The arrival of Spring is a great time for dog owners – the days start to get longer and hiking season begins. With the start of hiking season also comes the start of bear season. If you enjoy hitting the trails with your dog you need to learn to be “bear aware.” The following post covers encounters with black bears.
According to metrovancouver.org, black bears are typically active between mid-March and November and are primarily driven by food. When a bear has exhausted a food source in a particular area they will move on to another area – so just because you haven’t seen a bear on a particular hiking trail does not mean that they won’t find their way there. If you are hiking in bear country be aware of what bear food sources may be in the area – berries and salmon are favourites.
Bear attacks involving a dog are relatively rare, however in those that do happen the majority are in situations where the dog is off-leash. If you are hiking with your dog in bear country consider keeping your dog on a leash.
If you do encounter a bear follow these rules to escape the encounter unscathed (adapted from orvis.com).
- If the bear has not seen you: leave quietly without attracting attention. If you run you may encourage the bear to run after you – so quietly turn and walk away.
- If the bear has spotted you be sure to give them some space. Keep your dog close to you and go back the way you came – if necessary take a detour to give the bear as much space as possible.
- If you are at close range and an encounter is unavoidable make yourself as big as possible and make lots of noise to scare the bear away. Do not make eye contact as the bear may interpret this as you being aggressive. Back away from the bear making sure that they have an escape route as well.
- If all else fails make sure you have bear spray AND that you know how to use it. If the bear attacks – fight back! Let the bear know that you are not easy prey.
Also pay attention and be aware of times that a bear may not be able to detect that you are coming – such as when you are near a water source or the wind is in your face. In those situations it is even more important to be loud and make your presence known.
Avy and I do a lot of hiking together in the spring and summer and to date we have not had a negative encounter with a bear. We did encounter a small black bear while hiking near a salmon bearing creek but the bear detected our presence before we saw him and made his way up a tree for protection. In that situation we quickly leashed Avy and calmly made our way back up the trail, going out the way that we had come in. Avy has a bear bell and actually enjoys wearing it – so she will happily run along the trail allowing the bell to jingle out a warning to any bears in the area.
For the most part a bear does not want to encounter you any more than you want to encounter them. So when you are out hiking with your dog make sure that you make your presence known. Put a bear bell on your dog, talk loudly (or sing) while walking on the trail and clap your hands to announce your presence.