Story: Keeping wildlife safe from your dogs

There are at least five bird nests in our yard this season–that we know of. Cardinals, wrens, catbirds and possibly a warbler family have all taken up residence here on our New Jersey mountaintop.

Wren on a birdhouse

The Wren family moved into this lovely cottage.

Every day, I hear the tiny peep peeps of nestlings rise to near screech levels as harried moms and dads bring breakfast, second breakfast, third breakfast and beyond to their hungry hordes.

Immature red bellied woodpecker

This immature Red-bellied woodpecker is still dependant on its parents.

Some birds have already fledged, and I find them hopping around my bushes, parents hovering nearby, still bringing food to the youngsters who aren’t quite able to fend for themselves.

Catbird wants food from bluejay

A confused young catbird chased this juvenile blue jay around, demanding food. Young birds and other creatures haven’t quite figured out the rules of the game–sometime with serious consequences.

It’s not just birds; young chipmunks and squirrels are frequent visitors.


That’s right little chipmunk; you should look worried–and have an escape route planned for when the dogs are in the yard.

Smaller, cleaner and more bright-eyed than their parents, they’re also a little less wary of humans–and dogs.

You lookin' at me, Squirrel?

This squirrel let me get way too close to take his photo. He needs to develop a little wariness.

To pups with a high prey drive–like Jasper and Tucker–there is nothing more enticing than the high-pitched cheep of a startled chipmunk.  Unless it’s the fresh scent trail of squirrel. Or the scrabbling sound of young bird digging underneath the rhododendrons.

Dogs looking for chipmunks hidden in the hosta

Tucker and Jasper (you can just see the tip of his tail) swim through my hosta in search of a chirping chipmunk. Luckily, it escaped unnoticed.

Which is why every year about this time, I have to go on baby patrol before I let my dogs outside.  As much as I love Jasper, Lilah and Tucker, I don’t like their hunting ability. Because, sadly, they’re real good. Actually, Jasper and Tucker are the critter hunters. Lilah is interested, but doesn’t have that killer instinct that the boys do.

Cat watches squirrel through window

With Calvin watches from a kitchen window, a young squirrel ventures onto our deck to eat maple seeds dropped from the tree above.

We’ve already had a few close encounters this year, some with better outcomes than others. I won’t go there.

Eastern garter snake

All three dogs ran right over this garter snake, who was curled up by our fence. It was lucky not to be trampled. I encouraged it to slip under the fence into the woods.

Over the years, I have learned a few tips that help the wildlife around my home make it to adulthood, and possibly come back to visit year after year.

What you can do to help protect the wildlife from your dogs:

  • Perform a yard inspection before you let your dogs outside. Think like a dog and explore your pup’s favorite places and hangouts. And, think like a critter; where would you hide that a dog snout might sniff you out? If you find a creature, try to herd it to safety, or delay bringing your pets outside until the coast is clear.
  • Plan a few escape routes. If you find a youngster and need to guide it to safety, it helps to know ahead of time where you can direct it so your dogs can’t reach it: up a tree, behind the shed, under the fence to the neighbor’s yard (who hopefully doesn’t have a prey-driven pet.)
  • Listen for Mama and Papa. Many birds leave the nest as fledglings, some barely able to fly. They’ll spend several days on the ground and in bushes, hopping around while Mom and Dad feed them. Both kids and parents make lots of noise calling to each other–and often the parents will squawk particularly loud when you’re near their babies. If you hear lots of squawking, there are probably babies nearby.
  • Keep your dogs leashed in your yard in the spring and early summer, when birds are fledging and young chipmunks and squirrels are venturing from their nests.
  • Teach (and reinforce) the command “Leave it!” (as in, “Don’t touch or even look at that thing you want to sniff, touch, pick up, or eat) and “Drop it!” (As in, “Put down that thing in your mouth that you really want to keep.”) These come in handy when your dog isn’t close enough for you to grab her collar, and she’s hot on the trail of a helpless sparrow fledgling. I’ve actually rescued a few babies after one of my dogs obeyed the “Drop it” command; the creatures survived being caught and spewed out of my dog’s mouth.
  • Carry high-value treats with you during baby season. I like to keep hamburger or bits of cheese. The dogs are just a little more likely to respond to my screams of “Leave it!” or “Drop it!” when there’s meat involved. (“Chase the baby squirrel or…BEEF! Coming!”)
  • Take your dogs for leashed walks, with high value treats, where you can practice the “Leave it!” command. Keep them active, busy and engaged so they are less likely to look for trouble.


Keep dogs leashed during baby animal season.

I keep our dogs leashed during baby animal season. Once I feel the yard is safe or cleared, I will let them off leash, but keep high-value treats at hand. And we practice lots of “Come,” and “Leave it” and “Drop it” commands.


