co existence of dogs and wildlife

I wonder if a moose bedded down by the chicken-coop path would qualify as a traffic jam on CBC’s “commuter challenge?” It…

I wonder if a moose bedded down by the chicken-coop path would qualify as a traffic jam on CBC’s “commuter challenge?”

It certainly does block my way!

Grabbing the dog that’s with me by the neck and motioning for him to sit, I watch the moose get up and look at us.

To enjoy the moose in peace, I escort the dog back into the cabin, then return to the meadow where the moose cow still stands, apparently deciding what to do.

We watch each other for a few minutes and just as the cold starts to seep into my gum boots, the moose slowly starts picking her way up the hill, leaving me free to resume my morning commute to the chickens with the feed and water buckets.

Keeping wildlife safe around dogs and vice versa is a tricky but important part of living out in the bush.

I guess most dog owners are familiar with that moment of helpless frustration when the beloved pooch’s chase instinct gets triggered by some moving object and you see the dog’s erect tail quickly vanishing into the distance, despite all the whistling and yelling on your part.

No fun! It becomes even more of a challenge for the multiple dog owner, when the little darlings get each other going.

I wish I were able to say that our dogs are so exceedingly well-trained and well-behaved that we live in carefree harmony with caribou and moose in the winter, bears in spring and early summer, moose cows and calves over the summer and bears again in fall.

While we do manage a fairly conflict-free co-existence with the wildlife, this is mostly based on dog personality traits and other factors — especially always paying close attention to the dogs and not leaving them roam around unsupervised.

During walks, I call the dogs back to heel when those ears, tails and noses go up and their pace quickens.

I even put them on a leash if the scent they’ve found appears to be too tempting.

We also change course if there is much animal traffic. To alert wildlife to our presence, especially when we are travelling into the wind, I yodel out a little ditty like “hollada hoosel moosel” in intervals.

I’ve found that in the summer, bears can become so absorbed in digging for ants or the nice view from their sunny day bed that they don’t check as much for oncoming traffic as you’d think.

Old Leshi fancies herself quite the bear dog and while we don’t mind her keeping curious bears away from the cabin, she has the unfortunate trait of wanting to keep a treed bear immobile.

As soon as the bear twitches a muscle, she’s right back under the tree — which meant a couple of times that I had to forcibly remove the dog from the base of the tree while a black bear sat perched on a branch above me.

Not a task I appreciated!

Bears are welcome to walk through the property and harvest berries though, so when there is a lot of bear traffic Leshi gets tied up. One way of conflict resolution!

Young Milan is the dog we have to watch the most around caribou and moose because his chase instinct is so strong.

Bears disappointed him early in life, when he was just a few months old. Leshi had treed a black bear next to the cabin, and little Milan enthusiastically joined the dog commotion at the bottom of the tree, not having noticed the bear before.

This apparently led him to believe that bears grow on trees, since for a week after this event he made a dash for that tree first thing every morning but never found a bear in it again.

He’s been eyeing bears with suspicion ever since. A running moose or caribou is more his style, causing his brain (what there is of it) to switch off and become deaf to all “come” commands.

The remedy turned out to be a professional electronic dog-training collar — an expensive solution, but worth the peace of mind!

The electric shock Milan receives when taking off after an animal jars him out of his trance, and he returns immediately, having been trained to understand the zap at his throat as a “come” signal.

With old Leshi too arthritic for more than a 100-metre sprint, Nooka not assertive enough to go after wildlife, and Milan on remote control, we can sometimes enjoy watching wildlife without the dogs making a nuisance of themselves.

I think this might be our backwoods commuter challenge: moving through wildlife habitat with a bunch of dogs without causing traffic disruptions or accidents.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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