Hiking with your dog and going through an animal attack can be a pretty crazy thing to have to deal with, and dangerous. There’s a lot of great things about hitting the road and going on an adventure, whether it be with your friends, or by yourself. But there is no better companion then your best friend with four legs. I can’t even begin to tell you how many epic trips I have gone on with no one else but my furry friends, but a lot can happen in the woods when you aren’t expecting it. And when you’re not prepared for an emergency situation, things can get bad if you are far from help and don’t know what to do.
There are so many unseen dangers around every corner when your travelling alone. When you’re spending nights in the woods then you have to be aware of those dangers, and make sure you have trained your dog to be aware of them as well.
Of course, a dog is going to be a dog, no matter what you think you might have prepared him for. That, in itself, has benefits and downsides. When you’re out in the woods in the dark and something is coming too close for comfort, your dog might be the first one to let you know that something’s not quite kosher. Many times, I’ve been able to either get myself to a position where I could defend myself, or just get away, because my dogs let me know. But other times, animals just act like animals and there’s not much you can do to stop a scrap from happening.
Preventing an Animal Attack When Hiking with Dog
For first timer hikers, it can be tricky to spot the signs that you have stumbled into something else’s territory. Especially if it’s getting dark and you need to set up camp before you lose the light. But once the fire has gone out and you think you’re settled for the night; you might find out when it’s too late that you’ve set up in someone else’s stomping grounds. And whatever is out there might not be too happy about that.
A dog is very likely to want to defend you, or he’s just curious and gets a bit too close. At which point, chaos can ensue. Resulting in injuries to yourself, your four-legged friend, and whatever else was out there. So, how do you prepare for such a thing?
What to do if your dog tries to defend you?
Well, you can sit there and say, “my dog is well-trained, he would never attack a wild animal or get into a fight with something.” But that’s not something I would potentially bet my dog’s life on. Before you get out into the woods, here’s a few tips on how to stay safe. For you and your dog.
Imagine waking up in the woods in the middle of the night to the sound of your dog fighting something you can’t see. It’s not so much about stopping the fight, because in most cases the other animal will run off. It’s all about how you can prevent your dog from taking off on you, and how you deal with the aftermath when immediate danger has passed.
Obviously, a responsible owner will take no chances and go out prepared with a durable leash and collar, but you will also want something to make sure your dog stays put at night if he’s not in a tent with you. Putting your trust in a stake and leash combo isn’t the best bet. You want to make sure that if your dog tries to go after something, whatever he’s tied to isn’t going to follow. A solid tree, a good harness, and a tough leash will be a lot safer.
Get a Good Harness
My personal favorite for harnesses has got to be the ICEFANG Tactical Dog Harness. It’s not going to be uncomfortable for your dog, and it’s also going to make things a lot easier if you need to assist your dog in walking with an injury because of the handle on the back. It’s also great for protecting your dog’s body from an animal attack.
This thing is solid and it’s not going anywhere, which means neither is your dog. A harness beats a leash every single time and I advise this choice for all hikers, beginners or veterans alike. Plus, they look badass.
Next, you want to keep your dog close. The closer the better, that way if there is a situation, you’ll be able to get to him faster. At the same time, know that when a dog gets scared or injured, they can go into a frenzy of defense mode. This means that he might not even know what to attack, only that he needs to defend himself.
You don’t want to frighten him more by jumping into the fray and getting bit yourself. I’ve never been a big fan of tents, so for me I was always very close if not in the same sleeping bag as my dog. That made it even easier for me to be the one in control when any kind of wildlife wandered into our camping spot.
After an Attack, What Do You Do? Know Some Basic First Aid!
When going on a hike with your dog you don’t need to be a vet, or a doctor, to know that what works for a human will probably work for a dog too. We’re all made out of the same stuff; meat, bones, and flesh. So, what you would do for a person, you will want to know how to do for your pet as well, more or less. Obviously, if your dog gets a cut, you can’t just stick a band aide on it. But with a couple easy to store first aid kit supplies, you can definitely get yourself out of a bad situation in the event of cuts and bites.
Top 3 Useful Items for Wounds
One of my personal favorite things to have on hand is 3M Vetbond Tissue Adhesive.
This stuff is basically just super glue. Once you can get the area cleaned and dry, you just squeeze a bit of this stuff onto the cut or bite. Then squeeze the skin together to let it dry and close the open wound. I have used it on myself countless times, and (though I don’t advise it) I have also been saved by straight up super glue you can by at the dollar store as well.
Your best bet is to skip the super glue though and opt for the good stuff with 3M Vetbond.
