BANFF – An encounter between a black bear and a Great Dane has wildlife experts reminding people of the dangers of having dogs off-leash.
The owner of the large dog, an Albertan who was hiking with two out-of-province friends on Stoney Squaw trail near Banff on May 5, has been charged for having the dog off leash.
Parks Canada officials say having an off-leash dog is not only illegal, but can increase the chances of an aggressive encounter with a bear because a dog may be more prone to pursue and provoke – and also draw a bear to an owner.
“The hikers reported the dog running off leash in front of them when they encountered the black bear on the trail,” said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park.
“The bear sat down and apparently growled, but did not show any further aggression. They called back the dog, the dog came and the bear did not follow, fortunately.”
Scared from their encounter with the bear, the hikers called 911. Park wardens responded and laid charges and resources conservation officers went to make sure there were no cubs or a kill site.
“There was no reason to believe the bear was staying in the area, so there were no warnings or closure,” said Hunt.
A study published in 2016 in the online journal Nature.com showed the causes of about half of 700 carnivore encounters in North America and Europe were a result of inappropriate human behaviour, including dogs off leash.
Another study published in 2014 in International Bear News revealed 49 of 92 reported black bear attacks in Canada and the United States from 2010-15 involved dogs.
Of those, dogs were injured half the time and in seven instances, the bear killed the dog.
Depending on the circumstances of an encounter, Hunt said the eventual outcome for the bear can be death.
“Any time you’re hiking with a dog, they can be a potential attractant or antagonize wildlife and, because the dog was unlawfully off leash in this case, both hikers and the dog were at risk,” said Hunt.
“It could result in an aggressive response from a bear and we know, based on past experience and the literature, that bears perceive dogs as they would any other wildlife like wolves and coyotes and can have an antagonistic relationship.”
Those caught with dogs off leash in the mountain national parks can face a mandatory court appearance and fines of up to $25,000.