Anyone who encounters cows or livestock guardian dogs while hiking with their dog should observe a few rules of conduct. The encounter can quickly get out of hand and the excursion in the mountains can become dangerous. Read here what you need to watch out for.
Every year, horror stories like these appear in the news: while hiking in the Stubaital, a woman was trampled to death by a herd of cows, and in Switzerland, a tourist from Berlin was fatally injured while hiking by grazing cattle. What do both cases have in common? Both women had one or more dogs with them. Read here what you absolutely need to know when hiking with a dog.
What makes dogs so dangerous to cattle?
The cows have their offspring in the spring and are therefore particularly concerned about the safety of their calves. A dog behaves like a predator and is therefore a danger to the herd, both for the suckler cows and the bulls, and of course especially for the young animals. In addition, cows cannot see very well at a distance and are more sensitive to movement. When in doubt, they start off in the direction of the potential threat. This is an impusive behavior in suckler cows, the so-called protective instinct.
Checklist for safe hiking with the dog
- When encountering animals, always remain calm and do not run away.
- When sighting herds, no matter what kind, your own dog should be on a leash.
- Try to give the dog a wide berth around the herd and under no circumstances try to cross it.
- Avoid eye contact with the excited animals.
- If attacked, unleash your own dog.
- Always avoid wild gestures and shouting.
- Put as much space as possible between you and the herd, but without haste. If necessary, back up and maintain visual contact.
- A cane is only used in extreme emergencies if you don’t know how to help yourself.
This is how you can tell if the herd of cattle is dangerous
First of all, you should only be out and about with your dog on signposted paths. Here, too, it can happen that the hiking trail leads over an alpine pasture where cattle graze. That’s why you should take a closer look at the herd. There are three types of cattle herds:
1. the herd of suckler cows, consisting of the dams and their calves. The young animals are curious, but the mums are not to be trifled with. And if bulls are also present, you should be particularly careful.
2. the herd of young animals. She is naturally curious and high-spirited. Uncontrolled movements can occur on contact.
3. the herd of cows, consisting of female teres who are milked regularly. These cows are used to human contact, but of course, cattle are individuals too, and they react very differently to different situations.
For this reason, you should never come too close to grazing animals and, above all, neither feed nor pet the calves. This can lead to misunderstandings and become uncomfortable not only for you but also for the hikers who come after you.
If cattle do that, an attack threatens
Extreme caution is required when the cattle begin to stare at you and your dog and raise and lower their heads. The animals bend their knees and snort loudly. So they try to smell more intensively because their eyesight is relatively poor. Individual cattle then usually take slow steps in their direction before starting to run.
How to behave correctly when encountering cattle
If you have to walk past a herd of cattle with your dog, you should do the following:
- Put your dog on a leash and lead him away from the cattle. Walk calmly and firmly past the cattle, but please don’t run!
- Avoid defensive gestures with your hands: The cattle are more likely to respond to quick movements, so you are more likely to lure them in with vigorous waves.
- Don’t turn your back on the free-roaming cattle, keep an eye on them at all times. But don’t look directly in the eye.
- If the behavior then turns into aggression, it is best to unleash your dog, no matter how difficult
- it may be! He’s faster without you and much better at dodging attacks than you. The attention of the cattle is then drawn to the dog and you can leave the danger area quickly and calmly.
Only in an absolute emergency do you hit the cattle with a stick on the nose. But only if there is no other option. The same applies here: don’t run! Leave the danger area slowly and steadily and do not turn your back on the animals.
This danger emanates from livestock guardian dogs
Not only free-roaming cattle pose a potential danger for you and your dog when hiking. Livestock protection dogs also take their job very seriously and that consists of defending themselves against foreign animals. In Switzerland alone, around 200 herd guards are on duty during the summer months.
Preferably Maremmanos or Pyrenean mountain dogs are trained for this demanding work. They have to act independently, but are usually so well socialized that they react confidently to both hikers and their own kind. However, there are a few rules of the game that you should keep in mind when encountering a livestock guardian dog.
Behavior when encountering livestock guardian dogs
When entering open grazing area, slow down and speak up a little louder so you don’t catch the dogs by surprise. Be sure to remain calm, even if the herd guard barks at you at first. Put your own dog on a leash and walk around the herd with it.
Avoid looking the excited guard dog directly in the eye. If all else fails, shield yourself with a stick that you point diagonally down toward the attacking dog. Please do not raise the stick, wave it around or shout about it. You’re just provoking the dogs. Better back up to give a clear signal that you are retreating.
If you follow these tips, nothing stands in the way of a successful hiking adventure with a dog and harmonious animal encounters.