Plus, what to do if one of them should attack.

By Roxanna Coldiron
August 21, 2019
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The backyard is a wonderful place for your dog to get in daily exercise. Though we may think that letting our dogs roam free within the confines of our yard is perfectly safe, there are dangers that could be lurking around. Outdoor spaces can be very attractive to wildlife, and a fence is not always effective at keeping out predators (especially the ones that can slither or fly). They are not always obvious either. Some of the smallest predators are the most deadly.

"The types of predators you may encounter will vary with the region in which you live," says Melissa Pezzuto, behavior consultant team lead at the Best Friends Animal Society. "Do some research so that you are familiar with animals that are local to your area." News reports can alert you to any recently spotted animals that could barge into your backyard such as a roaming black bear or a lone coyote on the prowl. She recommends that you supervise your pets when they are outside, and provide fencing and deterrents if possible. And, of course, avoid leaving any food or garbage in the backyard that could appeal to the wildlife. The dog should also be well trained to your commands. "Teach your dog a recall so that if they came upon another animal you can call them away without putting them at risk," Pezzuto says. 

Related: Keep Animals Out of Your Garden with These Expert-Approved Methods

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

When we think of predators, we don't immediately think of the insect variety. But anyone who has ever been stung by one of these winged pests or suffered from an allergic reaction knows to be wary. "Dogs can be allergic to bee stings just like some humans are," explains Laura Stern, DVM, DABVT, director of client programs at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. "Allergic reactions can be potentially life-threatening." If your dog is stung by a bee, wasp, or hornet, you'll want to monitor him for a few hours. Remove the stinger, if present, and wash the area with mild soap and water. A cold ice pack for five to 10 minutes can help reduce swelling. But if you notice that your dog is having trouble breathing or other signs of distress, take your dog to the local veterinary hospital immediately. The same goes if your dog was stung in a sensitive area, like their throat, or multiple times. Rush to the emergency veterinarian in such cases.

Venomous Snakes

Little garden snakes generally won't pose a danger to anyone, but you will want to avoid rattlesnakes and cottonmouths. Any venomous snake that is local to your area could be a potential backyard predator. "In general, snakes want to be left alone and will only bite when provoked," says Pezzuto. "Many times dogs will come across snakes when sniffing holes in the ground or mysterious leaf piles and bushes." In those instances, a snake that is startled may bite. She advises taking your dog to the veterinarian right away if bitten by a venomous snake.

But how can you protect your dog from being bitten in the first place? Get to know your area and your backyard. If snakes tend to be rather common, it might be best to keep your dog on the leash with you supervising outside. "Teaching your dog a solid 'leave it' and recall cue is extremely important for safety and can help refocus your if they do come upon a snake," Pezzuto says. If you live in an area where rattlesnakes are common, you can ask your veterinarian if the vaccine would be appropriate for your dog.

Coyotes and Foxes

The good news is that coyotes generally go for smaller prey like rabbits or mice. That said, small dogs could potentially be at risk. Pezzuto advises that you are always on the lookout for coyotes, and do not feed or interact with them if you do happen to see one. "Many attacks happen because coyotes become habituated to humans and will become bolder and get closer to homes and populated areas," she explains. "Coyotes will normally leave most dogs alone unless they feel threatened or are wanting to protect their territory." You should stay with your pet when outside and keep food inside. Fencing that extends six feet or higher above the ground and goes six inches to a foot below the ground can keep coyotes from getting into your backyard. "You can add coyote rollers to the top [of the fence] which essentially roll the coyote off if they are able to scramble to the top," Pezzuto suggests.

Hawks and Falcons

Large birds of prey could also pose a danger to small dogs. "They tend to hunt rodents and could mistake a small dog for prey," Pezzuto explains. "Supervise your dog when they are outside and, if available, stay in a covered area. If you do see a bird of prey, you should pick up your dog or take them inside." Hawks and owls won't be able to carry more than their own weight, so these birds of prey don't swoop down to attack dogs as often as we think. Squirrels and rabbits are their preferred dinner fare.

What should you do if you see one of these predators in your yard? Stay calm. Try to either scare the animal away by making a noise or shining light, or backing away and securing your dog from the threat.

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