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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top tips to help dogs live in harmony with wildlife.

It's Spring, finally! With Spring many of you, like us, are getting out and enjoying the nice weather, taking longer walks and hikes.

It's great to get out there and enjoy nature again after a long Winter. But while you are out enjoying the nice weather, so are the critters that live around your home, and frequent the areas where you hike and walk your dog.

We live in the mountains of North Georgia and there is no shortage of wildlife here. We've learned a lot about living with the multitude of wildlife here over the years and how we can live more in harmony with nature's critters, keep our dogs safe and healthy, and keep our environment healthier as well.

We've encountered a wide variety of 'critters;' from bears and mountain lions, to snakes, toxic toads, ticks, possum, wild pigs, wild turkey, raccoon, venomous spiders and more. And in some areas of the country alligators and crocodiles can be a problem, although we don't encounter those where we live.

Since we've learned some tips and tricks to help us stay safer around wildlife we wanted to share our Top Tips to Help Dogs Live in Harmony with Wildlife. All year around we take precautions relating to these specific species:

Bears - We never leave our trash outside, or a bird feeder out in our yard. Trash and bird feeders are magnets for wildlife including bears, mountain lions, raccoon, possum and more. Every Tuesday on trash day, we put our trash out near the road just one hour before our pick up is scheduled to keep critters at bay, especially bears.

Yes, that's a bear under our car.
I don't know if you knew this, but you can actually smell most bears (if you are down wind) from about a mile away, at least the Black Bears where we live and hike. They smell exactly like a dirty, wet dog with poop on it's butt. I know that is a bizarre description, but if you keep this fact in mind you will know the minute you smell a bear, we have!

Bears really aren't interested in engaging and harming you unless they are protecting their young. If this is the case, then watch out. We keep very aware of any bear scat when we hike and if we see it we can tell just about how 'fresh' it is and keep our nose and eyes open for any dangers.

The best things you can do is keep your dog leashed, all your food in secure locations, and always be alert and aware with your nose and your eyes when out walking/hiking. Another good tip is keep bear spray with you at all times when out hiking. If you encounter a bear, here is a good link with more tips to keep you safer.

Baby birds can attract snakes.
Fleas and Ticks - Tick diseases can be very dangerous for you and your dog, and fleas are a pesky problem.

To keep the ticks and fleas out of our fenced in yard around our cabin, we take precautions early in the Spring. Over the winter these bugs aren't usually a problem, but come the first sign of good weather, they show up in droves.

Just a couple of weekends ago, on the very first really nice day, we spread food grade Diatomaceous Earth (which is safe for dogs) around the perimeter of our fence. This will help keep the ticks from entering our fenced in yard, which Mum calls our 'safe haven.' In addition, when we're out hiking, Mum will spray a bandanna with a good, high quality, effective essential oil spray with a base of neem or cedar to repel ticks and fleas from sticking to us on our adventure hikes.

Snakes - We've encountered a lot of snakes in our fenced in yard, and a few while out hiking. There are good snakes and bad snakes, and it's important to know the difference about the snakes where you live. Good snakes, like black rat snakes, will get rid of food sources for bad snakes and that's a very good thing. So remember to not harm any good snakes. Bad snakes (like Copperheads and Rattlesnakes) are a very different story.

What we've learned is that snakes are often around homes looking for food. They love mice, toads and baby birds, and we have some of those around our cabin. Another thing we've learned is that snakes don't like sulfur. So we have worked to get rid of the mice and toads in our yard through relocation, and also this weekend at the first sign of warmth we sprinkled organic sulfur (which is safe for dogs) in the areas where snakes like to hide, between rocks and under our deck. In addition, we don't allow any birds to make nests in our 'safe haven' because baby birds and bird eggs are a sure encouragement for snakes.

Yes, that's a copperhead.
Toxic Toads - The toxic toads around our home are a lot less dangerous than the toxic toads that frequent areas like Florida. But they are still toxic.

My dogs have all learned very good 'leave it's' that help greatly when encountering dangerous critters, especially toads and snakes.

Get familiar with the toads in your area and find out if they are toxic. These types of toads like to come out early in the morning and later in the evening; so many times during high toad season I will scan the yard for toads before letting the dogs out for their early morning pit stop. And if I miss one, I use the leave it command and my dogs come running to me for safety, as 'leave it' means stop what you are doing and come to Mum.

If you do have a dog that gets some of the toxin from a toad please be aware of the symptoms your dog may exhibit and what you should do.