What to do if you find a young or injured bird, mammal or other creature

      • Keep a rescue kit handy; I keep mine in the front of my garage, where I can grab it quickly. It includes a box (I save shoeboxes for this purpose), a soft rag or cloth (for inside the box), and a pair of heavy gloves (in case you need to handle the creature).
      • Find the number of the closest wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization–before you need it. Store the number in your cell phone or keep it with your rescue kit. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association lists several ways to find rehabilitators on its website.
      • Observe, don’t disturb. If you find an injured or orphaned animal, wait before you act, unless it’s in immediate danger. Mom may be nearby, waiting for you to leave. Is the bird able to move? Does the squirrel have its eyes open? Wait before you do anything. Unless the animal has to be moved (for safety reasons–yours, your pets, or the animal’s), leave it alone for awhile.
      • Call your local rehabilitator with information; he or she can give you the best advice for your situation.
      • Only handle a wild creature if you have to (to make it safe) and with some kind of barrier between you and the animal (like gloves, a blanket, a box).
      • No, you can’t keep him. It is illegal in most cases to keep wild animals, even if you intend to release them. Licensed wildlife rehabilitators are trained to care for native creatures; it’s best to let them nurse orphaned or injured wildlife back to health–and hopefull release them back into the wild.
      • Here are two great guides on what to do if you found a baby bird and what to do if you found a baby mammal, from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.
      • If you aren’t able to reach an expert, and
        • you find a nestling (a baby bird with no feathers), try and find its nest to return it to. If there’s no nest, try to make one (I once made one from a basket), and secure it in a tree. Watch from a distance to see if the parents come back. If not, call a wildlife rehabilitator.
        • you find a fledgling (a baby bird with feathers, but might not be able to fly), leave it be, unless you need to move it to safety in a bush or tree. It’s normal for fledglings to spend a few days hopping around on the ground and in bushes–with Mom and Dad feeding her–until she can fly.
        • …you find an orphaned mammal, leave it be if it’s uninjured and safe. It’s parents may be watching. Keep an eye on it–from a distance–or come back later to check on it.
        • you find an injured animal, or determine that the baby is truly orphaned, use your gloves to put the creature in a secure box. Never touch a wild animal with your bare hands. Keep it warm, quiet and safe until you can reach someone who can tell you what to do.


Cat watches birds, squirrels and chipmunks

My cats are indoor cats, and therefore pose no danger to our wildlife. I provide our kitties with plenty of opportunities to watch Critter TV from any number of perches and window seats.


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Today we’re participating in the Monday Mischief blog hop, in the hopes that we can prevent a little wildlife mischief.


Take a moment and look at some of the other great blogs below.


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17 Comments on "Story: Keeping wildlife safe from your dogs"

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  1. Bailey says:

    They chase, but what they really want to do is herd. It has been the strangest thing to watch over the years, but they really do want the things to move in the direction they intend.

  2. Jen K says:

    Love this post! Such great info!
    You’re very lucky to have so much wildlife in your back yard, and I like how you protect them from the pups. I volunteer at a wildlife rehab where a lot of people call us about wildlife in their back yards, wanting them relocated because they can’t be bothered to check for them before letting the dogs/cats outside and don’t like being inconvenienced (a lot of people also mistakenly kidnap small birds and rabbits and bring them in, which is another issue altogether).

  3. easy rider says:

    Great! many thanks for the informations. we fortunately have no snakes here, but I’m on bird patrol every day too. by now Easy was an unsuccessful hunter and the black bird I removed from his mouth survived. but currently the moles are very active the pup is the whole day more “downhole” :o)

  4. Emma says:

    Our cats are indoors, so they are covered. Bailie and I are avid wabbit and squirrel hunters. Our yard is fenced and we are out a lot. If a wabbit is dumb enough to enter, chances are we will catch it before Mom even knows it is there. It makes Mom sad, but it is what we do, and she can only do so much to protect critters that are dumb enough to come into our yard.

  5. We don’t have a yard but Mr. N has come this close to catching a chipmunk that was so occupied with eating, it didn’t get off the path when Mr. N was getting ready to pounce.

  6. I wish that we had chipmunks! They are sooo cute. Snakes are the big downfall of having baby birds in our yard. Pierre chases all of our squirrels but doesn’t catch them. He proudly dug up a mole though. Your hostas are gorgeous!! ♥

  7. Stacey says:

    When we lived in the country my dogs did get several wild creatures over the years. I would circle the yard to make sure there were none but sometimes, the dogs would find what I couldn’t. Drop it would work most of the time but not always.

  8. Ruby says:

    Those are such good tips!!!! Wells, except for the squirrel avoidance…I say they’re fair game!!! Okays, maybe that’s just MY opinion, butts they just tick me off!!! Just sayin’…
    Those are FABulous pics BTW!!! Loves the burdies squawkin’ at eachother!! ☺
    Ruby ♥

  9. Kitties Blue says:

    Really excellent and informative post with beautiful photos. I always have to watch in the spring when the baby birds are hopping around on the ground that one of the three kitties who are allowed in the yard doesn’t get one. Hugs, Janet

    • Thanks. My cats are all indoor kitties, so I don’t have much experience about keeping wildlife safe from cats. So happy to know you’re watching out for the critters. 😀

  10. Thank you very much for this post and telling us about it on our blog. We missed this last week *when blogger was being bad)!

    We are going out on leash now to save the wildlife in our yard.

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