DWR reminds pet owners it's illegal to allow dogs to chase, harass big game animals
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A black labrador dog stares at two wild turkeys, in deep snow

DWR reminds pet owners it's illegal to allow dogs to chase, harass big game animals

Salt Lake City — Due to the deep snowfall this winter, deer, elk and other big game animals have migrated into lower-elevation areas looking for food sources. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources wants to remind dog owners to keep their pets under control after several recent instances where deer and other big game were chased by dogs, and an elk was injured.

A black labrador dog stares at two wild turkeys, in deep snow

Utah's wildlife often struggles to find food during the winter, and some animals — like deer and elk — rely heavily on the body fat reserves they built up during the previous summer. Mid-winter and early spring are especially vulnerable times for these animals. Data from recent DWR monitoring efforts show that the extreme cold and increased snowpack across the state this winter are starting to impact mule deer fawn survival rates, and may negatively impact the ability of the adult deer to survive the winter.

With so many big game animals migrating into valleys this winter, there have been increased conflicts in both rural and urban areas. Dogs that are off leash — or not contained within a yard — may act on their instincts to chase deer and other big game animals they see. However, that is harmful for big game animals because by the end of winter, they are usually surviving on fat reserves.

"If they get chased, it uses up energy they may need to survive," Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Big Game Coordinator Dax Mangus said. "These animals are already depleted, and they can't afford to waste energy. If you or a pet force them to move away from where they are trying to feed, it could be harmful and can impact their survival."

While there are many areas throughout the state where dogs aren't required to stay on a leash while hiking, pet owners should not let their dogs chase deer, elk, moose or other wild animals. It can be harmful not only for the wildlife, but also can be dangerous for your pet.

"Wildlife is often unpredictable and may injure or kill a dog seen as threatening," Mangus said.

Dogs that are off leash can also disturb nesting ground birds in the spring and can chase, injure or kill small mammals, deer, elk or moose.

It is also in your best interest to not allow your pet to chase wildlife, because Utah law states that a person may kill or injure a dog that is "attacking, chasing or worrying any species of hoofed protected wildlife."

Here are some tips from Wild Aware Utah about keeping your dogs safe around wildlife, whether in your yard or while out hiking:

  • Keep your dog's vaccinations up to date.
  • Be aware that moose can be especially aggressive toward dogs.
  • Always supervise pets when outdoors, particularly at dawn and dusk.
  • Avoid going near den sites and thick vegetation.
  • If you find an animal carcass, leave the area — it could be a kill that a cougar is guarding or will be returning to.
  • Make noise while hiking.
  • Do not allow dogs to "play with" or chase wildlife. It is against Utah law to allow dogs to chase or harass hoofed wildlife, like deer, elk and moose.
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