pack of rescue dogs and his husband, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Kevin lives by the motto: "Get outside and play with your dogs!
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