Managing Your Dogs Around Wildlife | DogLife360
proud dog in a forest

Managing Your Dogs Around Wildlife

It's summer! At last! We emerge blinking into the sunlight and happy. Happy to go adventuring in nature with the woofers! But, since the first week of June is National Wildlife Week, we're helping to raise awareness by encouraging our community to take our wildlife into consideration.

For as much as we want to let our dogs off the leash to run free, far away from the traffic, and with lots of places to explore, scents to read (and leave for the next dog), there are some serious factors that need to be taken into consideration.

kids running in a forest with a dog on a lead

Free-ranging dogs are considered serious predators – they have contributed to the extinction of around a dozen wild bird and animal species. There is research that says that they are in fact threatening hundreds of species worldwide, though the main threat is from feral and stray animals, rather than our pet dogs. Still, we need to take the whole wildlife ecosystem into consideration when planning excursions with our dogs.

The fact is that all dogs have what is called a Prey Drive, hardwired into their DNA, a phenomenon they have brought with them through hundreds of generations since they were roaming wild. Sheepdogs, for example, have a strong instinct to chase, while hunting breeds will stalk and flush out their prey. Indeed, searching, stalking, chasing, biting to grab onto prey, and biting to kill are all instincts deep within your animal’s psyche.

Fortunately, most of these instincts have been modified over time, and manifest themselves in chasing a tennis ball or playing – quite vigorously! - with soft toys, often tearing them to pieces, much to our amusement. 

signage: dogs on lead

A dog showing signs of aggression is not the same thing as prey drive. Aggression is usually a dog’s emotional response to a threat, as opposed to instinctive behaviour. An aggressive dog wants to create distance between himself and his perceived threat, while a dog’s instinctive prey drive will take him closer to his prey.

If your dog has a strong prey drive, you’ll need to manage it, as their behaviour can cause them to chase cars or hunt snakes. A dog with an overactive prey drive is a danger to small creatures such as rodents, birds, cats, and even small dog breeds.

To generalise – because no two dogs are ever entirely the same – the kinds of breeds that are likely to have strong prey drives include:

Beagles 

Greyhounds

Retrievers, 

Spaniels 

Pointers

Australian Shepherds

Border Collies

Airedale Terriers 

Bull Terriers

Siberian Huskies and Boxers might also fall into this group. 

beagle in a forest

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, there are now 12.5 million dogs in the UK, compared to only 4.7 million in 1965. So it follows that these days problems with dogs, when it comes to wildlife and even farm livestock, are way more frequent and problematic. The incidents of dogs attacking sheep, in particular, is a very serious issue and farmers have the right to shoot the dog, with the result that it is illegal for a dog to be “at large” – ie not on a lead and in the owner’s control, where there are sheep.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust states the issue very clearly:

Even though most dog walkers do behave responsibly, the simple presence of a dog on a lead may be enough to impact wildlife, especially bird species where numbers can be severely reduced. This means that bird watchers and visitors to nature reserves may not see as many birds, detracting from their experience. The effect on endangered species is particularly worrying. Dog-walking may also affect the accuracy of wildlife surveys that are used to map bird distributions around the world.

The presence of dogs creates anti-predatory responses in wildlife that may cause them to flee an area due to the perceived threat. On small nature reserves, dogs can cause a 40% reduction in bird species across the whole reserve. 

inviting wildlife walk

So, we all have a responsibility to our country’s wildlife – and farmers - to behave considerately at all times when we are guests in their environment. Let’s all play our part in preserving our wildlife for future generations, let's keep our dogs on leashes.


If your furry best friend is still learning to walk on a leash, check out Lucy Heath's Master Class video tutorial here

 

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