Dear Eartha, I am seeing a lot of loose dogs and their droppings around towns and trails. Why is it especially important that dog owners practice responsible etiquette and keep their dogs nearby and under control in winter?
Keeping dogs leashed or under immediate control is especially important in the winter for many reasons, for the safety of the dog as well as safety and consideration of others, humans and animals alike.
Snowy roads make for easy accidents
Within the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne, dogs outside of their owner’s property are supposed to be leashed. When roads are icy and slippery, it is highly dangerous for unleashed dogs to wander through neighborhoods and into streets. Even when driving slowly, it’s nearly impossible to stop on a snowy road to avoid hitting a dog. Swerving or making abrupt moves in a vehicle could have dire consequences for everyone on the road.
Skis are sharp
The rule in unincorporated Summit County (where many popular multi-use trails are located) is that dogs must be “under control and within 10 feet of” their owner or guardian, according to Summit County government.
With people enjoying public land via skis, split boards, fat bikes, snowshoes, sleds, etc., it’s crucial that owners with unleashed dogs abide by this policy no matter what type of winter recreation is afoot. As many local dogs – and dog owners – have learned the hard way, skis are sharp and can easily cut paws or do more serious damage to dogs that get too close. Furthermore, when skiers, boarders, and other fast-moving recreationists are coming downhill in variable conditions, encountering a loose, excitable, barking dog can be nerve-racking at best and at worst, result in a crash and/or injury.
If dogs have not spent much time acclimating to winter recreationists, it’s best to familiarize them by taking them out on a leash until they are comfortable and undisturbed by whatever means of winter fun is going on around them.
Another potential danger to unleashed dogs wandering beyond immediate control of their human companions is the possibility of falling through the ice. Canines sometimes meander obliviously onto thin layers over ponds and creeks and fall through the ice every winter in Colorado, some losing their lives. In an incident a couple of years ago, a dog fell through the ice on the Snake River Inlet portion of Dillon Reservoir and its owner then fell through attempting to rescue it. Besides mild hypothermia, both dog and owner were OK, but not everyone is so lucky.
Also, winter is when certain local wild predators are more likely to nab dogs. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Tom Davies recently had to remove an entire pack of coyotes from the Keystone Ranch area due to dog attacks.
“In winter, there’s less food and they become more desperate,” Davies said of coyotes. “They’re more confined because they can’t run through the deep snow that squirrels bounce on top of.”
Davies said there are a couple of coyote dens near trails in Summit County and that single coyotes have a clever strategy of provoking a dog to chase it until it is ambushed by the pack. He said that coyotes give birth to pups in the winter and spring, making them additionally aggressive toward dogs.
Nobody wants poop on their boards
Lastly, by the current evidence of poop piles lining local trails, some dog owners seem to believe falling snow will cover or take care of the evidence, or that simply pushing it to the side of the trail is OK. Frozen poop causes a bigger stink – and mess – when everything thaws in the spring. Plus, the deep snow on the sides of trails is usually where skiers and boarders like to make their tracks and there’s nothing worse than going out for a serene glide and finding poop caked onto your gear.
To sum it up, snow is a delightful commodity, beloved by both dogs and humans. To make winter as wonderful as it can be for everyone out there, please be responsible with your dog.