Whole Dog Journal's Blog August 19, 2013

Critters all around us

Posted at 02:59PM - Comments: (10)

I have a friend whose dogs are currently being terrorized by a band of aggressive turkeys in her neighborhood. Plus, her yard is not fenced, so the turkeys who wander down the block often take detours through her yard. They are not only large and noisy and numerous, they advance rather than retreat when her dogs approach them -- to the point that her dogs no longer want to go outside in their own yard. And quiver when they look out the windows and see the large birds foraging in the shrubbery.

I’m dying to go over there and visit, because chasing turkeys is one of Otto’s E-ticket activities. He likes chasing any small animal when he has permission, but turkeys top the list. He seems to recognize the fruitlessness of chasing things like squirrels, so he doesn’t get too excited about it. But turkeys take to the air with a great loud flapping of wings and slowly, ponderously, as if those big bodies won’t be able to get aloft in time. It’s stimulating and hope-inspiring.

He gets excited about chasing strange cats out of our yard, too -- that’s high up on the “top 10 Otto favorites” list – but he will also stop chasing and return to me on cue, at least 90 percent of the time. It took a LOT of work to install that “stop chasing and return” skill. I used the “Premack Principle” to help build that very useful behavior. (The Premack Principle is when you use a high-probability behavior to reinforce a lower probability one. In this case, it meant allowing him to chase a squirrel -- or the neighbor’s cat -- out of our yard after he’s seen it and come to me anyway. Of course, I use it only when the animal used for the reward has zero chance of getting caught. For more about Premack, see “Beyond Basic Dog Training,” WDJ April 2004 and “On-Leash Training Blossoms into Off-Leash Reliability,” March 2011.

Marauding turkeys would never be a problem for Otto, but there is another small animal that could ruin his day: skunks. He’s one of the few dogs I know who actually learned a lesson about skunks after being sprayed twice. When he sees or smells a skunk now, he whines and licks his lips and watches the skunk restlessly, but he won’t approach it. I’m thrilled with that. My sister’s Jack Russell Terriers could never be taught to resist, no matter how many times they were sprayed in the face. (Once, famously, when my sister had a sitter watching her dogs and her house, and the dogs had use of a dog door, and they probably had 10 or so hours to try to rub the skunk spray off of themselves, using her bed and sofa and rugs.)

Raccoons are another big threat to dogs (especially small dogs), in every sort of environment – rural, urban, and suburban. Mary Straus’s articles in the July and September issues of WDJ, chronicle some of the problems they can spell for dog owners. My sister’s JRTs saved her Chihuahua from being eaten by a raccoon once (and it was that clueless Chi’s second raccoon attack!).

WDJ’s Training Editor Pat Miller has long complained about one of her dogs, who can’t messing with (and keeps getting torn up during altercations with) groundhogs. I just couldn’t imagine such a thing, until I saw my first groundhog, while in Toronto recently (we don’t have them in California). Dang! Those things get big! And they just sort of SIT there, daring a dog to come at them. They must have some pretty powerful arsenal of teeth or claws or something hidden under all that seeming blubber, to sit and stare back at passersby, like the ones I saw seemed wont to do.

What animals ruin your dog’s day? 

Comments (10)

I suggest for the area of yard you want to keep the turkeys away from, make a perimeter of moth balls, see if they cross that terrible odor !

Posted by: C W | September 18, 2013 2:51 PM    Report this comment

Turkeys are the natural prey of large hawks, coyotes, foxes and wolves. Decoys of these predators, one or more, should discourage the birds from foraying into the yard.
The exception to this are turkeys that have not experienced predation. Though hawks do not prey on mature turkeys, the turkeys do not outgrow their fear of them.

Posted by: Jeffrey L | August 23, 2013 8:20 PM    Report this comment

I live in rural southern NJ (most people can't imagine that such a thing exists!) on about 13 acres of land. Since none of it is fenced and one side of the property in front of our home borders a somewhat busy country road (unfortunately reckless speeding is part and parcel of country roads) the dogs are always leashed. Of course, they need to run and play, which they do at least twice a day, when we walk the perimeter of the property and the trails throughout which my DH has so kindly created for me. However, it's on a 50ft training lead so I am fairly certain of control, while still giving them a good workout and lots of fun romping.

We have every manner of wild critter on our property, and families of turkeys, from babies to the elderly, are a certainty nearly every day. Add to that the deer families, the groundhogs, skunks, rabbits, squirrels, hawks, vultures, snakes, turtles, red and gray fox, and also an occasional coyote, believe it or not. I hear there have also been bear and bobcat sitings in the area. Sunrise and sunset are the best times for catching sight of the wild ones, and also the times my crew most enjoy their adventures.