Before you seal a wound, you need to clean it. I can’t stress that point enough. As soon as that skin is closed, that bacteria and whatever else might be in there is staying in there, until you can get some real help. That’s where Carefusion 0.9% Sodium Chloride Solution will be your best friend. You can order a 100 pack of single use tubes off Amazon and they are super easy to pack in your hiking bag. Good for you, and your dog in the event of an emergency.
If your pet has been injured on his legs, you want to make sure you can wrap the leg tightly and restrict blood flow. For bigger dogs, also try to make sure your dog can walk out of there on his own. Mueuss Self Adhesive First Aid Wraps are fantastic. Again, it’s a very light weight thing you can easily haul around with you, and like the other products I have mentioned, you can use it on yourself as well.
A few other things you really should have on hand are a good paid or scissors and disposable razors.
Know What Is Out There When Hiking with Your Dog
A lot depends on exactly what your dog has gotten into a fight with. The problem with that is that if it’s dark, you might not be able to see it or know what kind of dangers could be at play. When you go hiking with your dog in an area, make sure you do a little research on what kind of animals live in the area. Some animals pose more threats than others, and you should make sure you are aware of the potential dangers. These are some good tips to avoid animals on the trails that you can easily prepare for:
- If you suspect that there might be wildlife in the area, make sure that they can hear you coming. Putting bear bells on your dogs harness is a good way to make sure you don’t catch anything off guard, which can be dangerous. They don’t want to see you as much as you might not want to see them!
- Move at a slow pace. If you are running or jogging, a predator might think you’re food and want to chase you.
- Don’t let your dog run off ahead of you, keep them close and on a leash at all times and watch the ground for animal tracks, digging or droppings. If you do see droppings, keep your dog far away from them! Don’t let them investigate as wild animal droppings can be full of parasites and we all know how dogs tend to put things in their mouths without thinking about it.
What is Out There?? And What to Do If You Run into One?
Another thing to know about wildlife and the dangers they may possess is that many animals will act differently. In different scenarios, you’ll want to do different things.
If you find yourself face to face with a mountain lion, you might think, “Nope, I’m out!” and turn to run. That is exactly the opposite of what you want to do. It’s just a big cat, and cats are jerks. You have to be the bigger man.
So, stop and relax. Stare it in the eye and don’t break eye contact with it. Then, if you are able to, back away as slowly as you can. You also want to make yourself look as big as you can and tell it who is boss. Speak loudly, be firm about intentions and talk in a low voice. If you can carry your dog, pick it up so that he doesn’t take off after the thing.
If in the event that the mountain lion isn’t having it and wants you gone and makes this known by being aggressive, that’s when you start throwing everything you can get your hands on at it.
Usually, coyotes are pretty timid, but just like a dog they can be curious. I’ve never personally run into one and had any issues. But I have friends who have found themselves surrounded and in trouble when coyotes are out hunting. Keep an eye on the area around you, coyotes are excellent at sneaking up on you, and like a mountain lion encounter you’ll want to make yourself seem as big as you can and as loud as you can.
Throw things, any thing, whatever you can grab. Brandish a stick at it and make sure you never turn your back to a coyote. Don’t run, defend your honor and stay put. If a coyote comes at you go for the eyes. Throw sand or dirt, or anything you can in its eyes.
Look, I’m all for new hikers going out on trails with their dogs, but if you know there are bears in the area, you better be ready to make some quick decisions on the spot if in the event that you encounter one. Especially if it’s a Grizzly.
Black bears are less of a danger, still bad, don’t get me wrong. All bears can be an unpleasant and scary thing to come across, but they are a lot more timid than a Grizzly. Carry some bear spray just in case to defend yourself and your dog if in the event that a bear gets too close. If you see catch the attention of a black bear you can use the same tactics you would use for coyotes and mountain lions, be big, loud and aggressive.
If you meet a Grizzly, however, you are going to want to act differently. Bears tend to charge at people to scare them, often it’s a bluff. As horrifying as that might be, stand your ground. If you run, they will probably chase you and I guarantee they can run a lot faster than you can. Don’t try to climb a tree, just wait to see if they will get bored of you.
But, if you find yourself being attacked by a Grizzly Bear, play dead immediately. Get your face down and your hands over the back of your neck. Don’t try to take your backpack off, it will protect you at least a little, and once the bear gets bored don’t move. Stay quiet for as long as you can. You might think it’s gone, but bears like to hide and watch to see if you are going to move again, then they might come back.
If You Don’t Bug The Bears, They Probably won’t Bug You
All of that being said, bears are generally not moving too fast in the woods. They are doing their thing and you might find yourself hiking and see a bear before it sees you. If that is the case, don’t draw any attention to yourself, and be glad that you listened to my advice about keeping your dog on a leash with a good harness. Leave that bear as much room as you can and make a detour in any direction but the direction of the bear, obviously.
