Take extra precautions with dogs in wolf country

A wolf from the Leadpoint pack in northeast Washington.

Gray wolves were mostly extirpated (made locally or regionally extinct) from Washington by the 1930s. With their numbers recovering and wolves beginning to spread throughout the state, there is more potential for people and their pets to share habitat with the wolf packs in Washington. This is especially true with more people moving to rural areas.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) gets many questions about human safety around wolves. While there have been very few documented wolf attacks on humans in the U.S. (because wolves generally try to avoid people), encounters with pets are more common as wolves are both curious and confrontational with dogs and will sometimes challenge a dog over territory.

A wolf and pups in north central Washington.

Wolves view dogs- whether pets, herding dogs, hunting dogs, or other- as competition and will protect their territory from intruders throughout the year. Wolves breed from late January to March, which can make them aggressive toward dogs as they protect their mates. Wolves are also protective of their pups.

Wolves den from April to July. After denning, they establish rendezvous sites for their pups; areas of concentrated activity associated with feeding, resting, and gathering. Wolves may establish rendezvous sites as early as mid-May and as late as the end of September. Weaned pups are moved to these sites until old enough to travel with the pack. A dog in a pack’s territory can be perceived as an intruder that is a threat to the pack. To protect the pack, wolves may chase or fight with a dog.

Wolf tracks in the snow in north central Washington.

Negative interactions between wolves and dogs can be prevented by dog owners taking some proactive measures if you live or recreate in areas with wolves:

  • Don’t let your dog(s) out to wander unattended. Put them outside in a fenced yard or take them out on a leash.
  • Don’t leave dogs out in an unprotected environment at night.
  • Build strong pens or enclosures for outdoor animals, using electric fences if appropriate.
  • Walk your dog(s) on a leash and make noise- talking, whistling, singing- so wolves know you are coming and give them a chance to leave the area.
  • If walking with a dog and you encounter a wolf, the best thing to do is leave the area. Do not panic (and do not run) if wolves follow for a short distance. It is not unusual for them to follow you until they are reassured the person (or dog) is leaving. It is also not uncommon for wolves to bark if you encounter them. This is a warning that you should leave the area.
  • If you feed your dog(s) outside, always bring their bowls in after they are done eating to avoid attracting wildlife.
  • Never feed wildlife. Even if you wish to only feed deer or turkeys, feeding any wild animal can also attract carnivores that follow their prey.
  • Keep your property clean by securing garbage and anything else that could attract wild animals.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Bassing, University of Washington

The above tips can save you some problems even if you don’t have a wolf pack in your area. Unattended dogs running loose can cause problems with all kinds of wildlife, either attacking animals like deer or turkeys or being attacked by carnivores. Under state law, you can be fined $250 if your dog is caught harassing wildlife. WDFW officers are also authorized by state law to confiscate dogs that are chasing wild animals but urge owners to restrain their pets to avoid such measures.

More information regarding wolves in Washington can be found at WDFW’s Wolf Conservation and Management website. You can also report wolf sightings there.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.