Thankfully - fingers crossed of course - none of them have ever been sprayed by a skunk. We had one close call, but since Ziggy, an eskie-corgi mix, was on the long lead, I was able to high tail it out of there with him before disaster struck - or sprayed! My other two pups are Pippi, a purebred eskimo and Foxie, an eskie-pom mix.

Posted by: Doris Z | August 20, 2013 6:07 PM    Report this comment

We live on 7 acres and have horses, chickens, a cat and two German Shepherds. I have never allowed my dogs to chase or harass any critter, wild or domestic. Too many bad things can happen. Sometimes the older rooster will feel that the dogs are too close to his hens and may go after the dogs. They are allowed to defend themselves enough to back down the rooster but know not to pursue it any further.

Posted by: Ilsa | August 20, 2013 4:38 PM    Report this comment

Your description of turkey take-off is so accurate :-) My dogs have a fenced yard, and the turkeys that sashay through the yard don't come over the fence. It does drive the dogs nuts!! And I also once had a dog who NEVER learned about porcupines...... Occasionally a suicidal rabbit gets into the fence, never to venture alive on the other side again.

Posted by: Kathleen W | August 20, 2013 4:04 PM    Report this comment

We have a house on a mountain in Vermont, where we often walk Giada, our Spinone, off-leash. One day she got a little too far ahead of us, and we called her back. She came immediately, but there was something hanging from her mouth, which turned out to be one very angry, squawking chicken! Of course she dropped it on command, and with her soft, bird dog mouth, the chicken was no worse for her unplanned journey! she tossed her head, squawked one more time, and high-tailed it for home, leaving Giada a bit perplexed at why we were upset. After all, she was only doing her job, wasn't she?

Posted by: Michelle S | August 20, 2013 3:49 PM    Report this comment

We have many, many wild turkeys on Eastern Long Island and they are most definitely a problem. A major issue (other than wandering around streets as well as lawns) is that they defecate all over the place. And, at six months, our standard poodle puppy could not resist their fatty residue - the result being an attack of acute pancreatitis. There is a reason why the saying is to not allow a dog into a chicken coop - and it isn't to protect the chickens....

Posted by: megen | August 20, 2013 12:58 PM    Report this comment

Weimaraners have strong prey drive - as a general rule, which too few owners understand or appreciate, before acquiring. (They were hunted on FUR as well as feather in Germany.)

Mine have gone after & caught birds (in take-off mode) squirrels, rabbits, toads, box turtles & even killed an opossum. The latter had somehow gotten into our chain-link fenced yard & had taken refuge(?) in/under our wood pile. My female quickly "excavated" the ground under the pile, caught & truly killed it. (No, it was NOT playing DEAD.) It was still "dead" the next day, where the carcass was removed to, in case we were wrong.

So far, no snakes and no cats have been caught, but we've seen many near misses on cats, since many neighbors let theirs roam freely. I think the toads/frogs that cause "foaming of the mouth" are the worst, followed by the rabbits. We find using ziploc bags to place the body in the freezer (until the next trash day) work best for disposal. The rabbits have been CRAWLING with fleas & often necessitate a quick hose bath, before ithe dog or the human (doing the body-bagging) can come back inside.

Posted by: Betsy | August 20, 2013 12:13 PM    Report this comment

We lived in the woods when we lived in NJ and the woods were full of critters. The yard was securely fenced....actually 2 fenced yards....but there were plenty of unfenced acres for the wild critters. We had bats and ground hogs and raccoons and bears and wild turkeys surrounding us. Occasionally a wild critter did get into the fenced yard and havoc was the result. I have lost my voice from screaming to try and get the dogs' attention away from the interloper. The pack....anywhere from 4 to 7 dogs (resident dogs and foster dogs) would form into a cohesive killing machine....it was fascinating and horrifying at the same time. These will docile dogs in their regular life...some were very old.....and they were different breeds of dogs but when one sounded the alert they were all very focused. We of course started doing wild critter look out before we let the pack out but we did have a dog door that we opened during the day. We did have one bloody carcass dragged through the dog door into the house and left on the living room floor.

Posted by: Olivia | August 20, 2013 11:01 AM    Report this comment

And then there are porcupines.....they have an irresistible odor, and I once had a dog get about 20 quills in his face - and the porky was DEAD! He, like the JRT, never learned.

Posted by: Diane | August 20, 2013 10:56 AM    Report this comment

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