Don’t act suddenly, just casually let it do its thing and you go do your thing somewhere else. If it has noticed you, say hi in a normal voice and calmly explain the situation. And, if the bear knows your just a boring and harmless human, it likely won’t go out of its way to bother with you.
If it decides you are interesting and comes towards you, you can throw something on the ground in sight of the bear and away from you. This might pique its interest and distract it for long enough for you to make a clean getaway.
Remember, YOU are the Trespasser
Whatever you might encounter is going to look at you and probably be offended to some degree, whether they make it known or not. It’s like the way millennials look at everyone else in the world…they might acknowledge your existence, but they are most likely going to think that you are doing something wrong and imposing on their personal space. Your best bet is not to go looking for trouble. And to be well armed with knowledge and a solid first aid kit, just in case, before you go on an adventure with your dog.
There are all kinds of big animals and small animals that call the world their home, and it does happen that sometimes we just get a bit too close or do stupid things out of curiosity or ignorance that can lead to injury.
True story, a friend of mine and myself were walking through the woods in the dark to our camp site one night and she literally stepped on a possum. She didn’t see it, it didn’t see her, she got bit and a series of shots were required shortly after. Things happen!
The major difference between your friend getting bit or cut, and your dog is that your dog isn’t going to be able to tell you what is wrong, you have to watch him and pick up on those subtle hints. This can be next to impossible in the dark, and if your dog is really hurt, getting out of there might not be the easiest thing to do either. So, this is what you need to do.
First, eliminate further danger
If you are hiking with your dog in a place where it’s easy to get lost or fall and get hurt, don’t move. Be loud, I always carry cap guns that you can get online super cheap and they work great to scare away wild animals. Next, grab your dog. Make sure he’s not going anywhere because the last thing you want to do is be chasing an animal that is also chasing an animal through the woods. If it’s dark, get some light on the situation.
Start a fire, grab your flashlights and recover control of the area you are in. Then, once the danger has left and you can be certain that you are alone, you can assess the situation and calm down.
Seriously, calm down.
Your dog is going freak out even more if you are freaking out, so just like a medical emergency with people, you need to relax and calmly take control of the situation.
Find the wounds, and make sure you find ALL of them
This can be tricky if you have a longhaired breed of dog, you might not be able to see blood. So you need to calm your dog down and watch to see where he’s licking or if he’s limping. Poke around, feel every part of the body and be aware of any flinches, then look closer. This is where you’re going to be glad you packed those scissors and disposable razors.
Don’t be afraid to chop off some fur if you need to. Like I said, cleaning the wound is incredibly important to ward off infections. So get as much fur away from the wounds as you can and use plenty of sodium chloride to rinse it before you start gluing anything up. I had one nightmare of an adventure when I was alone with my dog in British Columbia when a racoon decided he didn’t like the look of us. Needless to say, all hell broke loose and both me and my dog cut pretty cut up.
Once the racoon had said what it needed to say, I was left with cuts all up my arms and a few bites on my leg, but my dog took the worst of it. Her face had been slashed on the muzzle and there was a good 4-inch flap of skin hanging down. Sorry about the graphic detail, but I can’t stress how happy I was that I had had that 3M liquid adhesive in my bag for the last three months. I had enough water to keep us hydrated, but it was 3 in the morning. And I was a good 2-hour hike from the closest town down the mountain, but I had common sense.
Defend the area, get light, calm down, assess the damage, treat the wounds
After flushing out my dog’s cuts and drying them with clean gauze (which I also recommend having on hand at all times) I loaded up her poor face with glue and held that flap of skin in place for a minute or two. Then, I got as much packed up as I could so that when first light rolled around, we would be ready to get out of there and down the mountain as fast as we could.
With wild animals like racoons, possums, skunks and other smaller animals you can never be sure what kinds of diseases they might have.
Make Sure Your Dog Has Had Its Shots!
So, before you go anywhere, make sure your dog has had all its shots, and you too. The best line of defense is a good offense. But even if you think you are prepared for anything, the world has a great way of surprising you. Don’t be naïve and assume you can handle anything, be smart and travel with a good first aid kit that will be able to keep you and your dog safe in the event of an animal attack. I’ve seen it so many times and so many times I have been thankful that I always kept 3M liquid adhesive, gauze, sodium chloride and bandage wraps in my bag.
You wouldn’t always expect it, but when you see those classic vagabond punks with their backpacks and their dogs hitchhiking around, there is a good chance they’ve got more medical supplies in their bags than they have clothes. And you know what, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
And always remember fellow hikers, don’t feed the wildlife, no matter how cute you think they are.
If you are satisfied with your dogs safety, let’s check out our post for treating your own injuries.