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Idaho Fish and Game

Avoiding Dog and Wolf Conflicts

As summer rolls around, more people will head into the mountains with the family dog trailing along, but with the growing wolf population in the backcountry, they may be heading into trouble. Most trouble with wolves can be avoided, however, by taking a few precautions and by understanding a little bit about wolves. Wolves are by nature extremely territorial, and have developed ritualistic behaviors such as scent-marking and howling to mark their territories and indicate their strength to neighboring packs. Wolves also guard their territory and recent kills from other canids, including coyotes and domestic dogs. Because humans and their pets don't typically understand or recognize this complex system of wolves' sound, sign, and smell, they may place their pets in harm's way without realizing it. Wolves still are protected under the Endangered Species Act and, though it is legal on private land, it is illegal to shoot a wolf attacking pet dogs or hunting hounds on public land. But there are things dog owners can do to reduce the chance of conflicts. While it's impossible to completely eliminate wolf-dog conflicts in wolf habitat, precautions when walking dogs or hunting with hounds include:
  • Keep the dog on a leash if possible-dogs running loose, away from people may attract wolves.
  • If the dog runs loose, bring a leash to restrain the dog if wolves or wolf sign are encountered.
  • Learn to recognize wolf sign. Knowing the signs associated with dens, rendezvous sites and kills will help avoid them.
  • If you live near wolves, kennel dogs or bring them in at night. Don't leave food out that may attract wolves, bears or other unwanted guests.
  • Make noise or put a bell on the dog collar to alert wolves that humans are associated with the dog; wolves are more likely to avoid contact with a dog when they are aware of humans nearby.
Hound hunting in wolf habitat is inherently risky; trailing dogs run loose away from the people who would ordinarily deter wolves. But hound hunters can take several steps used successfully by mountain lion ecology researchers in Yellowstone National Park. Researchers used hounds in more than 150 lion captures over more than eight winters in an area with high densities of wolves. They did not have any conflicts with wolves. They recommend:
  • Survey an area for wolf sign before releasing dogs; don't turn hounds loose if fresh wolf sign is found or wolves are heard howling nearby.
  • Release hounds only on fresh sign-shorter chases result in less time dogs are away from the safety of people.
  • Yell or make noise when releasing hounds and going to the tree to announce your presence to wolves that may be in the area.
  • Get to the tree as quickly as possible-barking, unattended dogs may attract wolves.
  • Leash dogs at the tree to prevent them from pursuing other cats.
  • Some suggest using bells or beeper collars to emit a non-natural sound that indicates the hounds are not wild canids.
  • Don't release dogs at baits or kill sites recently visited by wolves. When looking for bear or lion sign at a bait site or carcass, make sure to also look for wolf tracks.
  • Bird hunters working in timbered wolf habitat for forest grouse should keep dogs within view, put a bell or beeping collar on wider ranging dogs, talk loudly to the dog or other hunters, use whistles, and otherwise control the dog so it stays close to the hunter; put the dog on a leash if wolves or fresh sign are seen.
Because wolves tend to travel the same trails that people do, wolf sign can often be found if wolves are nearby. The following distinguish wolf sign from other animal sign: Scat: Wolf droppings, or scat, are generally 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter with tapered ends. Coyote scat typically is less than 1 inch in diameter. Wolf scat usually contains elk and deer hair, as well as shards of bones. Wolf "meat scats," typically deposited after a fresh kill, are loose and tar-like. Travel and tracks: Wolf tracks are generally larger than dog tracks, usually 3 1/2 to 4 inches wide by 4 to 5 inches long and with distinct claw marks. Wolves usually travel in a more "business like" straight line, while dogs meander back and forth. The distance between one set of wolf tracks and the next is usually greater than 26 inches and often more than 30. Wolves typically have narrow chests, and their tracks appear almost in a straight line. A pack of wolves traveling together in snow often walk directly in each others tracks so that there appears to be only one animal. Report wolf conflicts immediately to local Fish and Game offices or to USDA Wildlife Services toll-free at 866-487-3297.