Mountain Lions - I remember the first time I saw a mountain lion on our mountain. I was driving one of the mountain roads and saw what looked liked a very big cat ran across the road. The second time I was enjoying the weather on my back deck, looked to the left and saw a mountain lion running down the ridge next to the cabin. Big cats really aren't interested in engaging unless they too are protecting their young; and they hate loud noises. If you do have a close encounter with a mountain lion (which is very, very rare) take these tips into consideration.

Raccoon and possum - Raccoon and possum are on our mountain, but we don't see them very often. That's because we don't keep pet food or treats, or trash outside to attract them. They love nothing better than scavenging trash around homes.

When we do encounter one of these critters, the one thing we never do is corner them. That's when they want to defend themselves and become aggressive. And raccoon especially carry some nasty diseases like distemper, roundworm, rabies and leptospirosis. So it's best to make sure you have your dog leashed when out and about to keep them safe.

One night, at about midnight, I was doing my usual quick check of critters in the yard before letting the dogs out for last potty and saw two eyes shining in the light of my flashlight. It was a possum. So how was I going to get it out of our fenced in 'safe haven?' I gingerly started walking toward the possum and spoke softly as I opened the fence gate. Turned out that he was right near a tree and climbed right up waiting for me to go away. So I let my dogs out, keeping a good eye on the possum in the tree, and they never knew he was there.

A Saddleback Caterpillar, packs a nasty sting.
Alligators - These strange creatures can be found mostly in Florida, but are also all along the SE US. They can be found in lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, swamps, and even man-made canals.

Alligators primarily hunt at dusk or during the night so these are the best times to keep an eye out. The best thing for your dog to stay safe around alligator country is to keep them leashed. That way you can keep a watchful eye and prevent any encounters. It's also important to not let your dog swim in waters that are known to inhabit alligators. Here is a link for more information.

Coyote and wolves - We hear coyote on the mountains around here often at night, but there is only one time that we've seen one. The dogs and I were outside in our fenced in area, working on some training. We all looked up and saw a coyote running down the road. The dogs started barking and the coyote ran even faster.

They are sleek, very agile runners and wanted nothing to do with my dogs and their barking, as they hate loud, harsh noises; and generally don't want anything to do with humans. Some tips we've learned about living near coyotes and wolves is, again, keep all trash and foods inside only; and keep your dogs leashed when hiking. Visit this site for additional tips in living around coyote; and this one for wolves.

Turtles - We've encountered turtles often on our hikes, especially near water and after big rains. Since we're not that familiar with the varieties of turtles I've always kept my dogs away from them. Why? Because snapping turtles which are found all over the country have very strong jaws and can be very aggressive with a nasty temper, if provoked. I allow them to look at them, and use the turtle encounters for training time for their 'leave it.' It's a fun game my dogs love.

Fox - When we lived in a cabin about a mile from our present cabin, we had a fox den about 300 feet from our front door. Fox, by nature, are not interested in humans or large animals, unless they are protecting their young or their den. Fox are most active in the early morning and at night; and we would hear their 'screams' at night occasionally. Generally speaking, we kept our distance from the fox den, kept the dogs leashed when outside their fenced area, and that was enough to keep them safe.

Wolf Spider
Spiders, scorpions and other creepy crawlies - We've encountered a wide variety of creepy crawlies around our cabin, from wolf spiders to small scorpions to caterpillars that pack a nasty sting. Many of these we didn't know about when we saw them the first time, but took precautions to stay away until identified. Good thing we did because Gracie found a Wolf Spider (which can leave an ouchy bite if provoked) last Fall, and I found a Saddleback Caterpillar (which packs a nasty sting) one day under the back deck.

It's always a good idea to have your dog first aid kit on hand for any emergencies while at home or away. For these bugs, especially scorpions, spiders, stinging caterpillars, bees and wasps, some of the regular items we keep on hand are hydrogen peroxide for cleaning (I took a little to clean out YoYo's mouth and gums after encountering a toxic toad) and Children's Benedryl (1 mg. per 1 lb. of body weight for dogs) which we've used for stings and copperhead snake bites, and Traumeel Cream after to reduce swelling and pain. But remember when something like a sting or snake bite happens to your dog, get to your vet immediately to be sure your dog doesn't go into shock from the sting or bite.

Now that you have a ton of information on hand you can keep aware while still enjoying the great outdoors this spring.

Have fun!


  1. would love to see a version of this topic focused on Hawaii; so different!

    1. Oh yes, so different! We don't have any experience, but hopefully those that do will comment!

  2. Did you have any good experience with bear bells?

    1. We don't, but have found with bears without young, just the dogs barking has deterred.

  3. This post is so informative and makes a very nice image on the topic in my mind. It is the first time I visit your blog, but I was extremely impressed. Keep posting as I am gonna come to read it everyday!


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